By Mark Strand
An awful lot of advice on how to get kids started in fishing and hunting assumes the kids are interested, but likely to become bored with the whole thing if it drags on past a couple hours or if a hungry fish does not attack every time the bait hits the water. For average kids, this is probably accurate, but there are gung-ho youngsters for whom this ‘average’ label does not apply.
When the flame of outdoor desire burns strong and bright, what is the best approach to mentoring? Is it possible to burn out natural-born fanatics by giving them too much, too soon? And is it always obvious which kids are fired up and which ones are inclined to dip their toes in the water?
We explored this topic with Jason Mitchell, who was as avid a young fisherman and hunter as rural North Dakota ever produced. He grew up wanting nothing more than to be on the water and in the field as much as possible. In adulthood, he became a full-time guide and eventually host of his own outdoor television show.
Jason has a gift for teaching young beginners how to fish and hunt, and it’s a critically important role that he takes seriously. We think you’ll agree that his thoughts on catering to the gung-ho outdoor youngster are worth hearing.
Q: Do you think it’s obvious to see that a youngster is gung-ho about hunting and fishing, or are some kids hard to read?
Jason: One thing I’ve really noticed while guiding is that some kids can be shy, or just quiet, about how excited they are. We’ll be having this bang-up day, catching lots of fish, and I’m kind of disappointed that the kids don’t seem to be having that much fun. Then we get home and I check my Facebook and the kid says he had the time of his life and “here’s a picture of me with my big walleye from Devils Lake.” Sometimes it’s not cool for kids to let people know they’re excited, so you have to know some kids don’t really show it on the outside.
Q: Do you have any tips for helping people read their own kids in this regard?
Jason: One of the best ways to find out what they really think is to ask if they would like to go again. If they make excuses to avoid going again, you can tell it might not be for them. Some kids are just not outdoors people – but fishing can bring so much to anybody, that I think we should expose them to it and see.
Even if they don’t say much, if their eyes light up when you ask whether they want to go again, you know they’re excited about it.
Q: There’s an old saying in dog training that you should “put ‘em back in the kennel wanting to do more” so that even the most naturally driven puppy remains excited during training. In other words, you should not just keep throwing retrieves until finally the puppy doesn’t seem interested anymore. When it comes to gung-ho kids and the outdoors, do you think this principle might apply, or should you just provide as many hours in the field as humanly possible?
Jason: I think it’s just like dog training. I think you should put them back in the kennel before they get tired of doing it, but at the same time, I think that most living circumstances automatically kennel those kids before they would get burned out. They still have to go to school, a lot of them play sports or do other activities, and usually it means they can only go fishing on some of the weekends. Life sort of sets up those parameters, and the gung-ho kids end up not getting as much as they want. They figure out ways to drag their parents along, by asking to do more.
Q: So your take is that gung-ho kids will run into plenty of obstacles that keep them from getting so much outdoor time that they would get burned out on it. But how about this one: even with kids who are excited to go, should you draw some lines when it comes to less-than-ideal weather conditions? You plan to go fishing, and you wake up and it’s cold, windy, and raining. Do you just zip up the raingear tight and take the kid anyway? Do you stay out there if they seem to be having fun, or do you cut it short to guard against them having a bad experience and maybe losing some of their gung-ho-ness?
Jason: I think you gotta be awfully careful with that. If you stay out there and the kids are miserable, wet, freezing cold, it can get imprinted in their minds, and it can be hard to get them excited about going again next time. As they get older, after they have already had a lot of good days out there, if they go enough they’re going to experience rough weather, big waves on the lake, deer hunting in the snow, and they will probably cope with the conditions just fine.
When it comes to bad weather, I think you have to wait until they get to that stage where they are taking you, rather than the other way around. Truthfully, crummy weather has the potential to turn kids away from fishing and hunting before they get to the point where they really love it and it becomes a part of who they are.
Notes: There’s more to say on this subject, so next time we’ll continue with part 2 of Catering to the Gung-Ho Outdoor Youngster. Notes: Follow Jason Mitchell and his TV show (9 a.m. Sundays on Fox Sports North and Fox Sports Midwest) at www.jasonmitchelloutdoors.com and www.facebook.com/JasonMitchellOutdoors.