Birthday lessons from a day of fishing

Aug. 26, 2013 @ 06:39 PM

Ever since there was at least a two-hour window between a clean diaper and the next unclean diaper, both of my boys have known of fishing.
This summer, the youngest turned 7 years old and the oldest 10. So with a combined 17 years of angling experience, they are quite proficient with hook and bait.
Over the course of these annual celebrations, they have always requested cake and a fishing-party. Their peers and classmates have joined them for adventures by the water, where even a four-ounce sunfish is the catch of a young child’s lifetime.
Over all these years, many, many worms have been handled and properly dressed upon a hook for an eager child. There has been chaos, lines have tangled in unbelievable fashion and along the way, friends have found common ground where water and mud meet.
The birthday celebration was held recently, and some new and familiar faces came loaded with hooks, corks, bare feet and big dreams.
For all of you teachers reading this, I promise these kids of summer do become focused, well mannered, quiet and engaged about fishing. It has nothing to do with video games, television or wimpy bribes.
To the pond we went, and worms were cast into the water. Beside the water, everyone watched and waited, and though it was unplanned, the birthday boy screamed first, loudest and soon he was not alone.
The bass was large, and the splash was proportionally epic. When the three-pound fish was lifted for all to see, suddenly the birthday boy was just a fraction more popular than before the cast was made.
I knew his question before the bass was leashed to the stringer, and I still was happy when he asked.
We fished for an hour, other fish were caught, and contrary to what I thought was possible, one can bait two containers of worms in 20 minutes. As an angler, I never advocate running out of bait, however as birthday host and custodian of a dozen kids and their parents, I was glad to see the final worm sail upward and then splash.
At the house, there were hamburgers to eat, candles to blow and a football game, too. It should be noted that there were enough activities, games and free space for these kids to play.
So I was both surprised and impressed when my own came to me with his hands clinched tight inside the mouth of his fish.
“Dad, will you clean this for me?” he said.
Interestingly enough, the parents I was talking with appeared to telepathically encourage this request, and suddenly I felt the need to not just clean this fish but to perform, as well. It may come as a surprise, but this writer never has been shy about teaching and sharing the gems found in the outdoors.
I really didn’t think about censoring or encouraging eyes to be shut until the knife was halfway through the fish. When the head was removed and one of the kids asked, “May I please touch it,” there was an opportunity to teach.
In the shade and with a captive audience, we explored the fish and the internal parts. There was blood and scales, and there was also relevance to this being nature. We talked about gills, oxygen and the various parts of a fish were identified.
And we talked about the food chain and that big fish eat little fish and bigger fish eat big fish.
Really, it would have been enough to dissect and explore the fish. Teachers know when a student understands the concept, yet there is something special when the concept naturally engages a child to explore further.
I had noticed the bulge in the stomach of the fish. One of the kid’s noticed it. too.
“Let’s see what’s inside,” he said.
I, too, was curious. Carefully, I held the stomach and encouraged whatever was inside to come out.
“Cool,” one child said.
“That is awesome,” said another.
Before becoming a bass that bit a hook, the fish had taken part in the cycle of life and swallowed a smaller fish whole.
That day, candles were blown out, kids ran free, worms were cast and an impromptu science lesson was held.
I don’t know where these kids will travel over the course of their lives. Some may fish again, and some may only fish a few times before moving on as they please.
The following night, my boys and I feasted on the bass and enjoyed every flaky-white bite. There were birthday gifts opened that day, yet the best gift of all came from a big fish that ate a smaller fish.
Enjoy your time outdoors.
You may contact Jason Hawkins at hawkinsoutdoors@msn.com.