By Dave Wolak
A few weeks ago, reader Deanlikes2fish commented with a question asking what I thought was the best age for a kid to get started in tournament fishing. This is actually a pretty hot topic right now, as a story recently popped up in the Boston Globe about a Missouri man fighting to make bass fishing a high school sport. It’s definitely worth a read. As for my take, I’d love to give a one-shot answer, but it’s just a little more complicated than that. One of the first things you have to consider is the difference between a fun-loving fishing competition and fishing for money. If your aim is just to have some laughs, and make a fishing trip a little competitive to simply spice it up, then I say have the kids start as soon as they can, just like you would playing T-ball or skiing the bunny slope. If we’re talking competition with money on the line, hold your horses, because greenbacks change everything.
I’ve always been the kind of person that loved competition. I started fishing tournaments when I was 15 years old out of a 16-foot aluminum boat with a motor that only started with the correct cocktail of morning prayers and a half can of ether, shaken not stirred. Sometimes I did well, sometimes I took a beating, but it was a great learning experience. But a lot has changed since I was a teenager. These days stuff like boats, electronics, lures, and entry fees cost more, and the stakes are much higher in tournaments. These higher stakes have also made the tournament game more sponsor-centric, creating an atmosphere rooted in sales and marketing. Getting involved nowadays takes some time, means spending money, and taking risks. Even at a young age, I was smart enough to ask myself if my skill level was high enough for a given tournament to take a chance, and I funded my pursuits with money I saved from mowing lawns in the summer and teaching skiing on nights and weekends in high school and college. What happens these days is kids just jump in without starting slow, and when they don’t do well early, they get frustrated and walk away entirely.
All of that said, my philosophy is start kids in money tournaments when you think they can win. I get it if someone says it’s not all about winning, because it isn’t…at least not in T-ball. But in modern tournament fishing, it’s all about ending up in the money, and not everyone gets a trophy. It’s our job to teach kids responsibility, and getting involved with bragging rights tourneys at clubs or among friends will definitely help make kids better anglers. If you see a serious spark of competitive enthusiasm in your kid, and think he or she is old enough to appreciate money (or more importantly, losing money), then maybe it’s time to start getting serious about having them make a push for the pro tours.