She Touched A Leech!

This past weekend was the Minnesota Fishing Opener so I did what any good dad should do…take their kid fishing.   Of course, the fishing opener is much more than just fishing.   It’s a time to gather in the entirety of the experience, passed on from one generation to the next.

Our fishing outing began by stopping at Cabela’s.   You see, accompanying me fishing was my soon-to-be 8y/o daughter who has been anticipating this experience for several weeks.   What’s a good dad to do…well, you build excitement over the event because as experience has taught me…sometimes early season fishing can be downright slow.   Especially for younger children.

While at Cabela’s we were in search of a “lucky fishing hat” suitable for a little red-haired girl.   Eventually we found one that looked capable of not only blocking the harsh sun rays, but also delivering on the piscatorial fortune we had attributed to the hat.   After all, if you believe something to be “lucky” isn’t that half the battle?

Next, we had this pink, plastic Plano tacklebox that needed more “stuff.”   You know, the kind of “stuff” fishermen cram into their boxes to help complete it for just about any fishing situation.   We purchased bobbers, hooks, sinkers, pliers, lures, bait…you know, all the good “stuff” that any self-respecting fisherman should carry.

By now, our cart was filling up with plenty of fun fishing items to help fuel the fishing fires burning inside both of us.   It was about that time Elsie asked, “Dad, can we go over to look at the bait?”   Sure, that is next on our list.

We approached an employee who seemed eager to help us with all of our live bait needs.   Elsie peered into the tanks to look at the fathead minnows, the shiner minnows, taking in the lovely sights and smells that only a dedicated fisherman could possibly enjoy.

It was about that time when the employee asked if Elsie would like to hold a leech.   He took his dip net into the big tank and flopped out a big black ribbon leech onto the counter.   Elsie stared at it for a moment watching it squirm and wiggle.   As it did its little dance trying to escape back into the water, Elsie reached down and picked it up.   She cupped her hands and watched it slither and wildly squirm for about 30 seconds.

I then told her to throw it back into the water tank and let’s get going.   As I proceeded to thank the employee for his time, he made a comment that could not have made me more proud.   You see, what I learned is this employee likes to scoop leeches up and encourage young kids to play with them.   Part of it is to encourage contact with a form of bait not always pleasant to touch.   Another aspect is to learn more about the kids.

As we were about to walk away he told me your daughter just did something that most boys her age will NOT do.   “Really,” I said, “boys won’t touch leeches…what is wrong with them?”   The employee went on to explain how most young kids her age will refuse to touch them.   He actually stated how it warms his heart to see a young child so eager to explore their natural world horizons.

At first I thought, WOW!   How could inquisitive kids who come into a Cabela’s store not want to touch a leech.   When I was that age I wouldn’t have given touching a leech a second thought.   But, things have changed.   Society has changed.   By nature, and I hate to say this, but many kids are not automatically drawn to engage in such experiences like kids once were.

I never for a minute considered that Elsie would have an aversion to touching a leech.   That’s not how she is being raised.   If you want to fish you touch crawlers, minnows, grubs, leeches and other such things that fish like to eat.   Indeed, not only do you bait your own hook when fishing with me…but when you can do it safely you also remove your own fish.   It’s all part of the experience of…well, fishing.

Now, certainly I’m not saying that touching a leech is some sort of magical litmus test for whether kids will grow up to be positively engaged in the outdoors.   Nevertheless, I’ve taken every opportunity possible for Elsie to be present when I clean game and fowl.   After all, she dreams of being a veterinarian someday so why would I want to delay her first-hand exposure to the innards of God’s creatures.

And all of this is such a good reason to take a kid fishing.   Not only does it help develop a lifetime enjoyment with one of the best outdoor recreations available, but it helps to push kids beyond their normal comfort levels.   Kids need to realize how death does not only occur on video games and in the outdoors, as in life, there are no reset buttons or “do-overs” if things don’t go well.

Never Lose Your Sense Of Humor Over A Bad Day Spent Outdoors

I’ll choose a fun bunch of hunters or fishermen any day over a group who takes their task outdoors far too seriously.   In fact, it’s the group of sportsmen who know how to laugh and tease one another before, during and after the outing whom I want to be around.   Those who are so focused and serious on achieving some lofty sporting goal…want little to do with them.

You can’t assemble a group of hunters like this in close proximity without the BS flying and the laughs flowing non-stop.

Perhaps that’s why I watch very little outdoors television.   It just doesn’t inspire me to watch edited video of hunters performing at the top of their game show after show as if they were some super hero with a bow.   I want to see sportsmen razzing each other for a missed shot or a fish that didn’t quite get landed in the boat.   The real outdoors contains more misfortunes than achievements and laughter is one of the best medicines to soothe the sometimes painful sting of that reality.

And that’s why I like deer camp.

It certainly doesn’t take meat hanging from the deer pole to generate a good story.   In fact, some of the best stories often end with an unfilled possession tag still in the hunter’s pocket.

This past weekend my buddy, Mitch, had taken several shots at deer with no luck.   Of course, the obvious banter revolved around the fact maybe at the age of 52 he finally needs glasses to see things better.   After some good-natured teasing Mitch’s son whispers a confession to me.   “Dad just got glasses but he doesn’t want you guys to know about it.   He was having trouble in the deer stand keeping them from fogging up.”

You know what that’s called?   That little tidbit of disclosed information in secrecy is called fodder.   Fodder for continued harassment and amped up commenting about needing glasses.   Oh, Mitch has shot and missed a deer since that information discovery…and you can believe now with renewed enthusiasm we commented about his eyes obviously going to hell quickly considering he’s reached middle age.

And that’s what the outdoors should be about.   Not bullying or relentless griping about how someone is a failure in life, but a friendly give and take that is interrupted occasionally by smiles and laughter.

These fishermen have a contest ongoing…and that is to see who can score the best insult on the others in fish camp.

Honestly, when you take the fun out of the outdoors for me it becomes a chore.   I don’t voluntarily get up early and go sit out in a boat during the rain just to catch fish.   I do it to both catch fish and to experience the process of catching those fish.   Often times its the happenings and down-right discomfort about the experience that gets long remembered afterwards.

Certainly, I’m not saying how a person shouldn’t go out on the lake or into the woods focused and serious about why they are out in the first place.   But, I do think that today more than ever there is a pressure on sportsmen to succeed.   That pressure comes from TV, it comes from industry experts giving seminars, it comes from an array of products promising the world if they get used in the field or on the lake.

Truth is, the savvy sportsman knows when to funnel the mental energy into concentrating and focusing on the techniques that put them in the best position to score.   And at the end of the day, rather than beat yourself up because expectations were not achieved…find a way to laugh at yourself and others.   For it is the mature hunter who best appreciates how laughter is the best way to decompress from a stressful day spent in the outdoors world.

©2013 Jim Braaten. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction without Prior Permission.

Kids + Fish = Fun

I’m on vacation this week and one thing I’ve sure noticed that hasn’t changed over time is how catching fish brings out the pure excitement in kids. In most cases, the species of fish doesn’t really matter…it’s merely the act of “catching something” that garners the raw thrill. And that’s how it should be.

On the other hand, I’m also struck by the utter frustration kids develop when the fishing action is slow. When instant gratification isn’t achieved, today’s younger set wants to “throw in the proverbial towel” way too quickly and opt for some other opportunity. Oh how things have changed since I was a kid.

Back 40 years ago resorts didn’t have game rooms filled with electronic video games luring young minds with a pocket full of quarters. They didn’t have fancy inflatable water toys tempting children to just spend the day splashing around in the lake. I truly don’t recall fancy playground equipment costing tens of thousands of dollars. Nope, I don’t remember any of that at a Minnesota fishing resort back in the 1960s & 1970s.

No, when I was a kid most resorts lacked the fancy amenities I just described. In fact, when the family went to the lake it was mostly about the fishing–nothing else. As a kid your choices were rather simple…you either stayed back at the cabin with mom and all your aunts, or you went fishing with dad and your uncles. The choice was usually rather obvious.

Am I lamenting about my lack of having fun opportunities when I was a kid? Heavens no. I totally accept how today’s vacation resort must cater to families beyond the fishing set alone. It’s all about marketing and diversifying to cater to all interests.

Nope, what concerns me instead is just how easy it is for today’s children to give up on fishing by opting for some other type of fun. Honestly, I truly believe parents in the 21st Century are faced with far greater challenges than ever before when trying to raise children by attempting to develop a passion for sports like fishing and hunting.

As parents, I believe its prudent on all of us to recognize how the joy brought to a child by catching a fish is not the same excitement achieved by winning some video game. It’s certainly not the same kind of smile a kid gets from splashing in the lake or from using playground equipment.

Indeed, a smile that graces a young child’s face from catching a fish is a smile resulting from pride and achievement. It’s the same sort of smile that kid will again experience 50 years later in life enjoying the very same activity.

If our beloved sports of fishing and hunting are going to get passed on to future generations, as parents we need to create more smiles. And I’m talking about the right KIND of smiles.

©2010 Jim Braaten.  All Rights Reserved.  No Reproduction without Prior Permission.