Bass Class: That first fishing trip boat ride
Few things in the fishing world are as exciting as taking that first ride in a Ranger bass boat. Avid bass anglers can't wait to sit behind the wheel and take a spin around the lake. Sometimes, a fishing trip becomes secondary to the boat ride. Kids often find the same pleasure. They can't wait to earn their first fishing trip afloat in the boat. You can't blame them. After all, they watched the Wal-Mart FLW Tour pros on television, seen them on the Kellogg's cereal box and read about them in the pages of Bass Fishing magazine. These media outlets fill the youngsters with a strong desire to become professional anglers on the tournament circuit. They also quickly learn that they will need a bass boat to catch fish.
Before you take the youngster on his or her first fishing trip boat ride, there are a few precautions you need to take. First and foremost, establish strict ground rules. You must define where the child may stand and when it is safe to do so. The boat is not the place to fool around. Children will often test the adult's resolve to the rules. You should never compromise. As hard as this will sound, if the child disobeys, go home. Do not reward poor behavior by extending the fishing trip!
About six years ago, my bass club sponsored a children's fishing trip club. My partner for the day turned out to be an unruly 12-year-old. After the second offence to the rules, I went back to the ramp and delivered him to shore. Crying did not alter my resolve to stick to the rules. One month later, that same child requested to go fishing with me. With hesitation, I consented. He turned out to be the best partner I had that season. The child learned that in order to play the fishing game, he had to abide by the rules. And he did. Today, this same young man is making his name known on the local fishing circuit.
As a responsible skipper and parent/guardian, you equip your boat with the proper safety gear and the correct number of life jackets. But adult life jackets do not fit children properly. You need to purchase a life jacket that is properly sized for your child. In the children's bass fishing trip club, we require that each child get their own personal life jacket. That saves a lot of headaches – at least until the first boat ride.
The fishing trip club also requires that all children wear life jackets, no exceptions and no excuses. It is also a law in many states that children wear life jackets. But, laws and rules do not stop any child from complaining. They simply hate wearing their life jackets. Most adults do, too.
As I said before, rules are rules. The child must wear the life jacket. Your main problem will come when you try to explain why you aren't wearing your life jacket! While you can use the excuse that state law requires life jackets for youngsters on fishing trips, it still doesn't provide an adequate explanation why adults don't wear them.
The old “do as I say, not as I do” and “because I said so” comments don't hold water in today's parenting world. I believe they actually send bad messages to the child. You are essentially saying that they must follow the rules, but you don't. That kind of ethics statement could haunt you later on. In fact, it may cause a resentment that carries over to other facets of life.
My advice is to wear your life jacket on every fishing trip. Tournament rules require anglers to wear their life jackets when the gas outboard motor is running. At the very least, you should do that every time you go on a fishing trip with the youngster – or any time for that matter. I recently picked up one of those inflatable life vests. The vest enables me to wear the lifesaving devise comfortably while fishing. It also gets me through the “well you're not wearing one” drudgery.
One of the key items I stressed in earlier columns is to keep your adult/child fishing trip outings short. Spending too much time on the boat can lead to boredom. Usually, children in the 5- to 12-year-old class are perfectly happy with a short three-hour fishing trip. So even if you hate your life jacket, you should be able to tolerate wearing it for those few hours.
Most children's how-to books overlook the “fear factor.” Children, especially younger children, are afraid to travel 60 miles per hour down the lake. The speed is just too fast for them to comprehend at blast-off. You need to adjust your boating travel during the fishing trip to meet the child's maturity level and sensitivity.
Speed in the open air is far more intimidating than speed in the safety of an automobile. And remember, most youngsters never go through the open air faster than they can pedal a bicycle. With younger children on a fishing trip , start out at idle speed and work your way up to a slow speed, say 15 to 20 miles per hour. If the child gets antsy, slow down. If not, continue at that speed for a few minutes. Then gradually increase the speed another five miles per hour. Hold that speed for a minute and then begin ramping up. What ever you do, maintain a straight course.
When the child is comfortable with the speed, then you can introduce the turn. On your first turn, slow to half speed and bank to the starboard (right) side. Never take a port (left) turn when introducing children to bass boats. They don't need to see the water as you run a donut. Eventually, you can make lefts and rights at will, but in the early stages of the fishing trip don't make drastic turns that could traumatize the youngster. The result of abrupt turns is usually a sick child in the bottom of your carpeted Ranger.
Some kids love speed. Roller coasters and other amusement park rides are their greatest thrill. These kids usually yell “faster, faster” as you speed down the lake. Again, don't overdo it. Let the child enjoy the fishing trip at a safe speed. Save the hot turns for future trips.
Finally, teach your child about boating safety and boat operation. One of the best things you can do with your child is take a safe boating course. The U.S. Power Squadron, the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and most state boating departments administer such courses. These courses do more than teach the children and adults about fishing trip boating. They allow you to spend more quality time together with your young fishing partner and you both get nice certificates after passing a course. As an added bonus, your boat insurance company should offer you a discount on your insurance rates.
Boating is a very important part of a fishing trip, especially bass fishing. By introducing your child to safe boating with well-defined guidelines, both you and your young fishing buddy can enjoy the sport on into the future.
Frank McKane Jr. is a nationally known outdoor writer with over 4,000 magazine and newspaper pieces published during his 12-year career. He caught his first fish at 6 months of age and, ever since, has studied the ways of the outdoorsman. With a degree in environmental chemistry, he is dedicated to protecting the environment and promoting outdoor sports for children and adults.
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