The milestones follow one another with us.
More recently, a utility-driven decision has been to retire the “Dora the Explorer” floating rod with push-button reel and what looks like a 12-pound monofilament. Like boxing a crib, diaper bags, or car seats, putting away Dora’s rod for good was bittersweet knowing that youth was served and we can’t go back.
Our little girls are growing up.
The Dora rod has been passed down from girl to girl, with incredible grips on both. A 19-inch smallmouth bass trolled a lot on a dockside catch for my eldest, and my youngest caught a big bluegill with the rest of our family on lakes nestled deep in the Chippewa National Forest.
Although I have been consulted on starting rods and reels for young beginners, the truth is that spinning rods require basic skill and practice and are not good choices for beginners.
Neither are baits, for reasons obvious to those who use them; they react easily and require a basic understanding and experience of casting before they can be used proficiently.
Some parents and mentors choose to jump right into spinning equipment, but this can be difficult for very young children who are already working on their own body motor skills and hand-eye coordination. The most important feature of beginner rods is a connection between ease of use and the ability to float.
Ask me how I know this one!
On our annual family vacation this summer, I packed my eldest daughter’s spinning rod and reel combo and my youngest daughter’s Dora rod, along with a packet of casting plugs. In the buzz of activity that the weekly rat race brings to our homes, I had neglected, as simple as it may seem, to devote time to practicing spin casting with my youngest daughter all through this spring and of this summer.
Her casting skills needed improvement, with many casts landing waywardly or in a heap a few feet away from her.
With an entire week of vacation days to use for whatever we wanted, my youngest and I worked on her spin casting. A little patience goes a long way and being descriptive helps.
Telling him how far to spool the line and cast the plug, telling him to fully extend his arms and swing forward hard to use the leverage of his rod and arms, reminding him to check his backcast so she doesn’t snag anyone or anything, teaching her the angle to start her forward cast, where to release the line, and where to end the rod momentum in her forward cast before, as well as asking him to point to his target as part of his follow-up, everything was worked through in 15-20 minutes.
Best of all, my wife came out to check on us just as everything clicked.
My youngest was proud to show her mom that she had everything set up and could put on her casts in the target area I had drawn. Bad throws were made, mistakes happened, but determination and practice of repetition eventually led to breakthroughs and good connective work habits.
When it came time to fish, both girls could cast just fine, and now the trick is to get them on the water to give them more fun and meaningful reps.
Parents, I believe, often fall into the mistake of not devoting time to developing outdoor skills. Work and activities deemed more useful or meaningful than idle leisure take priority, and before you know it, years have passed without practicing an important field skill or spending time outdoors together.
Unfortunately for some, a lifetime passes.
The result of so little or no practice is an unprepared youngster who has a bad experience and may be deterred from going outside.
I like to ask this simple question to my children. “You know how you get to Carnegie Hall, don’t you? Practice.”
It’s just a reminder that if we’re going to do things outdoors together, we owe it to ourselves and our careers to take the time not only to hunt and fish, but also to do those things. upstream to do it well, and in the case of hunting, ethically.
I can be just as guilty as anyone for not taking the time. This summer I made a commitment to take the girls to shoot BB guns, practice with our bows, fish in the Minnesota River and better equip my eldest with her shotgun and benefit from the practice of trap shooting that we did last summer.
The end of summer has arrived, and we haven’t taken the time.
So you can bet I’m going to double down in August and make time to do a bit of each of these activities.
It’s never too late to take a child outside. Don’t wait for the time to come; make time a priority and plan it into your schedule.
Scott Mackenthun has been writing about hunting and fishing since 2005. Email him at [email protected]