The Other Lessons of Fishing

The Other Lessons of Fishing

This past summer I was on a Canadian fly in with some friends and it was brought to my attention that the youngest in the group (who is 30 years old) wanted to learn to drive the boat. I was actually shocked to hear that this young man was just now learning this but after speaking with his dad and others who have been part of the group longer than I explained that it just never came up. What happened is the group has always had people who drove the boat and it was just never brought up until now.

This got me thinking about my young boy and other kids that I have crossed paths with. As adults we just know what to do and take care of it for them. Of course, we all had to learn these skills at some point. In the long run not teaching these skills is holding the next generation of anglers back.

Besides driving the boat there are other skills that kids should be taught or at least introduced to so they are prepared for when the day comes for them to captain the ship.

Backing up the trailer

How many times have we been at a boat landing, ready to launch or load and we see a perfectly capable teenager holding the rope on the dock while dad (or mom) is doing all the backing, loading and unloading? If the kid can drive a car the kid should be working on backing the trailer in on the boat landing.  It is a great life lesson to be able to back up a trailer and also speeds up launching and loading making the whole access experience go more smoothly.

Teaching this skill may age you and it will take some time to practice but in the end it will make the pain at boat accesses much more tolerable.

Boat setup and tear down

Another simple yet very important other item to learn is getting the boat loaded up and ready for a day of fishing and basic maintenance. Kids can learn how to put the rods in, make sure the tackle is in the right spot and make sure the bait is packed and ready. This also includes putting things away and cleaning things up at the end of the trip. To start it may be something as simple as rinsing off the boat or running a vacuum through it.

In case of Emergency

I started teaching my son how to start the boat, get it in gear and at least drive it slow when he was about six years old. This was part to start him out but more as a precaution in case of an emergency so he could get to the shore for help god forbidding the occasion should arise.

To me this teaching is as important as how to pick up a phone and dial 911. Being able to call 911, know about where you are and understand how to drive the boat and get back there can be critical in an emergency.

This can be fun for many young people to learn

Kids want to be like the adults. When I was a kid I wanted to be a farmer just like my dad. I learned as much as I could had helped as much as I could. Kids who feel like they are part of the operation do the same. If they are engaged they think every part of learning the system is fun.  When given the leeway to do some of the jobs they happily do them and it is fun for them to have that sense of accomplishment.

Learning to fish can be the same thing. I already mentioned that my boy has started to learn to drive the boat. Each year as he gets older I add more responsibility to what is expected of him in the boat. At first all he did was reel in fish. Now that he is eight years old he is cutting bait, learning to use the net and even starting to cast the bait casters.  In the next couple seasons he will start getting into boat setup and prep and down the road a few more years backing up the boat.

One success story

 One young man who has been a shining success of learning the “other things” is my friend, 14-year old Austin Engen from Grand Forks, North Dakota. I met Austin when he was 11 and was backing his dad, Charlie’s boat down the ramp to launch. I asked him how he learned to back up and he told me he had an app on his phone with a game that required you to back up and he put two and two together.

Charlie told me that Austin learned the basics of the backup process from the app but it was an afternoon when they went to a quiet boat ramp to practice that put it all together. He told me that after about two hours of none stop practice it was second nature.

Over the past two seasons, Austin has taken it to another level. He has learned how to pack and set up the boat for a trip while his dad is at work.  This is so everything is ready when Charlie gets home allowing for more time to fish. He has also taken it upon himself to learn to run the boat. He has gained enough experience in boat operation that he can also load and unload the boat from the trailer as well as captain the ship.

Last year, Austin also started learning his dad’s Humminbird Helix 10 and concentrating on how to read water and better understand catfish. He says, “I am confident I could take the boat out and fish by myself.”

As a bystander, I have watched Austin progress in this and become a very well rounded and intelligent catfish angler. The Red River Valley Catfish League has made him one of their own too. When I asked him why he took all of this extra learning upon himself versus just letting his dad do it the answer was, “To be cool, like the adults.”

It should also be noted that Austin has taken First Aide and CPR classes through is mother’s business. He is also planning to complete the Safe Boating course to allow him to operate the boat alone.

Austin Engen is a true success story as far as learning the other stuff that great anglers need to know and he has caught a lot of great fish along the way.

Be Patient

As anglers we tend to want to JUST GO, but when teaching and working with young anglers we must sit back and keep our mouth shut sometimes. We have to let them get the feel for the for the task at hand.

When teaching them to back up a trailer more than ever we have to allow them time to practice and get it right. This is one of those lessons where we have to find the middle ground to say “do it again” over and over but not get impatient or mean about it.  On a side note, when you work on this lesson be sure to go to a slow landing or on a slow day as to not upset the other boaters who are waiting in line.

In the end we are creating a passion for a new angler and giving them a basis for success not only in fishing but in life. Charlie Engen says it best, “It all takes time, you can’t teach experience.”

Captain Brad Durick is a nationally recognized catfish guide on the Red River of the North, seminar speaker, and author of the books Cracking the Channel Catfish Code and Advanced Catfishing Made Easy. For more information go to


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