A few weeks ago on a small, nondescript pier, my two year old son caught his first fish. The prized creature was a smallmouth bass, caught on a leech that must have been given exceptional action as it was “jigged” along the bottom by my toddler’s efforts to turn the handle on the spinning reel. For an hour previous, that same leech had been soaking–motionless–along the edge of a weed bed that I had placed with a well-practiced cast… for nothing. It wasn’t until my son walked out to the end of the pier, announced “I want to catch a fish, Daddy,” and proceeded to show his old man how to get it done. I’ve never been more proud.
Perhaps sharing this seems gratuitous or self-serving (most Internet fishing posts are, aren’t they?) Maybe it’s a stretch to recount the piscatorial happenstance of a toddler on the shores of a shallow northern Wisconsin lake in this forum. But for me–for a Dad–it brought back wonderful memories of my own first fish, and the joy that came in watching my brothers, friends, my wife, and even total strangers catch their respective “first fish.”
For many folks in California, that initial nibble on the end of the line comes with one’s feet on a pier. With no license requirement, easy access, and a relatively higher chance for a novice to catch something, piers are a natural entry point for new anglers. Many times while conversing with passersby on a pier, I’ve handed off my rod to someone who wanted to “pull one in.” For some, it’s no big deal; they continue on down the pier. But for others, it’s nothing short of a magical moment–it’s the first fish they’ve ever caught, and it implants an immediate need to ensure that it is not the last fish they’ll ever catch. Even the most humble smelt can be a lifelong memory. Such moments have also given me the opportunity to share a few thoughts on important ideas like catch and release, conservation, fishing regulations, or simply to help dispel the unfair perceptions and stereotypes some have about “everyone” fishing on piers.
My dad once shared with me that, as a boy, he left the carnival booths and roller coasters of the Pacific Ocean Park Pier complex, and approached a man fishing in the surf line. That nameless fellow showed my dad how to dig for sandcrabs, how to hook them through the tail so they couldn’t dig in, and even let my dad pull in a barred perch… his first fish. That moment set my dad on a lifetime of joy, fishing with his friends throughout high school, and later with his six sons. He stood right behind me when I caught my first fish– a small sheephead caught at Abalone Cove some 30 years ago.
And while my son might be a bit young yet to remember his smallish smallmouth, I’ll never forget it.
UPSAC continues to support various youth fishing events throughout California. It is our hope that all young (or not-so-young) anglers who are called to a life of fishing start off on a solid foundation of knowledge, safety, a conservation-minded approach, meaningful and legal harvest, and a desire to celebrate and protect the unique pier and shore fishing opportunities in California.