Television fishing presenter DAVID “BAREFOOT” HODGE reckons the best way to get your kids hooked on fishing is to take them bush.
Recently, at a show I was working at I noticed families coming through the gates and going straight to the camping and fishing displays to check out all the new stuff on offer.
I was just preparing to do a talk on the main stage but was enjoying just soaking up the enthusiasm and good mood that was obvious throughout the crowd. This was the annual Adelaide 4WD and Adventure Boat and Fishing Show and after all the drama over the economy it seemed people were starting to think more of enjoying their lives again instead of worrying about the outcome of all the relentless bad news from TV and newspapers.
I watched as mums and dads flowed through the gates and headed straight to the fishing and camping gear on display. Experienced campers who knew what they wanted. However, the beginners wishing to throw themselves into the outdoors lifestyle for the first time tended to search for more family-oriented pastimes.
Back when I was a boy I could throw a fishing rod over the back of my pushbike and head off to the river, or up into the mountains where life was simple and nature was everywhere. It was a different time and living was simpler and less complicated than it is today, 30 years later.
THE GOOD OLD DAYS
Back then I didn’t feel compelled to abide by the social pressures to ‘perform’ or be cool. Your worth as a human didn’t seem to be judged by your hair, clothes or the music you listened to. It was alright then to be individual without worrying too much about what others might think, or say. Mobile phones didn’t exist and pinball machines were still popular with kids.
I lived most of my childhood in a small town called Kootingal, about 20 kilometres out of Tamworth which at that time had about 600 or 700 residents, a pub, mechanic, corner store and small public pool and school. BMX pushbikes were the juvenile four-wheel drive of the day and it was important to know how to fix your own punctures and chains. Kids were fitter then, happier and always spending a lot of time outdoors. This meant they were always running, playing and burning off energy.
Respect for your parents and the elderly was a lesson taught young and a smack on the bum was a standard disciplinary tool. This was not considered an assault on a child that some believe it is today. But then again, kids also sang Baa Baa Black Sheep, without the suggestion of them being racist. Life is no longer simple and carefree for children, and that’s sad.
The only ‘face books’ we had in the good old days were photo albums, and if anyone made a Twitter, they were trying to call a bird. There were no iPods, iPads, DS’s, Gameboys or laptops for social networking, and back then no one I knew had a computer in their home.
Google then was the expression on your face when a good-looking girl walked past. And fishing, hunting and camping were regular family activities for a greater percentage of the population.
It sounds quite ancient and pre-historic now, but that was typical life for many Australians back 30 years ago. And in that relatively short time life has evolved into something very different. It’s now all about high-tech toys, high pressure existence and weekends are more of a physical and mental recovery time from the slog of the working week.
People still get out on the weekend for a couple of days of fun but a lot more of it is taken up indoors. There are electronic ‘baby sitters’ in the form of X box’s, big screen televisions, computers and DVDs. This seems the accepted norm now, but nothing like the great outdoors.
In my experience, sharing time in the bush is a wonderful bonding exercise and kids thrive on it. And more parents should try it, especially while the kids are young.
Particularly if you want to get them involved in fishing, I reckon there is no better way to do it than taking them bush.
NO BEATING ABOUT THE BUSH
I’ve spent most of my life in the bush and was lucky enough to be able turn it into my full-time job for the past 16 years, but you don’t need to be super-experienced to go bush. If you’re a little concerned about sleeping under the stars then a small tent and tarp is a great option to keep the mozzies at bay while you sleep. The tarp and a few poles will keep the direct sunlight off the tent as they can turn into little sauna’s through daylight hours in warmer months. Then again, apart from cooking lunch, the daylight hours around camp should be spent exploring, fishing and learning anyway.
Searching for a suitable camp site is a big consideration for any camping trip. You should involve the kids in this decision so they start to build confidence and decision-making experiences.
Explain to the kids why you don’t camp in certain areas such as under trees with sketchy-looking big branches, or down in a hollow if it looks like raining. In this way you are teaching them the skills of forward-planning.
Getting out and searching around for things like green ants and bull ant nests can make all the difference between a comfortable stay and a miserable one. After all, you don’t want to put them off camping.
Pitching the tent can be a hilarious activity on its own. Challenging a young person’s ability and capacity to solve problems is the key, in my opinion, of giving them real life-skills.
Also, making a basic camp fire can be such a great source of entertainment, if not achievement. It’s a great achievement for a kid when they get that first puff of smoke and the all important flame. Oh yeah, by the way, I’m not talking about lighting a fire with newspaper and a lighter! I’m talking about the fair-dinkum thing; going back to basics with a striker. This is a tool that emits an extremely hot spark when the back of a knife or the supplied striker blade is pushed down the shaft.
To start, make a small pack with a little bit of eother cotton wool or tissue paper, which ignites the quickest and easiest, then teach the kids this fire-making process.
Remember how you made a fire when you were a kid? Take a bit of dry grass and leaves, some tiny twigs, then bigger twigs then sticks and finally, small logs and build up a good bed of coals to cook on.
Fire safety is a big lesson to learn in the bush apart from the lighting of the fire itself. The fire risk of dry grass and leaves in any sort of wind is always there.
Of course, if you are in a National Park you must use the designated fire places and check to see if any fire bans are in place.
PADDLE YOUR OWN CANOE
Canoes and kayaks are a great way for kids to enjoy a weekend camping trip. They can expend a little energy, or they can glide along a river silently just observing the wildlife and maybe even catching a fish along the way.
I believe that being restricted to the confines of a canoe taught my young fella self-discipline. After ricocheting off the gunnels and settling a bit he picked up his own baitcaster and began to cast to snags himself. He was especially encouraged to do this when he saw Dad catch one.
Which brings me to another subject, and that is fishing tackle and lure choices for kids. Around here (Tamworth) golden perch or yellowbelly and the iconic Murray cod are the main sporting species.
However, there is plenty of European carp and they can be a constant source of entertainment for budding young anglers.
Carp pull harder than most natives pound-for-pound and once kids understand the good deed they’re doing by removing one from the water, they will enthusiastically catch them. This way the conservation message is being reinforced.
A spin outfit is the obvious choice for a kids fishing rig. However, don’t necessarily discount a baitcaster for the youngster because a well-tuned bait caster is very effective for the close range snag casting. My young son has been using one since he was two years old. You just have to be patient and describe what they are doing wrong when the inevitable backlash happens.
Tannhym's first ‘cast’ Murray cod came at two and a half years old and didn’t he get excited. Mind you, I was down the back of the canoe with a couple of tears of joy. I was a very proud dad.
People couldn’t believe the footage of Tannhym when he was casting, hooking, fighting, landing and releasing a nice little cod on a recent episode of the Barefoot Adventurer. It was proof to parents that their kid’s abilities are only limited by the opportunities you offer them. Those few years between two and about six years old are apparently the ones that make a huge impact on their future views as an adult. So, this is the best time for a parent to share his/her own passions, like fishing and bush craft. Apart from anything, it’s a lot of fun.
TAKE TIME OUT
This early stage is very special and the time goes all too quickly. My social life has taken a big back seat during this time, but I’m glad to put the time in with the kids because it’s so important. This is my decision and I’m very glad.
Obviously, working is a must for everyone, however, every chance we get as a family we pack up the old ‘Hillbilly’ fold out BBQ and Engel fridge and head off bush to the river. It might be just a day trip but its all well worth it.
Simple things like flattening barbs on hooks in case of the inevitable, often saves on hospital trips if the kids' tetanus shots are up-to-date.
Even though I hate wearing shoes I always try to make sure my boy has shoes on as cat heads, tiger pears, glass, etc., make very quick work of soft feet. Sunscreen is also on before the first steps are made into the sunlight. Hats, sunnies and long-sleeved shirts are relatively affordable today and are an obvious addition for preventing sun burn or even sunstroke.
Taking photos of fish with kids can be a tricky problem, and really depends on each child’s ability to understand how and when a fish is going to start kicking. They have to learn where the pointy bits are, and how to handle a fish safely.
Spikey fish such as golden perch, bream etc., can really cause pain to both young and old alike. Then again, a spiked kid will remember that experience for a very long time and can potentially panic as the next one comes over the side. So, be careful with that one.
Obviously, catties of any kind are a no no, as the venom has been known to bring adults to tears.
I suppose what I’m trying to say here is that with the busy lives we lead to today it’s easy to push the kids' experiences back to “when I get the time.” However, before we know it that special chance has gone as the kids grow up and you’ve lost that opportunity to do things together and get them hooked on fishing.
My little fella is my best mate now and along with his mum we have some great experiences today. It gives you hope for the future when they enjoy the same passion for fishing and outdoor life.
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