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Learning to Fish

When I was close to five years old I was sitting in the cockpit of my father’s wooden cabin cruiser playing with the silversides we had picked up with the seine net. My father handed me a cane pole with a baited hook and a red and white bobber attached and told to wait to pull up the snapper until the bobber went down. I found if I followed his instructions it seemed to work and I’d catch a snapper or, if I was too hasty, I usually lost the fish. It wasn’t until years later that I learned how to catch other fish. I took the next step and joined a ladies’ fishing club. I learned from the other members and the mates on the party boats we fished from. In high school it always seemed that the boys who fished learned how from older male relatives – patient older male relatives. They had dads, uncles, older brothers or grandfathers who taught them everything they knew about fishing and more. Now that more women are fishing, I wondered if they learned the same way and did men still learn from older male relatives, so I went around with my questionnaires looking for fishermen on public docks at West Sayville, Oakdale, Bay Shore and Babylon, at the marine consignment store in Bohemia, the Post Office in Bellport, a PETCO store in West Babylon, a marina in Center Moriches, a marine supply store in Patchogue, a marina in Seaford and bait and tackle stores in Mastic and Lindenhurst. I got to meet fishermen and women from as far west as Freeport and Baldwin and as far east as E. Moriches on the south shore and inland from Bohemia east to Rocky Point. Most of the men and women I interviewed said their fathers or grandfathers taught them how to fish. When I asked what the person they went with taught them, they gave me some really interesting answers. Beyond the mechanics of baiting the hook, casting and waiting for the action, they remembered that they also learned patience. They learned to respect the water and sea life. His grandfather taught Raymond that weakfish will bite when the lilacs bloom. Brad’s father taught him about respect for the ocean and oceanic life. Mary spoke about how her grandfather became her go-to person to talk about work problems as she got older. Fred’s father taught him how to fish and how to become a trustworthy person that other people would respect. It seems the time fishing together was well spent for most of these fishermen and women as their fishing instructors became mentors and helped them become the people they are today. Most started fishing when they were between 3 and 10 years old. Laurie, who was self-taught, was 40 the first time she went fishing. They usually started with flounder or snappers and fished from the surf, docks, party boats, private boats or in fresh water. The first time out some caught nothing or a surprise blowfish. Laurie tried for striped bass in the surf and caught one. There are other ways to learn. You can learn on a party boat. For a younger person, ten or under, it might be good to try just two, the instructor and the learner, at a quiet dock to get the basics. Once you know how everything works, having a lot of people around when you’re trying to learn something is not as overwhelming. The party boat provides everything – rod, reel, hooks, sinkers and bait. They teach you by helping you bait the hook and by taking the fish off your line after you catch it. If you don’t have the time or experience to teach your child to fish, Carman’s River Adventure Day Camp teaches canoeing, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, spin fishing and fly fishing. Located on Montauk Highway in Brookhaven, they can be reached by phone @ (631)803-8697 or see them online @ carmansriverkayak.com. The Brookhaven Library newsletter early this summer offered the “Silly Lily Fishing Excursion”, a guided bait and tackle lesson, an authentic fishing experience.” For details and summer fishing camp information call Gary, Jay or Steve @ (631)878-0247. In New York the NYSDEC charges for fresh water fishing licenses. Residents 16 and older pay $5 for one day, $12 for seven days and $25 for a year. There is no charge for salt water fishing but you need to register. You can sign up on their website @ DEC.NY.gov. Or if you have any questions, call them @ (1)866-933-2257. The State provides free fishing dates where instruction is given on casting and fish cleaning. Rods, bait and tackle are supplied. There will be two free fishing dates in September. On September 6th the DEC will be at Peconic Riverfront Park in Riverhead. On September 15th a surfcasting clinic will be held at the Smith Point Fire Island Wilderness Center. For more information call Bob McCormack @ (631)444-0280. The free fishing date will be at a fresh water site on September 22nd. The NYSDEC provides fishing rods to libraries that wish to participate in lending fishing rods to children under 16 and residents who hold valid NYS fishing licenses. When libraries lend fishing rods they also give the person borrowing the pole a tackle box with hooks and sinkers provided by another source. The DEC partners with youth groups and will offer a fishing clinic and instructional program to scouting and after-school programs. The NYSDEC “I Fish NY” brings free classes for grades 3 to 12 during the school year in Nassau and Suffolk Counties. I asked the fishermen I interviewed if they had any funny fishing stories to share. Ted said he fished for anything that would take his bait but never caught a lot of fish. He’s Greek and his son bought him a Greek sailor’s hat to wear for good luck. He caught fish the first time he wore it. Raymond spoke of the biggest challenge for his grandfather when taking him and his brother out, “to hold off eating lunch at least until they left the dock!!” Elizabeth remembers a time her father took her cousin, siblings and Elizabeth fishing and when Elizabeth cast, she accidentally hooked her cousin’s neck and kept pulling on her pole, hooking deeper into his neck before they realized what happened – a family story that will last a lifetime, she thinks. Tom always fished with his father. They liked the jetty at Rye Beach, always went there to surfcast. They were fishing for blackfish, never noticed the tide was coming in and were stuck on the jetty until the tide receded. Brad said his family was fishing off the dock at his cousin’s house, had no luck and were all packing up, pulling in their lines when his mother discovered she had caught the only fish of the day, a 23” fluke. She had no idea it was on the hook. Laurie’s rod went in the water as she was trying to catch a fish and they had to fish for her rod. Brian was bottom fishing off the Bellport dock when he connected with something big – he caught a BBQ grill! They all said the people who taught them how to fish seemed different away from home. They were more relaxed, more focused on enjoying the day and their time together. Several of the fishermen had suggestions on how to make the first fishing experience so positive that young children would have good memories and look forward to fishing in the future.

- Aim for an easy catch with simple equipment – snappers and flounder were favorites. - Use a bobber a child can watch – it keeps their attention centered on fishing. - Use the same simple equipment you give the child so at any time you get a bite You can switch rods so the child can bring his or her first fish in. - Fish at a location where other activities are available. Bring lunch, drinks and a pail and shovel to play in the sand if there are no fish. A place with sand that sells snacks and drinks and has bathrooms is perfect.

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