Some of my best childhood memories are of my Dad and me fishing on a local trout stream and shooting our bows in the backyard. I was very fortunate that I had a father who wanted to share his passion for the outdoors with me and took the time to take me fishing and hunting. Because of that relationship with my Dad and all of the incredible memories we’ve been able to make over the years, I knew I wanted that same relationship with my kids when that time came, and create the same bond that my Dad and I have.
I want them to have the same type of memories I have, and be able to look back at their childhood and say “I wouldn’t want it any other way.” Now that I have two small children I have the chance to share my love for the great outdoors.
My daughter’s first experience of the great outdoors was on Father’s day, shortly after her first birthday. It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon and I wanted to scout a patch of woods by our house that I had yet to hunt. I’ve always struggled trying to strike a good balance between spending time with my family and going hunting or fishing. But this was a great chance to do both. So I strapped on the Kelty hiking pack built to haul a toddler that my cousin had given to us at the baby shower the year before, loaded up my daughter, and headed out the backdoor. We weren’t going to be too far from the house, so if she got upset I could be home in a few minutes. She didn’t get upset, and a tradition started, from which I will always cherish the memories.
After that first hike with my daughter, I found every excuse to get her in to that pack and go for a hike. My daughter and I have made many memories while she was strapped into that thing, some she won’t remember, but all of them I will. We’ve gone on short summer hikes behind the house, trekked through the mud, splashed through streams, bundled up and plowed through the knee deep snow, gone over hills and through fields, and encountered all kinds of wildlife, including stumbling upon a black bear on one hike. The key to having an enjoyable hike was to keep it short and head home when she was ready. I had to remember I was out there for the both of us, not just myself.
The spring my son was born was a challenge to get everyone the sleep that they needed. With an exhausted wife and a sleeping baby, I needed to get our almost 2 year-old out of the house. Since it was trout season, and I knew my daughter loved being in the hiking pack, we loaded up the truck and headed to a local trout stream. She absolutely loved it. She giggled when the fish would splash through the water as I reeled them in and yelled at them to stop flopping as I took out my hook. She always wanted to touch the fish and her favorite part was throwing them back into the water. She loved when I would hand the rod back to her so she could reel the fish in herself. We’ve already caught a lot of fish together, and I’m excited to keep that tradition going as she gets older.
This past spring Pennsylvania had the first ever Mentored Youth Trout Day on the weekend before the regular trout opener. Since my Dad and I are avid trout fisherman we wanted to take my daughter out for her very first, first day of trout. I knew I needed a plan going into that weekend, a set of guidelines really, to make sure it wasn’t a complete disaster and so she would enjoy it and want to keep fishing with her Daddy. I learned my lesson years ago about what happens when the wrong approach is taken to teaching someone how to fish.
When my wife and I were just dating, she asked me to take her trout fishing. She knew that I loved it and she wanted to share that with me. But, instead of creating a lifelong fishing partner, I ended up pushing her too hard, I did not have patience with her, and effectively snuffed out her desire to ever go fishing with me again. That is a mistake that I do not take lightly, and vow not to repeat with my kids. I was given a second chance with my daughter, so I made sure to sit down and think about what I needed to do to make that first day a successful one, and remember that catching fish is not the only measure of success.
- Only go if it’s relatively warm and definitely not when it’s raining. It is not much fun for a kid to be cold and wet while standing in the rain.
- Pick fishing spots that are close to home, have easy access points, and don’t require a long walk in to the stream. For the Mentored Youth Trout Day we went to a State Park reservoir that is stocked with trout regularly. It’s a short drive from the house, has an easy walk to the reservoir, there were plenty of places to fish from shore that didn’t have trees to tangle our lines, and a playground for when she got bored with the fishing part.
- If she wants to stop fishing to play, let her. Whether it’s in the shallows looking for crayfish, on the stream bank building a stick fort, going down the slide at the nearby park, or throwing rocks into the water (if no one else is fishing nearby), going fishing is not just about catching fish.
- Snacks are essential. Keep her happy, bring plenty of snacks and juice.
- When she says she’s done and wants to go home, we’ll call it a day, regardless of how many fish we are catching. Again, I have to remember this is for her, not just me.
- Patience, patience, patience. I need to find the patience that I didn’t have when I was fishing with my wife. I didn’t want her first memory of fishing being me yelling at her, so I was going to avoid yelling at all costs.
Because of the guidelines I made for myself, and because I stuck to them, we fished for a few hours, caught a few fish, and had a lot of fun in the process. My daughter and I fished several more times together that spring, and although on many occasions I had to step back, take a deep breath, and remind myself that this was for her, we had a great fishing season.
Many of those same guidelines can be used in the other outdoor activities we do together, patience being the most important of all. My daughter is now three, still a little too young to take her to the rifle range, but a perfect age to start learning about archery and fling a few arrows in the backyard. She likes to watch as I shoot my bow, so this summer we took out the youth bow she received as a gift from a good family friend. Before we started, I emphasized that the bow was not a toy, and she could only shoot it if I was with her. I pointed to each part of the bow and arrow, and explained what it was and how it was used. The string, the rest, the handle, the nock, the fletching, the field point, just like my Dad did with me many years ago when I first started shooting a bow.
I showed her how to hold her fingers on the string, how to pull it back, and where to aim. To keep things interesting we shoot at balloons, always giving out high fives when she pops one. Like everything else, we keep things short, when she loses interest we put the bow away and go play something else.
While growing up, my Dad and I would go to 3D archery shoots just about every weekend, I have many great memories with my Dad and other friends at these shoots. I have taken my daughter to a couple 3D archery shoots, letting her shoot at the target when we walk up to pull out my arrows. She usually hits the target, even though it just bounces off she still giggles, shouts “I did it”, and gives out those high fives. In a few years hopefully she’ll join me more often at the 3D courses.
This past year was a season of firsts, her first day of trout, her first time shooting a bow, but we were missing something. We needed to go camping, camping was a staple of my youth, most of the time right in the backyard. So on a Saturday this summer we bought her a sleeping bag, pitched a tent in the backyard, roasted some marshmallows by the fire, and tried to sleep outside. I made sure she had her blanket and stuffed puppy, a flashlight, and was warm and cozy in her sleeping bag. She told me stories and we made shadow puppets on the ceiling of the tent using her flash light, but by 11:30 that night she was ready to go inside to her own bed. She wasn’t quite ready to sleep in the tent, so we’ll try again next year. Maybe we’ll be able to convince her mom to sleep in the tent too.
Everything I do with my kids in the outdoors requires patience, something that I don’t always have enough of, but continue to work on improving. When I remind myself why I’m doing it helps me refocus and gain perspective. I’m going to have to alter my guidelines each year as my kids get older, but it’s important to keep those guidelines in mind when taking the kids into the outdoors. I had a great childhood in the outdoors and I want my kids to have that too.
Kory is the Managing Editor of Harvesting Nature, an online outdoor publication focusing on wild game recipes, hunting and fishing narratives, and adventure articles. He has been an avid hunter and fisherman for most of his life and enjoys spending time in the outdoors with his family. Kory currently lives in northwestern Pennsylvania with his wife and two young children.