Set The Children Free!


Illustration by Sara Wilde

Parents never grow out of the idea that if unattended their baby can drown in inches of water. And fishing involves sharp things and whipping motions and stains that can put laundry detergents to the test. In their worried minds, fishing requires a survival suit, welding mask, Kevlar gloves, and perhaps a ground spike and tether. Is it worth the risk?

Kids do a spectacular job of being complete ramrods day in and day out. They exercise their ability to jump off everything, to run everywhere, and to show utter disregard for quiet and order. Proven to be a danger to themselves and others, they act this way because they can and should. If safety comes first, than at best, fun comes second. Kids will get hurt, and as much as it pains them, parents need to get over it. Our best stories involve scars and near-misses. I learned to fish with the dock spiders in our boathouse that hung out over Storm Bay on Lake of the Woods. At dawn, I’d wriggle my keyhole lifejacket over my flannel jammies and I’d catch rock bass, smallies, and pike on River Runts and Canadian Wigglers. When I couldn’t remove the fish from the hook, I would hurry it into my parent’s bedroom. Dad could free fish with his eyes closed. I knew my boundaries, but I was trusted in ways that would be frowned upon by today’s parent. What harm was done?

After I proved myself responsible, I was rewarded with a bone-handled hunting knife that I soon used to remove a flap of flesh from the knuckle of my left index finger. Never cut towards yourself! Parents, you can do worse than fishing. Imagine the learning curve on becoming a yogi or joining in the circle battle at hip-hop dance class. There are no written or practical tests that require a passing grade to earn your fishing licence. It’s a no-brainer. There are no try-outs, hazing or over-aggressive coaches. No harm in putting yourself out there. Fishing doesn’t require an elite level of physical fitness or really any social skills. Fishing welcomes those who self-identify as a spazz, dimwit and/or loner. Fishing is inclusive, and that’s beauty.

Kids, you can do worse than your parents, if they agree to take you fishing. Try to contain your excitement enough to refrain from ending the day at the hospital. At least let them catch one fish, or they’ll become jealous of your “luck”. Try your best to listen, but if your parents really have no clue, avoid calling them spazz, dimwit and/or loner, and take comfort in my ten-step plan for newbies:

• Learn to swim – helpful on so many levels.

• Half-hour to start – parents recognize that your enthusiasm may wane before your child’s, and that’s okay. Good time and not a long time.

• Fish from solid ground – go simple with bobbers, split shot, and small single hooks. Go polar and hit the hard water with tip-ups, bait, and jigs.

• Assorted live bait – kids play with the wrapping paper instead of the toy and with that in mind get minnows and crawlers and leeches or some other critter. Better yet, catch your own or tie flies together.

• Tackle box Q&A – give the child permission to look and touch, provided they listen to your fish stories, believe these stories at face value, and put things back where they found them. Parents expect a migration of tackle to the children’s box.

• Two rods + Two kids + One adult – this is maximum capacity and should only be attempted by the experienced. There be safety in numbers.

• Explore the shore – collect bugs, pick berries, smell flowers and take notice of every little detail so to compare with your subsequent visits.

• Catch fish! – don’t matter the size or variety, wild versus stocked, native versus invasive, try for one fish. If you have no luck; fake a bite, stage a fight, and lose like a sport.

• Keep fish – open up that belly, watch the kids’ eyes widen, involve their hands in the process, show them real blood and guts, and the makings of a great meal.

• Give thanks – by leaving no trace, making memories, and returning another day.

Remember that you are only young once (twice if you have kids of your own, and three times if you have grandkids). The safety police have already removed the swings from the playgrounds and they are working to save us all from the tragedies of tobogganing. Fishing allows us to connect with our past while living in the moment. Overcome your fears and enable the next generation to feel a freedom that can only be found in the great outdoors. By all means, set the children free!


About Author

John Toone is a writer and businessman from Winnipeg, Canada. His creative work includes books like Fishin' For Dumbasses (Great Plains) and From Out of Nowhere (Turnstone Press). He is a partner in Electric Monk Media, creators of virtual reality and motion picture experiences like the documentary film The Private Lives of Wild Creatures and the video game Phantom of the Forest. John Toone is a hunter, fisherman, gatherer, home-schooler, woodlot manager, green thumb and jack-of-all-trades. Please visit

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