Last week, I spent an enjoyable and productive day of fishing with my friend, Mike Hoover of Tipton, and his 11-year-old son, Jacob. Mike and I had fished together briefly last spring, but this was the first time our schedules matched for another day on the water together since then. But having Jacob join us for the day was worth the wait.
Our destination was one of my favorite stretches of the Juniata River. After Mike and I carried the kayaks and our fishing tackle to the water's edge, we spent a few minutes showing Jacob the abundance of aquatic life that lives in the shallow water near the shore in the summertime. Crayfish and minnows were everywhere, and we also saw a few baby smallmouths sporting the characteristic orange spot at the base of their tails.
After the short biology lesson, we turned our attention from the juvenile bass in the shallows to their adult counterparts in the main river channel. Because we would be fishing artificial lures, I decided to begin by wade fishing. That made it easier to help Jacob learn to rig and fish the soft-plastic baits properly. Our young angling partner absorbed the lessons quickly as he hooked and landed two smallmouths in short order.
A short time later, we boarded our kayaks and spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening exploring a wonderful quarter mile of river and catching plenty of smallmouths in the process. I can't think of a better way to spend a summer day, and being able to watch a young man have success while learning fundamental fishing skills made it all the more special.
Getting young folks interested and involved in outdoor activities seems to become more and more difficult with each passing year. Yet nothing is more worthwhile than introducing a kid to an outdoor sport or hobby, which can provide a lifetime of recreation and satisfaction. In an effort to ramp up youth participation, things like kid's fishing derbies, youth field days and special youth hunting days are offered throughout the year.
While such organized efforts are certainly worthwhile, they should be considered merely an introduction to some facet of the outdoors. A spark of initial interest must be kindled to build the flame of an ongoing fascination. The outdoors is not a spectator sport, or at least is shouldn't be. The outdoor is about hands-on and being there. With just a few more weeks until most of our young folks are back in school, there is still time to work an outdoor experience or two into their summer activities.
Fishing is obviously a great activity for all members of the family. The most important thing is to keep it fun. I will never let a kid fish with a rod and reel I wouldn't use myself. Those cute outfits with the cartoons on them might look cute, but every one of them I've ever seen was about worthless. If I'm an expert and can't cast the thing, how can I expect a beginner to?
Fishing should not be boring, but some adults make it that way. I suppose some adults might find watching a bobber for hours on end to be relaxing. I find that about as exciting as watching paint dry - and so do most kids. Unless the fish are biting like crazy, bobber watching will likely bore your young anglers silly in no time. When that happens, tie on a small crankbait or other similar lure. Even if they don't catch much with it, most kids still enjoy casting and retrieving it. And all the casting practice they get is a plus too.
Groundhog hunting is a great summer diversion on the hunting side of things. And groundhogs are part of the Mentored Youth Hunting Program in Pennsylvania, so youngsters of any age can participate.
Groundhog hunting is more relaxed and methodical than many other forms of hunting, which allows ample opportunity to pass on valuable shooting and safety lessons as well as a special chance to bond with your young hunter.
Wildlife watching, especially birds, is another outdoor activity suitable for all ages. Ever see a kid who didn't like to look at stuff through a pair of binoculars?
A good field guide to help identify what you see makes it a learning experience. Keeping a list of the birds and other animals you see each year, either individually or as a family, can keep everyone interested too.
Camping can be a great way to build interest in being outdoors. Organized campgrounds are fine but tend to be almost like a small town rather than an intimate getaway with nature. If possible, try to get permission to camp out somewhere in the country at least once or twice a year.
I've also never met a kid who didn't like to put sticks on a campfire. Just make sure they understand how to do so safely. Roasting some hot dogs or marshmallows over an open fire is a special treat. And just sitting around a campfire at the end of the day is the perfect way to forget how hectic the world has become.