Worms make me feel all warm and mushy inside.
That's not to say I like those slimy creatures. Ugh! I can't stand touching them. It's just that seeing a wiggling worm instantly brings me back to a lovely, simpler time in my life, one I wish could have lasted just a little longer:
It's a warm summer evening along a pristine lake shore in the Midwest. The baby is sleeping (finally), and I'm sitting on the end of a dock at dusk with an oh-so-confident preschooler who knows without a doubt that the worms in the plastic container by his side--the worms that his mom obligingly will bait on his hook one at a time--are all he needs to land a fish.
I've staked out a spot swarming with small bluegills. We won't quit until the worms are gone and we've caught and thrown back several wiggling fish. That they weren't big enough for "keepers" doesn't diminish Matt's enthusiasm.
Later, his dad and I tuck in a very happy, tired little boy who can't wait for the morning--and the larger fish he's certain are waiting for him. "Thanks, Mom," he says sleepily.
If only being a mom were always as simple as baiting worms on a hook. Nor did I realize then how fleeting the days would be when I could so easily guarantee my son's success and happiness.
Matt is 14 now, taller than I, and about to enter high school. Success, he's learned, no longer is a sure thing, no matter how hard he tries. Happiness has more to do with a certain girl's phone call or hitting a home run than anything I do.
I'm just glad, a decade later, that my boy has sweet memories of our fishing days. More important, Matt still loves to fish. It's clear why I think fishing--even for an afternoon--is such a good bet for a vacationing family this summer.
Others obviously agree. The Travel Industry Assn. reports that half of families planning vacations this summer will spend some time fishing.
"It's great one-on-one time with the kids, and the chance to teach them about the environment," says Mark Hurdy, who oversees fisheries programs for the U.S. Forest Service and fishes often with his own kids. It's also an activity everyone can share, whether they're 3 or 83. (Next trip, ask grandma to bait the hooks.)
"But you've got to concentrate on the kids, not on your fishing, or the kids will hate it," warns Manny Luftglass, coauthor of "Gone Fishin' with Kids" (Gone Fishin' Enterprises, $9.99).
That means quit when the kids are tired, Luftglass says. That also means don't even think about taking kids fishing, even for a couple of hours, without a stash of snacks and drinks.
To keep them going when the fish aren't biting, bring along Shaun Morey's "Kids' Incredible Fishing Stories" (Workman, $7.95).
The Forest Service's Hurdy notes that because regulations vary widely regarding the size and number of fish you may keep, it's important to check the local rules.
The nearest bait shop can steer you and the kids to the best spots and right bait for the area.
"I won't even take kids under 10," says Gary Nordlie, a Minnesota high school English teacher who spends summers as a resort fishing guide.
It's not necessary to make a big investment in gear to take the kids fishing. They can be outfitted with a simple rod and reel for under $20, experts at the American Sport Fishing Council tell me. They have an informational Web site on the Internet: http://www.GoFishing.org.
Nonfishing moms can get advice from the large tackle manufacturer Zebco. The company has produced a free brochure and a video available for loan to help single moms get acquainted with the sport--so they'll take their kids. (Single Parents Fishing, Zebco, P.O. Box 270, Tulsa, OK 74101. Internet: http://www.zebco.com)
See you at the bait shop.
Taking the Kids appears the first and third weeks of every month.