Fishing a healthy alternative to TV, video games

Nationwide effort on to lure kids to sport

By Elliott Minor

Associated Press

ALBANY, Ga. -- Susan Soto squinted in the morning sun as she untangled nylon fishing lines and baited hooks during a fishing trip with four of her sons to a southwestern Georgia catfish pond.

Ignoring the warning from the bait salesman, she had put the earthworms in the refrigerator overnight to keep them "fresh." That took the wiggle out of some. "They got too cold," she said. "The little ones got mushy."


Some of the boys' rods and reels worked better than others. But tangled lines and jammed reels didn't stifle their youthful enthusiasm.

Even novices can enjoy

That is part of the message that wildlife officials and fishing equipment companies are trying to get to parents and children: Even novices can have fun fishing, and it doesn't cost that much to get started.

"It doesn't take a lot of planning," said Chris Martin, coordinator of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources' Aquatic Education Program. "It can be only for a few hours. It doesn't have to be a consuming day."

There are 44 million anglers in the nation, but fishing is waning in popularity among the young, losing out to video games, television and team sports. It's important to introduce children to fishing because it gets them interested in conservation and helps fund government wildlife work through license fees, said Beth Brown, spokeswoman for Georgia's Wildlife Resources Division.

The Soto boys enjoyed their introduction to fishing, and, occasionally, they had some beginners' luck.

Sometimes they snapped their rods forward and sent their hooks flying 20 or 30 feet, almost to the middle of the pond, set among moss-covered oaks at the Parks at Chehaw, a nature preserve and zoo on the outskirts of Albany. But often, their hooks traveled only a few feet, landing in tall grass growing near the bank.

Scenes like these unfolded all over the country earlier this month as every state had license-free fishing days as part of National Fishing and Boating Week.


Georgia alone has 500 children's fishing events throughout the year, with about 34,000 participants.

"The kids are getting outdoors, which we feel is healthy," Martin said. "They're getting away from all the distractions of home -- TV, video games. It opens communication lines between kids and their parents."

Soto took advantage of the license-free day to give her sons a better understanding of nature and the environment.

"I was raised in the country," she said. "They took me fishing. We didn't have video games and TV. We climbed trees, went fishing and went horseback riding."

When 10-year-old Patrick caught an 8-inch catfish, he held it up proudly and asked his mother to remove the hook.

"I don't want to touch him," he said. "He's gross."

Teaching patience

Kevin, Patrick's twin, said fishing was teaching him to be patient.


"I like catching them," he said. "The problem is that you have to wait."

Eric Soto, 14, had a broken rod and could only cast far enough to catch minnows. Still, he put them in the bucket of water with the larger catfish.

"At my school, nobody goes fishing," he said. "They play soccer, basketball and football. I'm glad she brought us, because I actually got to catch something."

Farther around the pond, Ron Howard and his 7-year-old son, Matthew, had picked a shady spot beneath an oak tree. Matthew sat with his rod and reel in a small folding chair while his father looked on and coached him from a larger chair.

"It's really cool," Matthew said. "If you don't have any money, you can go fishing and catch some food, plus it's fun."

While he enjoys catching them, Matthew said he would leave the job of cleaning the catfish to his father.

"I'm sorry, I just don't clean fish," said Matthew, who was fishing with a rod and reel that had been passed down through four generations of his family.

"I really don't want to become a fisherman," he said. "I'm used to doing stuff where you run around and kick balls."


Matthew's father talked proudly about the heirloom fishing gear, but its significance seemed to have been lost on the son.

"To fish, you have to have more patience, and have rods and reels that aren't rusty," Matthew said.

Optimistic about growth

Industry officials believe fishing will grow in popularity as this generation matures.

"If anything, it will become more appealing in the future," said Janet Tennyson, spokeswoman for the American Sportfishing Association. "It seems people are trying to find new ways to enjoy the outdoors, especially with the hustle and bustle of our lives."

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