January 12, 2022
By Pete Robbins
Veteran tour level bass pro Clark Reehm has spent days in the boat with people from all walks of life, in both tournaments and guiding in between them. Young, old, rich, poor, male, female, he finds a way to get along with them, but perhaps the biggest learning curve has come taking his son Ash in the boat.
Many anglers in his position put a baitcasting rod in the crib, and force feed the sport to them. One bass pro whose son has been quite successful on the water, told me he gave his kids “the Bobby Knight treatment.” That may work in some circumstances, but all too often it leads to resentment. If fishing is something that your kids want to do, you have to make the early trips about building a long-term love of the sport.
“People say ‘Take a kid fishing,’” he said. “But it’s not that easy. If you go out when the weather is bad or the fish aren’t biting, it’s detrimental to that long term enjoyment.”
Here’s a set of rules he’s developed to make sure that his child, and any child who steps in his boat, has a maximized chance to build a lifelong love of the game.
1. Make It About Them
If you don’t read any further, take this one to heart. It’s not your tournament practice. It’s not a daylight-to-dark marathon session (unless that’s what the child wants). It’s not an opportunity to cast relentlessly while they stand in the back and try to pick out a tangle on their own. The entirety of your focus has to be on their enjoyment.
“It’s about making sure that they have a good time, regardless of whether they catch them or not,” he said. “Fortunately, most parents take more joy in their kids’ success than their own. When my son was really young, it didn’t matter how big the fish was, I’d hand him the rod.”
2. Think Safety and Ethics
Make sure that your child has a properly-fitting lifejacket, whether it’s required by law or not. “Properly fitting” means not only that it will save them if they go overboard, but also that it’s comfortable. The second they get uncomfortable is the moment that they’ll lose interest.
It also means explaining how to act on a boat (or on the bank, or on a pier), recognizing that they might not be familiar with those environments.
Reehm takes it one step further: “I try to teach them about ethics on the water, so the next generation of anglers knows that it’s not all about the aggressive style of fishing that you sometimes see on TV. I also teach them about conservation, and respect for the environment. We try to pick up a little bit of trash that others left behind each time out.”
3. Bring Snacks
“You’ve gotta bring snacks,” he said. “As soon as they get bored they’re going to go digging around in that cooler. And it’s not necessarily a time to eat healthy. This is about bonding between a parent and child, and you want them to want to go again.”
4. Dress them Properly
This goes back to the lifejacket issue, above. Think about the Three Little Bears – if they’re too hot or too cold they won’t be having fun, and while “just right” might be a moving target think layers to ensure that they can quickly adjust. Raingear is a must, because if they’re wet they won’t just be uncomfortable, but it can be life-threatening, too. Better yet, until they’re ready and able, take them only on days that are within a reasonable range of likely weather outcomes.
5. Issue Praise
“A big part of your day is going to be small achievements,” Reehm explained. “Praise them when they make a good cast or catch a fish. On the other hand, you can’t get mad if they lose a fish or get hung up. That’s just part of the game.”
6. Provide the Right Equipment
The inclination for any newcomer who may not take a long-term liking to fishing is to give them lower-end gear. That can defeat the purpose as it may limit their ability to catch fish. At the very least, make sure that your child has size-appropriate tackle and fresh line. Not only will that make casting more efficient, but it will help them put more fish in the boat.
On the flip side, don’t go too far to the other extreme. If they’re not ready for a baitcasting rig, don’t put one in their hand, no matter how much you want them to become a bass pro. They’re going to fight it all day and it will limit their effectiveness and enjoyment.
If you’re using artificial lures, make choices that “can’t be fished incorrectly.” A Ned Rig or wacky rigged Senko are good choice, but in the right conditions so are a Tiny Torpedo or little Whopper Plopper.
7. Don’t Force Anything
You may think that fun-loving kids will love a ride in your rocket-fast bass boat, but it scares the life out of some of them.
“Even though your boat can go 70, your kid will believe you are running 100 miles per hour, even when you are coasting along at 30 to 45 mph,” he continued.
Similarly, everyone has different tastes and quirks when it comes to handling fish. He recalled fishing with the late NFL Hall of Famer Chris Doleman during a charity event:
“He had never caught a fish and didn’t want to touch the bass he caught. I didn’t want to force him.”
It comes down to controlling the things you can control, and that requires more than an ounce of discretion.
8. Catching Matters
“People who don’t fish don’t know the relevance of a 10-pounder,” he said. “As a tournament angler, I’m mad if I don’t beat the fish, beat the lake, but with kid you just want to get bites. A lot of times bass are not the right choice. Here on Sam Rayburn, it’s fun to put them on a school of white bass or yellow bass where they can catch one every cast with a little spoon or grub. Or get a big bucket of crickets and go catch bluegills.”
Just because fish are small, however, doesn’t mean they’re easy to fool. He said that crappie can be tough for newcomers because they’re such light biters.
9. Be Prepared to Do Other Things
Try to remember that it’s not all about the almighty pursuit of tournament greatness or record catches. Remember to appreciate your surroundings, too.
“It’s a lot of trial and error,” he said. “I live near the Red River and one time I took Ash out on a scouting trip. He had a gar bite his bait, and that would have been the highlight, but later we stopped on a sand bar and picked blackberries for an hour. He talks about that trip all of the time.
If you know where there’s an alligator, an eagle’s nest, or anything else they might only have seen in books or on television, take them there. If they want to skip rocks or look for tadpoles, let them.
“Whatever it takes to make them want to go again,” Reehm concluded.
10. Keep it Brief
Most young children have a limited attention span. Don’t try to force feed them an all-day affair if they’re not ready for it.
And a bonus rule….When in doubt, refer back to rule number one.