Last fall, I wrote about the joys of teaching someone how to fly fish after helping my friend catch his first ever trout on a fly rod. Little did I know that I would spend the next summer taking kids out on fishing adventures to teach them the in’s-and-out’s of our wonderful, yet somewhat confusing, sport. All of the lessons culminated in one large event this past weekend, where I taught the Fishing, Fly Fishing, and Fish and Wildlife Management Merit Badges to a group of 26 Scouts. The weekend was both very rewarding and educational for me as I got to watch the Scouts go from not knowing a perch from a piranha to catching and releasing pumpkinseed and bass all on their own. Along the way, I had help from some older, more experienced teachers who showed me a few tricks for teaching a young audience angling.
One of the first things I noticed was that boredom sets in quickly when you’re not on the water. Many of the requirements for the merit badges were taught in a classroom setting that included lots of talking. Things like safety while fishing and Leave No Trace may be important aspects of a successful fishing outing, but all these kids really wanted to do was catch a fish. One thing I wish I did was prepare some games or videos for the kids so that they at least could have had a break from the drawn-out lectures and questions. Fishing should be a fun activity, and having to sit through a lesson reminiscent of school likely taints its enjoyment for the kids.
Another tip I’ll share is to use barbless hooks. Unlike some barbless users, I won’t deny that you won’t lose more fish than when using barbs; however, for beginners that struggle to set the hook, barbless hooks offer much higher hook-up ratios. The reason for this is there is much less surface area on a barbless hook that needs to penetrate the skin in order for the hook to become lodged in the fish’s mouth. Less surface area = less resistance, and therefore the fish are able to become hooked without a hookset.
There are other added bonuses for using barbless hooks with beginners. For starters, should someone get hooked, they are far easier to remove than a barbed hook. One of the requirements for the merit badge was to demonstrate how to remove a hook that has been lodged in someone’s arm. It took me 20 minutes to show two different methods for removing a hook with a barb from a person’s skin. On the flip side, it took me all of thirty seconds to explain that, when hooked with a barbless hook, you simply remove it. No fancy tricks or techniques required, and the cut you’re left with is smaller than a pinprick.
And of course, the all important aspect of a barbless hook is a quicker, less damaging release for the fish. For kids that are just learning how to properly handle a fish, they can take all the help they can get to release the fish just as healthy and happy as they were before. When using live bait, this is extra important because fish often swallow it deeper than lures or flies.
Seeing as it was the Complete Angler weekend, we did a lot of angling. So much so that I started to get a little tired of it, and so did the kids. I found it beneficial to take occasional breaks while fishing. It’s exhausting teaching and keeping kids under control all day (thank you, teachers), and the kids probably couldn’t stand listening to my voice drone on all day about things they really didn’t care about. Whether you’re grabbing a snack, going for a swim, or just sitting down for a minute, find ways to break up the day when you take someone out.
The final thing I learned over the weekend was to never refuse help. When you have a large group of kids handling sharp and potentially dangerous objects, an extra hand is always appreciated. I can’t count the number of times one of the kids got their lines tangled while another was struggling to unhook a fish, or something similar. It was at these moments I was grateful for the other instructors around me, especially those older than me that had experience handling these situations.
So, whether you’re teaching someone to fish or learning from someone else, take these thoughts into consideration. I wish I could have put the amazing experiences I’ve had recently a little more eloquently, but hopefully those paragraphs got the point across. Unfortunately, no matter what you do, not every trip will be a winner, and you will have those rare occasions when the person you’re teaching simply doesn’t enjoy what they’re doing. But I keep teaching for those moments when things just click for the kid you’re teaching and you get to see the shining smile on their face, no matter if it’s their first or their hundredth.