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Taking the Kids

Hooked on Fishing

July 31, 1994|EILEEN OGINTZ

On her first try, Reggie cast her brand-new Snoopy fishing pole so hard that the little yellow rod and reel went right over the side of the boat into the deep, blue Minnesota lake.

Reggie looked stricken. Her brother guffawed. Luckily, Dad came to the rescue, snaring the pole with his net just as it was about to sink and Reggie about to burst into tears. Good thing, too. On her very next cast, she caught a largemouth bass big enough for dinner. "Wow!" was all a flabbergasted Reggie could say. Just 6 at the time, she's been hooked on fishing ever since.

Her brother Matt, meanwhile, has loved to fish since before he went to kindergarten. It didn't matter that we didn't allow him to keep any: reeling in the blue gills from the edge of the dock, throwing them back and watching them swim off was thrill enough. I spent much of that trip to Minnesota threading slimy worms on Matt's hook . . . true motherly devotion.

Now Matt and Reggie have their own tackle boxes and earnestly discuss the merits of various lures, hooks and bait with their dad, leaving me totally out of the loop on this one. The "lucky" Snoopy pole now belongs to 3-year-old Melanie, who is still happy to have Mom bait her hooks.

I'm glad to do it. There's something really wonderful about watching kids fish, no matter what their ages: their triumphant look when they reel in that first "big one"; their discovery that television and video games aren't necessary to life itself; learning that patience does get rewarded . . . sometimes, at least.

There are other payoffs, too. "Fishing gives kids a much greater appreciation for the environment and what they can do to help preserve it," said Harv Forsgren, who oversees education and fishing programs for children at the U.S. Forest Service.

There's also the chance to luxuriate in some truly unstructured time together, away from the phone and the office and the press of soccer practice and flute lessons and dentist appointments.

"Once the kids get hooked on fishing, they'll be patient when it's slow. That's a natural opportunity to visit with one another--a chance you don't get at home," said Forsgren, who fishes with his two daughters regularly near his Washington, D.C., home.

Other parents must agree. Forsgren notes that interest in fishing is growing steadily. Today, there are more than 45 million anglers--9.5 million under age 16. Just last month, during National Fishing Week, more than 50,000 kids and 40,000 adults took part in hundreds of fishing activities across the country.

There's even a group called Hooked on Fishing International, sponsored by the American Sportfishing Assn., that organizes fishing programs for kids across the country with local recreation departments and state and federal agencies. This year, more than 1,300 communities will participate. "To keep the sport going, we've got to get more kids involved," said co-founder Gordon Holland.

That includes kids from single-parent homes, and kids from the inner city who may never have held a fishing pole.

(For a free "Guide to Fishing Your National Forests," complete with local forest service contacts and information on where you can catch which kinds of fish, write the USDA Forest Service, P.O. Box 96090, Washington, D.C. 20090-6090.)

But hold on a minute before getting carried away by the notion of spending hours out in a boat communing with nature and a son or daughter. "Kids don't have the attention span adults do. They get tired and bored. You'll do best to keep it short and sweet," said Gary Nordlie, veteran Minnesota fishing guide.

One day last August, Nordlie took Reggie and me out on Lake Vermillion in northern Minnesota to show us what he meant. "Fish when the kids want to fish and take them home when they're sick of it," he said. "Remember that fishing is supposed to be fun."

Make sure to pick a nice day, and bring along plenty of drinks and snacks, as well as sunscreen and sweat shirts in case it turns cool. "Don't get hung up on catching a big fish," Nordlie said. "The thrill for kids is having something on their line," and having Mom and Dad make a big fuss over their "catch."

Taking the Kids appears weekly.

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