Teach a child to fish
By Ford Walpole
SCDNR staff Matt Perkinson helps young angler hold her caught hatchery-raised red drum at Kids Fishing Tournament at Colonial Lake in downtown Charleston. Image courtesy SCDNR.
We have all heard the aphorism “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Though the proverb indeed applies to actual food, the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, to whom the adage is attributed, is likewise referring to a more holistic sustenance associated more with truly living rather than merely surviving.
The art of angling teaches children — and indeed, the rest of us — a great deal about life. Preparation is important, timing is crucial, a degree of luck is involved — and with fishing, as in life, you are also paradoxically responsible for creating your own luck. Finally, fishing is not about the catching: The journey itself, failures, memories and lessons along the way are often more impactful than the successes and tangible rewards.
Furthermore, wetting a line ensures that those of us who live in the Lowcountry will better appreciate our natural resources and unique environment. Once children become hooked on fishing, they likewise cultivate a passion for promoting conservation for future generations.
Matt Perkinson is the Saltwater Fishing Outreach Education Coordinator for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Marine Resources Division. “SCDNR’s Aquatic Education Program hosts freshwater family fishing clinics throughout the state, and for the last few years, we’ve been working to adapt and bring that model to saltwater. The programs are designed to introduce both youth and adults to fishing by teaching basic skills (knot tying, rigs, casting, etc.) and reinforcing conservation concepts like catch and release and proper fish handling techniques. Following the instruction, families have a chance to get some hands-on fishing experience. The goal is to bring people into the fishing community and develop lifelong anglers who are also good stewards of the environment.
“SCDNR produces printed materials, including fish identification charts, that we distribute during clinics and at large events like the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition and the Palmetto Sportsman’s Classic,” Matt continues. They have a YouTube channel on saltwater fishing under SC Natural Resources and are producing a webinar series on fishing as a part of SCDNR’s “Outside In” series.
BeBe Dalton Harrison is a Mount Pleasant native who still resides in the Old Village house in which she was reared. From an early age, she was her father Booker’s reliable fishing companion. BeBe was the inaugural SCDNR Aquatic Education Coordinator. She currently works as a fishing instructor for her personal business, Angling Women.
BeBe Dalton (above) and her happy campers (below). Images property of Angling Women, used with permission. Names withheld by parental request.
Through Angling Women and in a partnership with the town of Mt. Pleasant’s Recreation Department, BeBe introduces young people to the joys of fishing through a number of approaches. She conducts after-school programs, known as Lowcountry Living for Kids with instruction provided by Angling Women. Classes meet one day a week for a month. Days include fishing instruction day, crabbing, cast nets and a day on the water on the pier.
During the summer, from June 28 to July 2 and again from July 26 until July 30, BeBe holds weeklong fishing camps known as Fishing 101. The camps run from 9 a.m. until noon. The first day includes fishing instruction and rigging. Tuesday is inshore fishing from the dock, and Wednesday is crabbing and cast nets. Thursday is Freshwater Day — fishing for bass and bream at the pond in Park West.
Though BeBe’s camps are already full for this summer, she may assist you through additional methods. “Some campers have contracted with us to provide private instruction. For instance, a set of twins live on a neighborhood pond that they want to fish. That is a great opportunity: Let me come to you to help you fish your area,” she says. “I’ll do a family introductory fishing class for adults or children, as well as a ladies’ class.” In addition, BeBe has been contracted by individual boat owners to accompany them on the water and provide instruction through a private lesson on the river.
Later this summer on August 27, BeBe will host a “Family Fishing Night & Fun” at Shem Creek Park. “We provide instruction at the beginning and then follow up with hands-on assistance,” she explains. Pure Fishing provides all of the gear for Angling Women’s educational endeavors.
Clients of Angling Women camps range from ages eight to 13, and BeBe occasionally hosts repeat campers. Once people graduate from BeBe’s classes, she is happy to refer them to local inshore fishing guides. Her clients have later fished from the span of the Lowcountry to Lake Murray and beyond. “I’m either a babysitter, or the kids are die-hard about fishing!” she laughs.
In yet another role, BeBe is also a certified family fishing instructor with DNR. In this volunteer role, she helps with aquatic education around the state, as well as providing assistance at stations such as the James Island County Park Fishing Dock and the Mt. Pleasant Pier; additional locations that provide instructor assistance are located at various sites along the coast.
Lowcountry anglers soon discover that saltwater fishing presents more of a challenge than fishing small, freshwater ponds. “However, those aspects, like tide and current, make saltwater fishing a bit more dynamic as well,” Matt Perkinson says. “The sheer number of available species and ranges of sizes means that you never know what you’re going to hook into next. The equipment does need to be a little tougher. Make sure you give rods, reels and other equipment a good rinse, preferably with soap and water, to keep them in good condition. You can find information on freshwater and saltwater access points at https://www.dnr.sc.gov/lakes/access.html and an exciting new SCDNR fishing access web application is currently in development."
Scan to connect to SCDNR fishing resources. Pr
Perkinson relays the following pointers to keep your young anglers interested: “If you can, have them participate in a family fishing clinic or fishing rodeo. Also, plan to keep your fishing trips relatively short to start and target easy fish to catch. That may mean catching sunfish on nightcrawlers in a farm pond or whiting on fresh shrimp in the surf. Kids tend to have short attention spans and they often don’t care what they catch — only that they feel a tug on the end of the line. Fishing piers (Mt. Pleasant Pier, Horry County ocean piers, etc.) can be good places to make it likely that you don’t get skunked. Early in the day is good during the heat of the summer.”
Of course, teaching children to fish is a difficult task. “A seven-foot rod with a weight and sharp hook on the end can be a bit of a wild card, so we definitely have to emphasize the ‘safety talk’ at the beginning of our programs,” Matt adds. “And, of course, we try to keep things fun so that their minds don’t wander too far.”
Matt reminds young anglers not to lose heart: “Even the best anglers in the world sometimes get skunked. It’s just the way things work. If you pick your days, have a little patience and do some preparation, you’ll find yourself in a position to catch fish more often than not! Plus, the skills you learn while becoming a good angler (patience, preparation, recognizing patterns, and so on) are useful in other aspects of life.”
BeBe Dalton Harrison agrees, as she summarizes her mission: “I started my classes and camps because I feel like kids could come to my very basic camps and learn skills such as basic rigging and how to cast. We help get them started on the right foot so that when they do go fishing with a friend or a guide, they understand what to do.”
With regard to her own boys, Cooper, Walker and Ford, she discusses the challenge of nudging children outdoors: “When I tell them we’re going fishing or getting outside, they show hesitation or anxiety; the hardest part is getting over that complaining moment of having to put down the electronics. But once they’re out there and experiencing the hands-on aspect, they love it!”
For instance, this past spring break, BeBe took her boys to the new Clemson Outdoor Center. From there, they worked a nearby mountain trout stream in Oconee County. Walker, usually not the first one to fish, “rigged up and started fishing and got to the point of sight-fishing in the streams. It was so good to see him get bitten by that feeling of ‘Oh, I could possibly catch that fish’! It was so rewarding first of all to see him fully engage with the outdoors, and it was really spectacular to see his sense of accomplishment and being so proud of himself for doing it!
With my camps,” BeBe adds, “I feel successful if my campers can rig their own rod or help a friend rig a rod. I think a child teaching another child is way more powerful than me teaching a child!”
Ford Walpole lives and writes on John’s Island and is the author of many articles on the outdoors. He teaches English at James Island Charter High School and the College of Charleston and may be reached at email@example.com.