Mark Lovewell


Outdoors: One Fish, Two Fish

If you teach a kid to fish, you may wind up with a friend for life.

Martha’s Vineyard is a wonderful place to introduce a kid to saltwater fishing. Determining whether the experience will be fun, exciting, exasperating, or maddening begins with realistic priorities and sensible planning.

When my daughter was much younger, I learned that it is important to bring enough snacks to outfit an expedition and carry sunscreen the consistency of peanut butter that must be applied liberally to any exposed area of skin.

And don’t ever rely on a kid’s assessment of whether he or she has enough clothing before leaving the dock. Kids don’t react to air and water temperatures like adults. They are impervious to cold until they are not...and then it is too late to do anything about it other than return home.

Fishing with kids also requires a certain selflessness that may not come naturally to every angler. Fishermen can be single-minded. I’m not suggesting you will pull the rod out of a youngster’s hands if a school of striped bass or bluefish show up, but you may think about it.

Longtime West Tisbury seasonal resident Phil Cronin, the affable operator of Capawock Charters, says that whenever he books a trip for kids he makes it clear to the parent: hands off the equipment.

“I tell the dad, ‘The only time you should be fishing is when you’re showing your child how to properly use the equipment or land the fish. Our mission is to create a lasting memory for your child. If we’re successful, you might just have a fishing partner for life.’”

A charter boat fishing trip can be fun, but it is important to speak to the captain and set realistic goals. Do you want to troll for striped bass and bluefish, which will require more patience, or bottom fish for fluke, sea bass, and scup with the promise of more consistent action? A trip aboard a party boat, such as the Skipper or the Skylark, is a sociable and economical way to fish with other Island visitors. Crew members are used to untangling lines and helping kids land their first fish.

If corralling the kids on a boat for several hours is unrealistic, head to a beach with a moderate current, such as Lobsterville Beach in Aquinnah or State Beach in Edgartown. Kick back and fish a bottom rig using an eight-foot rod and one-ounce weight. Tackle shops can help with the setup and bait – I prefer squid.

Small glow sticks are available to attach to the rod tip so it is visible after dark. That bright light swaying back and forth will make the fishing experience mysterious and exciting. As a rule, warm waters send the big fish to deeper water. Be content to hook a scup or sea robin. But a stray bluefish or bass is not out of the question.

Invariably, the kids will begin to wander. I loosen the reel drag so a hard strike from a big fish won’t pull the whole outfit down the beach. But even a scup will make the illuminated rod tip jerk sharply and send the kids dashing for the rod.

Recently transferred Coast Guard Station Menemsha chief Robert Parent is the father of three boys – ages ten, nine, and five – and a daughter who will turn two this August. To say he knows something about taking kids fishing would be an understatement. They take their cue from you. “If you’re excited they caught weeds, they get excited to catch weeds,” he says. “Don’t underestimate how much fun they’re having.”

Keeping kids interested while beach fishing requires falling back on sit-and-wait tactics that include creative shore games – rock stacking, sand digging – and he says with emphasis, “Lots of snacks!”

Above all, he says, “Find time to take them, even if it’s only ten minutes, because in their brain, they still got to go fishing.”

In my living room is a photo of my ten-year-old daughter holding a small fluke and me on the dock in Menemsha. It is a reminder to me that summer days and childhood pass quickly.