I have enjoyed fishing since my grandpas first took me fishing as a small boy. My first fishing pole was, quite literally, a willow pole that my grandpa cut from of the river bank, with some old line tied to it. I learned to swing my baited hook into little pools below riffles and next to holes under old riverbank stumps. I learned to set the hook and lift fish to shore when chubs, sunfish and bullheads pulled the bobber under. The occasional larger carp required something more like towing the fish to shore. I soon graduated to a store-bought bamboo (cane) pole. As I grew older, I was seduced to upgrade my equipment by catalogs and displays at the local hardware store. I don’t remember if it was a birthday or Christmas, but by the summer after fourth grade, I had a yellow fiberglass “real fishing pole” with a simple level-wind reel. I never learned to cast with that rig without getting terrible backlashes and snarls in the line that took minutes to untangle before fishing could resume. It was fun to crank fish in with that reel, but I spent more time with my line in the water catching fish with the old cane pole. I even reverted to the more primitive stick and line kind of fishing for a summer or two after reading Huckleberry Finn. My first Zebco push-button reel finally made accurate casting with no backlashes possible by the time I was in junior high school.
One of my grandpas or my dad were usually along when my brother and I were quite young, but we soon were fishing on our own up and down the Skunk River south of Story City. We painted a primitive ruler on top of our old metal tackle box and threw back anything less than six inches long as being too small to keep. We learned to clean our fish as youngsters and even with our sportsmanlike sorting, my mom still cooked an awfully lot of boney little fish we brought home. I still turn loose the little ones, but it’s been a long time since I kept a six-inch chub to eat. Even my “newer” equipment is well worn today, but isn’t any more fun to use than the willow pole Grandpa cut for me.
I made the mistake as a young parent of trying to fish myself when I took my kids fishing. That didn’t always work very well and was sometimes a source of frustration. Going fishing and taking the kids fishing are two entirely different things, with distinctly different goals. I go fishing to catch some fish and enjoy some quiet time in the great outdoors. Taking the kids fishing is (or should be) primarily to make sure the kids have a good time and hopefully catch a few fish along the way. Perhaps it’s age creeping up or memories of my grandpas taking me fishing, but I have found over the past few years, that I have as much fun taking kids fishing as I do catching them myself (maybe even more!).
I look forward to visits from my grandkids when we can “go out in Grandpa’s boat.” My 10-year-old grandson has been able to handle his own fishing pole since before he was four. His two-year-old sister didn’t catch any fish on her first boat ride earlier this summer, but enjoyed cranking in a bobber a couple of times. She’ll be ready to crank in a fish next year! I took a friend who hadn’t fished in years and his two grandsons out for an evening of fishing a couple of weeks ago. They caught some nice bluegills and later enjoyed a fish fry. The boys are looking forward to catching more fish, and I wouldn’t be surprised if their grandpa wanted to join them. All the kids love learning to run the electric trolling motor, too. I hardly touched a fishing pole on those outings, but unhooked quite a few fish and rebaited lots of hooks. I still love fishing, but I’m glad to have discovered a new way to enjoy it.
Steve Lekwa is a former director of Story County Conservation.