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Inside the Outdoors: Some may be fishers, and some may not

Inside the Outdoors

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It’s a rare mom or dad that doesn’t try to expose their children to the passions of the parent. Motives may vary. You might want your child to hunt or fish so you can justify more time spent doing those things. I might send my daughter or son to summer basketball or soccer camp in the hope that they’ll be athletic, because I was once an athlete and am a rabid sports fan.

Or, we may have a nobler motive. We may simply want our children’s lives to be enriched in the way that such activities have enriched our own. Sooner or later, of course, a child with a healthy independent streak will decide what they like and don’t like, their parents’ fantasies notwithstanding. So it has been with my own daughter and son.

To a life-long fisherman, “the opener” in Minnesota rises almost to the level of a religious holiday. Not surprising, then, that in a year now decades in the past I thought it a good idea to expose my first-born to that ritual while she was young and impressionable. “Plant the seed early” was my reasoning.

Of course, there’s another school of thought that says you should do everything possible to make sure a would-be fisherman finds their first experiences both comfortable and successful. In hindsight, that logic seems perfectly reasonable. Unfortunately, hindsight is of limited value after the damage is done.

My daughter was then still in elementary school, at an age when pleasing a parent was still a high priority, so the idea met with no protests. The morning of that fishing opener began with a pre-dawn breakfast, one-on-one quality time with dad, who did his best to pump up her enthusiasm for the adventure to come.


Any experienced Minnesota angler knows that the weather on the general fishing opener can be fickle, a description that some will find more than generous. That morning we faced a biting northwest wind and intermittent snow showers, as well as uncooperative fish—save for one hammer-handle northern pike—which made both comfort and success elusive. So elusive, in fact, that by noon my steadfast 10-year-old had cautiously made the suggestion that we give the fishing a rest and go find some hot chocolate.

Following that first misadventure, not all of our angling outings have been without tangible success. Highlights included a four pound smallmouth bass she hooked and landed on her own on a northern Minnesota lake, and adventures of discovery when we canoed and fished some classic trout streams.

But in the end it was the companionship and benefits other than fish on the end of her line that most appealed to her. Things like loons surfacing and diving near our boat on a favorite lake, wild marsh marigolds along the shore, the thrill of running a not-too-threatening stretch of white water rapids in a canoe, and in the evenings being mesmerized as we stared into flames while they slowly turned crackling logs to ash. The wonder of being in these places—not fish hooked and landed—was what stirred and satisfied her. Today, she might come along to be a good sport, but not because she has a passion for angling.

My son, eight years younger than his sister, wasn’t subjected to frigid, snowflake-punctuated fishing openers. The three of us incorporated casual fishing into our canoe trips, and somewhere in a photo album of the kind people kept before the age of digital photography, there is a picture of him standing in a river in rain gear, proudly and smilingly holding aloft for the camera a rainbow trout that could not have been more than five inches long. Early symptoms?

Yet, for a number of years such events were rare. From the time he was old enough to join traveling youth basketball and soccer teams his preoccupations were sports and friends. In high school it was varsity football and track and field, and a busy social life and fishing remained mostly something that dad did.

Oddly, it was when my son was in college—almost 400 miles from home—that we began to fish together avidly, during spring breaks and in the summer months. Perhaps as a result of those early river canoe trips during middle school and junior high, most of our fishing then and now has gravitated to moving waters.

Perhaps this is due to the mystery of what lies always around the next bend, a stimulus for a naturally curious mind. Often our fishing in these places has been on foot, wearing waders, either walking the bank or shuffling along the gravel and boulders of a stream bottom, immersed in the very element in which the fish themselves live.

My son now has a 3-year-old daughter, and we wisely introduced her to fishing for bluegills, on a warm and sunny midsummer day. We fished from the family pontoon so she could roam the deck at will, paying attention to whatever she wished between the plucks that pulled a bobber beneath the surface to signal “fish on.” Not surprising, she was fascinated by their iridescent colors, their gyrations as they were hoisted aboard, and had the moxie to touch these wet, slime-covered creatures from beneath the waters where she herself swims.


Needless to say, when the general fishing opener arrives this coming Saturday she will not be aboard a boat launched at midnight or dawn, bundled up and accompanying adult anglers back-trolling or long-lining crankbaits for walleyes. There will be plenty of time in the future for the fishing virus to run its course.

Mike Rahn - Inside the Outdoors.jpg
Mike Rahn, columnist

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