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OUTDOORS: Gather the youngsters, fish for free

June 11, 2004


GRAYLING -- If you've never taken a kid fishing, you can do it Saturday and Sunday during Free Fishing Weekend, when anyone can fish without a license.

Fishing with kids is one of my favorite activities, which I can best explain by recounting some recent outings with my three grandchildren.

Savannah, Alexis and Lachlan joined me on Lake Margrethe in front of our house for an evening's fishing. At least, that was the plan. Lexie, 8, is an avid angler and budding naturalist, and Lachlan, 5, has high hopes of catching a bullhead like the big one we saw swimming under the dock a few hours before.

But in the first half-hour, Vanna, 2, dropped a shoe in the water, followed a little later by her dress when she stripped naked to go into the lake while my back was turned for 30 seconds. Each of those dramas required histrionics worthy of an Academy Award, and actual fishing time was about 2 1/2 minutes out of the 30.

Conditions weren't very good. A 20-knot wind raked the lake from the south, ruffling up whitecaps. Floats cast out into the lake were hard to keep track of in the 18-inch chop.

Then we noticed that one of the floats didn't resurface after ducking under a wave, and lifting the rod produced a series of answering tugs. Lachlan reeled in a nice bluegill about seven inches long, which we admired and released to fight another day.

Vanna, meanwhile, managed to fall off the dock steps into the lake, an event she announced with piercing shrieks that probably were heard in Kalkaska, 25 miles down M-72. This achievement required a round of kiss-it-and-make-it-better from all within sight.

As a fishing trip, it was a debacle. But as a chance to spend some great time in the outdoors with my grandchildren, it was priceless. And we more than made up for it the next evening, when the wind died down. Lexie and Lachlan caught more than a dozen bluegills and smallmouth bass, and Savannah spent nearly an hour on the dock without falling into the lake.

If you go fishing with children, keep in mind that the purpose of the trip is for the kids to have fun, not for adults to catch fish. Keep it simple. The best method is fishing with bait under a float, which makes it easier for them to detect a bite.

Let the kids fish as long as they want, which is usually as long as the bobber keeps going under. But if they get bored, let them explore and collect treasures like live snails and freshwater clam shells.

As I get older, I realize that the most precious commodity in life is the time we get to spend doing things we enjoy with the people we love. Free Fishing Weekend gives us an opportunity to invest some of that precious time wisely.

And as I've often told my wife, Susan, if I had known then what I do now, I would have skipped those ungrateful kids and gone straight to grandchildren.

Contact ERIC SHARP at 313-222-2511 or [email protected] Order his book "Fishing Michigan" for $15.95 at or by calling 800-245-5082.

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