Every fall, when Lisa Perry's pre-kindergarten class gets to the letter "F," she takes them fishing. "They always remember that F stands for fishing," she said of her annual ritual. Perry, a teacher at the Canterbury School of Florida, usually asks for my help, not because I'm a master angler but because I'll cut squid for hours and never complain. "Remember, we need lots of bait," she told me before our last outing with a group of 15 5-year-olds that included my daughter Nia. "We have to catch fish." With the pressure on, I enlisted the help of my friend Dean Pickel, who hung two chum blocks off his dock overnight. Then, I diced a dozen sardines and slowly sprinkled the cut bait up tide. Then, in less than an hour, the youngster caught several dozen of the biggest pinfish that I have ever seen in my life. My daughter, a fairy princess who wants to be baby doctor ballerina and President of the United States, doesn't like "gross" stuff, which is her and her mom's secret code for anything to do with me and her brother. So I was surprised when she asked me when we could go fishing again. So this Christmas break, that is exactly what we are going to do.
Tips from a pro
Rick Frazier, a licensed fishing guide, angling instructor and author of the Times Landlubber column, has been teaching kids to fish for more than 20 years. Following are some tips from the pro, "Captain Rick."
Keep it simple. Use rods and reels that are easy for kids to use. Or even better, short cane poles are perfect because they can do everything themselves.
Always use small hooks and tackle; they will catch more fish.
Make the outing short, two hours tops. Youngsters have a short attention span, and overdoing it will lead to boredom, then frustration on both ends.
Plan a trip where you know the kids can catch fish. Go to a lake or pond where they can catch bream or catfish or to a shallow grass flat in the bay so they can catch pinfish.
Fishing should be synonymous with fun. Don't sweat the little stuff like tangled lines, and always be upbeat no matter what.
Bring plenty of their favorite drinks and snacks to help occupy their time when the fishing slows.
Let them participate in baiting their own hooks and taking off their fish, if they want to.
Make it visual. Always use a bobber or float so they can see when they get a bite or hook a fish.
Rick Frazier charters the Lucky Dawg out of St. Petersburg. You can reach him at (727) 510-4376 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's Southwest Region Urban Fishery Project maintains a series of fishery management areas in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties that are ideal for family fishing. Each pond is located in a public park with parking, restrooms, picnic areas and shelters.
Freedom Lake Park is located on the southeast corner of U.S. 19 and 49th Street in Pinellas Park. For information, call the city park department at (727) 541-0769.
Walsingham Park is located on 102nd Avenue, 2 miles west of Seminole Boulevard, Largo. For information, call the Pinellas County Park Department at (727) 549-6142.
Al Lopez Park is located on Himes Avenue, just south of U.S. 92 in Tampa. For information, call City of Tampa Parks Department at (813) 931-2121.
Bobby Hicks Park is located on the corner of Manhattan and Mango avenues (across from Robinson High School). For information, call the City of Tampa Parks Department at (813) 931-2121.
Dover District Park is located on 574 and Gallagher Road in Dover. For more information, call the Hillsborough County Parks Department at (813) 975-2160.
Gadsen Park is located on MacDill Avenue, just north of the Air Force base. For information, call the City of Tampa Parks Department at (813) 931- 2121.
Stephen J. Worthman Park is located on Rhodine Road, about 2 miles east of U.S. 301 in Riverview. For more information, call the Hillsborough County Parks Department at (813) 975-2160.
A word about licenses
Children under 16 years of age do not need a fishing license for fresh or salt water.
Take a class
Want to get your kids to learn how to fish but don't know where to start? Capt. Rick is offering a kids' fishing class this spring break (March 30 to April 5 in Pinellas). The two-day class is geared for children ages 7 to 12. Topics include knot tying, leader making, hook selection, weight selection, bait (different types, finding, hooking), species ID, rod and reel (selection and handling) and picking good fishing locations. Cost is $50 per child. The class is limited to 20 children. For information, contact Rick Frazier at (727) 510-4376 or email@example.com.