Recently my two Oklahoma-raised children came up to me and asked “what does the ocean look like?” This, of course, made me feel like a parental failure. So, properly guilt-ridden, my wife and packed up the kids and headed for the nearest saline body of water, which happened to be the Gulf of Mexico at Galveston Island, Texas. We would wade in water, collect seashells, catch crabs, throw bread to the gulls, build sandcastles and buy tons of useless ocean-themed kitsch. You know, landlubbing touristy stuff…
However, there was no way I was going to go the beach without doing some fishing and introducing my oldest son to the sport. I decided the best way to do this would be through a charter trip with Captain Ralph Frazier. Frazier is something of a local legend around Galveston; in addition to being a guide since 1973, he’s also a successful tournament angler and puts on numerous fishing seminars throughout the region. But more importantly, over the years Captain Frazier has had a ton of kids in his boat and so he knows exactly what it takes to ensure a child has a good time while on the water.
And really, that’s at the top of the list of tips I learned about chartering a fishing trip for you and your child: pick a guide who knows, understands and actually likes kids. Sounds simple, I know, but it’s so important. It makes the slack periods go smoothly and makes the hectic, fish-on-every-cast periods go even more smoothly. As Captain Frazier told me “with kids, it’s all about catching things and keeping them interested and engaged. Make sure your trip revolves around that and you’ll be fine.”
There are, however, a few more tips I learned about chartering your child’s first fishing trip. Some I gleaned from Captain Frazier, others I learned from painful (and joyous) experience…
One: Make it simple, make it fun and most importantly, make it something your children can handle. I longed for the full-on Captain Quint experience, a full-day offshore trip for big sharks, tarpon or whatever big, nasty, tackle-busting fish was available. My son, like most kids, just wanted to ride around in a boat, feel something tug his line and have fun. A long, pounding thirty or forty-mile open-sea run followed by hours under a broiling sun hooking fish no eighty five-pound, ten-year-old boy could possibly handle may sound like fun to you, but it sounds like Brussels Sprouts to a child. Instead, we chose an inshore jetty fishing trip for redfish, specks and whatever else we happened to hook. My son had a blast (see photo) and so did I.
Two: Temper your expectations and maintain your patience: My son loves to fish, and he’s done a lot of it, but when you put a child into unfamiliar surroundings fishing for something he’s never fished for, using tackle and tactics he’s not familiar with, on a rocking boat in the middle of a giant bay, you can’t expect him or her to be the efficient little automaton they are on their tiny home waters. They’re going to get lines tangled, they’re going to snag the guide’s hat with their wildly flailing casts, they’re going to get excited and keep reeling even when the fish is taking drag, they’re going to step on rod tips, spill drinks and generally cause mayhem.
Three: Let the guide/captain be their coach. Most kids take non-parental instruction much better than well-meaning but generally ignored advice from their parents. So when a big fish starts your son’s reel to screaming, just put aside your delusions of expertise, get out of the way and let the captain coach do his job. Why? Because it allows you to take pictures and just enjoy the experience.
Four: Make sure, then make double sure, that you slather them in sunscreen. And then, when they’re coated in a slimy, viscous cocoon of clinging, gelatinous SPF ooze, coat them again. Because if you bring them back to their mother sporting a crispy, beet-red shade of dermis, you will receive a severe and life-threatening beating from your wife. It’s just that simple.