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Getting Kids Hooked

ow, more than ever, we need to get our kids involved in the outdoors. Many kids are becoming softer and lazier with each generation, losing touch with nature, depending on technology to instantly learn everything, presumably, and get them where they need to go. We are also losing many of our precious natural resources. Kids should understand – and more importantly experience – the great outdoors.

A variety of factors have wreaked havoc on our fish and wildlife throughout time; drought, floods, wildfires, dams, mining, logging, poaching, the list goes on. But in addition to these age-old factors, our kids face new-age challenges including agenda-driven lawsuits against those trusted to keep our wildlife resources in balance, booming marijuana grows, water diversions, disease, invasive species, and increased recreational usage. Noticing how outdoor resources have diminished in my lifetime, I can only imagine what our kids will face when they mature and guide their kids through it all.

10 kids posing ontop a mountain, some with sticks in their hands, expanse of mountains and valleys in the background, photo by Phil Akers
Kids are always up for bagging the nearest peak to camp. When traveling and camping with kids, be sure and research any other worthy attractions (waterfalls, caves, or peaks for example) that might be nearby.

Pack animals lead by young children into the green valley surrounded with towering pines, photo by Phil Akers,
If traveling the backcountry with kids, take plenty of benevolent breaks. Being hasty or expecting too much from them could spoil their experience.
The resultant factor in all of this; we need to take a different approach with our kids than what our parents took with us. It is no longer acceptable to simply teach them how to hunt, fish, and obey the rules. We need to provide our kids with the necessary education and experience to deal with the times. They need to know, despite both nature and human challenges, how to forever experience true outdoor wonderment. We need to teach them how to stick together, fight for their rights, overcome modern adversity, and always be empirical.
Clayton Akers, llama packing the John Muir Trail. Photo by Phil Akers
Clayton Akers, llama packing the John Muir Trail
young boy fishing the placid waters of the green valley, from a rock outcrop. Photo by Phil Akers,
Once you teach them, let them go.
Young child craddling in his hands the fish he caught, photo by Phil Akers
There were several times I just played camera man.

When I was a kid television was available but we lived too far out in the sticks for good reception. Growing up in the Ozarks, we kids played exclusively outdoors, exploring creek beds, squirrel hunting, checking traps, hauling pilfered material away from the farm to build forts and tree houses, playing baseball in the fields with dry cow pies for bases…there were so many pastimes. We spent the evenings deep in the hollers, trying to keep up with tree hounds – blueticks, redticks, redbones, Walkers, and plotts – in pursuit of raccoons and such. A large, well-preserved raccoon hide was worth nearly twenty dollars, good money for a kid. FYI – my very first articles appeared in Full Cry magazine when I was ten. Things have certainly changed! Looking back it is hard to imagine the advances, the tremendous increase in population, urban sprawl, and technology.

Emily Akers with a nice holdover rainbow caught at night under lights. Photo by Phil Akers
Emily Akers with a nice holdover rainbow caught at night under lights.
Keley Akers on her first turkey hunt, with cammo face and clothes. Photo by Phil Akers,
Keley Akers on her first turkey hunt

Generally speaking, getting kids to love what we do is pretty easy providing we start them early. But pushing them too hard too fast is a sure-fire way of tainting the experience. Obviously, not every kid is created equal. Some will endure boredom and discomforts far better than others. When introducing young kids to fishing make sure you are in an area where there are plenty of fish to catch. The size or species doesn't matter…perch or bluegill will do just fine. Just make sure there is constant action. They may be somewhat wasteful at first so make sure the fishery can handle “kid pressure”. Don’t be afraid to let them use fly gear. Surprisingly, in terms of real damage and messes, my son did better with fly gear compared to spinning gear, the catch rate about the same too. But he held a certain “higher respect” for the opportunity to handle dad’s fly ensembles.

John Akers with son Coy following a hog hunt, photo by Phil Akers,
John Akers with son Coy following a hog hunt

Early on, give up any ideas of trying to fish yourself, and relinquish any other fantasies of wilderness self-enjoyment – parent! Those exotic trophy trips into extremely remote locales take backseat, or at least come at a much higher cost as it is now you lugging the extra backpacking load. Your rank in the grand scheme of things now relegated to guide, worm threader, backlash picker, pack mule, chief cook & bottle washer, and medic. Be prepared to answer many questions and respond to all of the “what if” scenarios kids dream up. Always mix things up, keep it entertaining, allow them to catch crawdads, garner snakes, and frogs…explore caves and other side attractions. Find that inner kid within yourself, become a seven year old again, and embrace the experience. You only get one shot at this! Once they have grown there is no do-over.

Colton Akers with his first deer. Photo by Phil Akers,
Colton Akers with his first deer.

You try and lead by good example, hoping they can somehow avoid your past outdoor blunders. Have confidence, kids are natural explorers and seek all things explained. Realize they are not inept…impossible, they are yours…but there are many learning curves ahead. Good friend Mark Papanek, and author of “Kids”, puts it quite exquisitely, “You might as well take all your flies and throw them into the trees…that’s where they’ll eventually end up…and you might as well have fun doing it yourself“.

Young boy caring for llamas as they stand near their animal trailer, Photo by Phil Akers,
As soon as they show signs of independence, give them mission critical chores to perform.

As kids grow they begin to relish in self-satisfaction. They enjoy doing everything themselves and receive greater rewards learning from their own mistakes. They want to catch fish without any help – this is a great stage! This is when to seriously start mixing in large doses of education and challenges. Allow them to start planning, navigating, and calling the shots. This high status also means they can elevate (in earnest) chipping in on camp chores, and they begin to feel proud doing so.

Llamas with their young guide going up the mountain trail, photo by Phil Akers,
Introduce topo map skills as early as possible. Allow them to navigate and exercise decision making.

After all of the labor and time spent providing a foundation to specific outdoor interests, and memorable trips spent with them starting from a very young age, they could end up choosing a different outdoor hobby than you. This doesn’t mean your efforts are a failure, quite the opposite, it means you did a great job of exposing them to a wide variety of outdoor activities, and supported them in pursuing their own interest. Whatever they choose, make sure they are into it one hundred percent, no short cuts on preparedness, research all rules, regulations, and potential hazards. Then have fun!

Emily Akers on top of Half Dome in Yosemite NP. Photo by Phil Akers,
Emily Akers on top of Half Dome in Yosemite NP. Despite being raised on fishing, Emily’s number one outdoor activity is now mountaineering.
Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, Photo by Phil Akers,
On Emily’s first trip to half Dome, we wanted to be the first ones to summit for the day. But just as we reached the base of the cable route, two individuals passed us up. We would not be the first two up the cables on this day.
2 climbers going up the cables on Half Dome, photo by Phil Akers,
A zoom in of the two climbers ahead of us

Above all, remember that with early exposure and training we are planting a seed that will eventually grow. They become teenagers…reaching that ultimate plateau of know-it-all status, achieved from a proud outdoor aficionado. School, sports, friends, activities, and hanging out will become paramount. Their schedule becomes much busier than yours, time spent together hunting & fishing & will suffer a serious dent. Boys will chase girls, and girls will chase boys. Be prepared to accept this stage, place confidence in the seed you planted, because the seed will eventually sprout into an ensuing desire to return to the outdoors and finish what you once started. Be confident that the gear they inherit will not wind up in a garage sale, but rather used, and maintained with pride.

Phil “Flip” Akers is a diverse angler and outdoor adventurer. For over 20 years he has backpacked, packed llamas and fly-fished the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges, venturing into the farthest reaches of our wilderness areas pursuing quality trout and solitude. He enjoys sharing his experiences including tips, techniques, outdoor cooking recipes, and storytelling. He is certified in wilderness first response and rescue including swiftwater rescue, technical rope and technical animal rescue.

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