“Hooking Kids On Fishing” Story & Photos by Scott Haugen
During the Sports Shows, Tiffany, the boys and I, love hearing stories, seeing familiar faces, and making new friends. The common bonds we share through fishing, truly are special.
On this morning of fishing Diamond Lake, the action was slow for the Haugen’s, so they went back to camp. After swimming, riding bikes and exploring, they hit the water that evening and nearly limited out. Knowing when to push it and when to back-off is key to keeping kids interested in fishing.
During the course of those sports shows, I’m approached by many fellow anglers. Some just want to shake hands, others have details they’re eager to share and quite a few ask questions.
This year, more than ever, I was asked about how I got my boys hooked on fishing.
Teaching Your Kids to Fish
Like many of you, I grew up around fishing and began forming a knowledge base at a very young age. By the time I was four, I’d landed trout, steelhead, and springers.
Those were memorable times, and oddly enough, as I reflect on those events, it’s the hardships that most stand-out.
Battling frozen water on opening day at Diamond Lake, pouring briquettes into a steel bucket to use as a heater on those cold mornings, and going without food are just some of the memories I have. True, we didn’t have the luxuries in the 1960s that we have today, but the thing is, all of the hardships I encountered were considered normal; we didn’t know any different.
There were no other options for heaters, no fancy gear, and if Mom didn’t make us a lunch, Dad and I usually went without.
How many times we said, “No, we don’t need a lunch, we’ll only be gone a few hours,” I do not know.
As I started taking my sons, Braxton and Kazden, fishing, I remembered what I went through at an early age. I know my outdoor skills, ability to catch fish and success in making a living in the outdoors, stemmed from the disciplines learned through fishing. That’s what I want to instill in my sons.
When it came to getting my boys hooked on fishing, I started them at an early age. Both boys were joining me in the boat at the age of two. Today, Braxton and Kazden are in their teens, and we’ve enjoyed many fond fishing memories throughout the Pacific Northwest as well as in Canada, Alaska, Florida and Africa.
On this day, Haugen was confident he could have gotten his boys on to more steelhead, but once they each had a fish, they were ready to call it a day. It was Kazden’s (4) first summer steelhead, while Braxton (6) had a few under his belt.
In the beginning, my number one goal was to make it fun for each boy and ensure they were comfortable.
If the weather was terrible, we wouldn’t go.
If the river was high or the fishing extremely slow, we’d not go.
For me, when I’m on the water, catching fish is usually wherein the fun lies.
For my boys, taking time to skip rocks, watch birds, play in the water, and snack (frequently), is what made it fun in the formative stages. At the end of the day, my goal was to hear them say, “That was fun, let’s do it again.”
Today, now that’ they’re older, I push them harder and have higher expectations of them.
Sure, there were days when the boys didn’t want to go fishing, but I made them go, anyway. Every single time I had to nudge them to go, we had a great time once we were on the water.
In these situations, Tiffany was a major help in convincing the boys to go.
One of the Haugen’s most memorable salmon fishing days. Kazden (5) and Braxton (7) even got in on the action, making the family outing one they still talk about, seven years later. The trip wasn’t easy, but it’s often the hardships related to fishing that offer the most rewards.
This is where two parents have to coordinate in an effort to get the kids out, knowing the experience will be worth it. Of course it’s easier to sit at home, be with mom and play games. There were times Tiffany joined us in order to get the kids to go, and regardless of how much she had to do at home, she always made time for the kids and she, too, enjoyed getting out for the day. At this stage, it’s all about the kids having a fun experience, and that takes time and dedication.
Overall, it’s a big commitment but a wise investment.
Sure, there were days I pushed too hard and times I told Tiffany the boys and I would be home by noon, but rolled in after dark. Some of the life skills fishing teaches are dedication, determination, and a desire to succeed, and these skills aren’t learned without facing challenges and hardships in life, both physical and mental.
Getting up early, fishing when it’s slow, battling bad weather, and overcoming unforeseen obstacles are all part of our sport and what it teaches. Valued life skills won’t be acquired sitting at home, sleeping away half the day, or playing video games all the time. When our kids hit their late ‘teens, we don’t want them leading a mediocre, over-privileged lifestyle, something that’s haunting America right now.
We want them to be confident, hard-working, and willing to face any challenges, then have the confidence to overcome it all; fishing will help equip them with the needed coping skills to do just that.
There were times when I pushed the boys, like when they caught loads of fish and didn’t want to hold them and get all slimy for the sake of a photo, but I forced them to do it, anyway.
Braxton Haugen (7) was happy to cradle this chrome salmon for a quick picture. While capturing moments like this is priceless, kids aren’t always willing to pose with slimy, smelly fish–don’t force it if they don’t want to do it.
Though I may have pushed too hard at times, these mistakes were okay in the scope of life, especially when it came to the boys developing problem-solving skills.
When I noticed the boys sincerely losing interest, growing tired or asking, “how much longer?” I knew it was time to make a change or simply call it a day, so backed-off.
There is such a thing as pushing too hard.
Only on occasion did our days start at 3:00 a.m. for salmon and steelhead.
Often I was content to let the boys sleep a few extra hours, knowing they’d be in better moods throughout the day, thus get more out of the trip. Then again, some of the most talked-about days on the water are when the boys got up at 3:00 a.m. and slept in the bow of the boat until legal fishing time, just like what I grew up doing.
Often times our trips didn’t start until late in the afternoon, after school.
This is easier to do as spring approaches and transitions into longer summer days where everyone is more comfortable. Enjoying sunsets and watching bug hatches were some of the boys’ favorite things to do, of course, while they were snacking on something.
When Tiffany packed lunches for these outings, she’d toss in something special like a candy bar, or something the boys normally didn’t get at home. Jerky was always a favorite, and even today the boys make sure we have plenty of homemade jerky when hitting the water.
On the family outings, we’d often make it a point to take time out for lunch
...rather than quickly munching between casts, which is the norm for me when fishing alone. The boys especially loved the summer camping trips where Tiffany would cook our catch over the open fire, and they could explore the tent’s surroundings.
During these camping trips the goal was to expose the boys to as much of the outdoors as possible. We always made them part of the cleaning and cooking process.
Tiffany and I are firm believers in what we catch, we eat.
When the boys were little, Grandpa helped them make their own fish scalers. They cut a 6-inch long chunk of 2x4 then nailed six bottle caps to one side, two rows of three. It made a great scaler, and the boys always loved scaling fish and took pride in using their homemade tools. We still use them, today.
As the boys got older they learned how to gut and clean their catch.
Giving kids the responsibility to bait hooks, net fish, then scale and clean them, is empowering and builds needed skills. Here, Kazden Haugen cleans his own fish, something he’s been doing since the age of four.
By age four, both boys could handle a knife and clean their own fish. Once the fish were completely cleaned, Tiffany would take over in teaching them basic cooking skills. Today, both boys have their own Kershaw knives, something they know marked their level of proficiency and responsibility in relationship to fishing and being outdoors.
As far as the actual fishing goes, I tried to allow for enough change that the boys never grew bored. In our house, “bored” is like a four-letter-word, something we don’t allow.
To me, being bored is a state of mind, and if I’m feeling bored it’s up to me to change at that moment. My affliction to the boys being bored stemmed from the fact we were outdoors, on the water, in nature where there was so much going on, boredom was due to neglecting to notice and appreciate all that surrounded us. In other words, I wanted the boys to fully appreciate and understand nature and all things that come with fishing. Having traveled to more than 30 countries, I can’t stress enough to the boys, how blessed we are as American’s to simply have the freedom to fish, with clean waters to fish in.
Being a former biology teacher, I always point out birdlife to the boys, too. From ospreys to dippers, cedar waxwings to various swallows, herons, waterfowl, and more, the boys took an early interest in bird identification when we fished together. Today, Braxton and Kazden can name many of the species they see, and every time I hear that it makes me smile. It’s all part of the experience.
When the boys were young they packed their own tackle boxes. Kazden loved my old tackle box, one I got when I was a kid. Braxton wanted a Super Hero tackle box. When it came to filling the boxes with gear, they liked the flashy plugs, rubber bass worms and colorful bobbers. What they loaded into their tackle box didn’t matter—I had all the good gear stowed in my tackle box—but the fact the boys took ownership in their gear selection, that’s what was important.
During their formative years I tried to fit the boys with rods they could comfortably handle. When drifting the river, lifejackets on, I’d take multiple rods in order to offer change. If the boys started losing interest in backtrolling bait for trout, we’d switch to fishing with bobber and bait. When that got old, we’d cast spinners. My goal was to keep their minds engaged while at the same time building basic fishing skills. This is how they learned to cast different setups, handle different types of reels, read water and much more.
I’d also let the boys get involved with other things when on the river. When passing through dead water, I’d let one of the boys row. When dropping anchor, I’d let one of them have the honors. When salmon and steelhead were landed, bonking the fish was very popular. Often, the little, ordinary things we take for granted are what most intrigue kids, and making them a part of it all is critical in developing an appreciation for everything that is fishing related.
Fishing on lakes was a different deal. On these big, still bodies of water, we either trolled or still-fished when the boys were young. There wasn’t a lot of variation in terms of techniques, so in order to break the monotony, we’d fire-up the motor and change location. Whether we needed to or not, the move was to keep the kid’s interested, not necessarily to catch more fish.
When on a lake, I’d let the boys net their own fish, something they loved doing almost as much as catching them.
Netting kids net their own fish goes a long way in developing interest and basic skills. Here, Braxton Haugen (6) reaches out to net a rainbow for his little brother.
They were both strong enough to lean over the boat and net trout at an early age. Lakes were a nice place to teach the boys how to net fish, as the boat was stable and there were no currents to battle.
As the boys grew older it became easy for them to learn the process of netting salmon and steelhead in fast-moving water, a valuable skill I often see adults struggling with (head, first!).
As the boys matured they began exploring little creeks and ponds, alone. I recall, as a kid, when I took a fascination to hiking small streams and fishing small farm ponds for trout. Sometimes catching a 3-inch trout in a foot of water was so gratifying, as was catching a fat redside from the local farmer’s pond. Once the boys started exploring these things on their own, telling stories of their adventures and sharing photos of the scenery they snapped with their cell phones while on their solo-outings, that’s when Tiffany and I knew we’d done our part of rightfully introducing them to the outdoors.
As days grow longer and temperatures rise, make an effort to get kids on the water.
Keep it fun, stay positive, and be engaged, then everyone will have a good time. Don’t panic should plans go awry and don’t feel like every trip has to be a major undertaking. Today, some of the fishing trips my boys most often talk about were those that lasted no more than a couple hours. We now laugh about some of the less fun, but true character-building experiences.
We’re fortunate to have the fishing opportunities we do in North America and to be able to share the great outdoors with the next generation of anglers. When the day is over and the kids are tucked in bed, the greatest sound is, “Dad, that was fun today, can we do it again?” That’s when you know they’re hooked on fishing.
Visit Scott's website www.scotthaugen.com.