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HomeCosta RicaMaking a Child's First Fishing Trip Count in Costa Rica

Making a Child’s First Fishing Trip Count in Costa Rica

Nothing feels better than taking a kid to catch his or her first fish or even first trophy fish. For a captain or a parent, there is a special feeling of satisfaction to being part of that memory. With the school year now ending in the U.S., many will be headed to Costa Rica for their family vacations.

There are a few grumpy old captains who either take life way too seriously or don’t have the patience required to plant a seed to make a youngster a lifelong angler. Others are excellent teachers. Even some parents don’t have a clue. The most important thing to remember about taking youngsters fishing is that it is their day, not yours.

The fish we catch for bait here in Costa Rica, like blue runners, pull plenty hard for a 5-year-old. Small reef fish usually cooperate also. The trick to getting a child hooked on fishing is action. Taking a small kid offshore trolling all day will only get him bored and sunburned, and his only memory will either be of getting seasick or of watching dad catch a big fish.

Here is a good example of how what could have been a fantastic experience for a child turned out to be a total disaster. I had a couple fishing at the resort with a son almost 5. Mom and the little guy went on eco-tours every day while dad fished. Dad told me his wife and son had never been fishing.

I told them there was a big school of blue runners not far from the lodge in flat calm water, and the little guy could pull on fish till he was worn out. Mom would love it because she could see dolphins swimming and macaws flying along the beach. The plan was set, and I gave their captain explicit instructions.

Around 10:30 a.m. I saw their boat returning to the pier, and I thought to myself that the little guy must have been all tuckered out from pulling on blue runners. As they got closer, I couldn’t believe what I saw. Mom looked like she had been on an all-nighter, and the poor little guy looked as white as a sheet. The customer angrily told me the captain had them 15 miles off the beach in bouncy seas, and both mom and the boy got sick as a dog.

I waited until the family left and asked the captain, “What the hell happened?” He explained he wanted them to catch a big fish, and he couldn’t see any problem in having taken them to the ocean because he had caught them two tuna. As he flipped two dinky 4-pound tuna onto the dock, I wanted to just shoot myself. I knew it would be a very long time, if ever, before that woman or that little boy got back on another boat.

I especially like the vacationers between June and September, when school is out in the U.S. This is the time of year when we see families. With things moving at a slower pace, I have more time to spend with the guests. I take advantage of our 200-meter pier and have fishing school for kids from about 4 to 10 years old. By that age they are usually proficient enough to handle themselves, even to the point of telling “fish stories” side by side with the grown-ups.

With the help of my crew, we talk to the kids about fishing, the fact that the pier is a sanctuary and all fish must be put back in the water, and the importance of catch-and-release fishing. We give a quick lesson on how to use a spinning rod, and then it’s lines in the water. There are always small fish around the pier, so the action is usually fast and furious.

A couple of hours later, half the reels are a tangled mess, but there are smiles everywhere that could stretch across the Pacific Ocean. The best part is hearing them tell their dads and older siblings who went out on a boat about the great fish they caught and put back in the water. My satisfaction is knowing I may have planted a seed for a lifelong passion.

Costa Rica has lots of great captains who know how to make your day on the water a family day and will gladly work with your needs. All it takes is some good communication with them before the trip, and you’ll have one more Costa Rican memory to take home.

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