Fishing With Kids — “Born to fish big”

by | Sep 12, 2018 | 22 comments

I’m halfway through another Hemingway novel. And my interest is waning. I’m in a valley of boredom, where the novelty of the narrative has worn off. I feel the weight of unread pages in my right hand, and I start to question my determination.

You might tell me that all Hemingway is interesting and full of spark, but I’ll challenge you on that. No matter the author, somewhere deep within six-hundred pages of words there’s a weak spot. And I find it at 11:30 pm, sitting in a living room under the light of a single lamp, joined by a football game in overtime. The players scramble silently inside the muted television to my left.

My eyes close. I lose track of the down and distance. When they open, I’ve lost my place in the paragraph and forgotten the weave of the storyline.

Joey steps into the shadowed hallway and rubs his sleepy face. My ten-year-old son walks to my chair and leans in to me.

“Dad,” he whispers. “Can we go fishing?”

— — — — — —

Joey has fished with me since he was a baby.

Here’s some advice: Ignore the baby registry that your expectant loved ones send to you. Instead, get them a Kelty Kid Carrier. (It’s an internal frame backpack to put your child in.) It doesn’t really matter if the new parents like hiking or fishing. Buy it for them anyway. Parents need two hands, and I wore that Kelty carrier everywhere. It’s arguably the best gift we received at the baby shower, because of this: it gave me a way to bring my boys to the places I love most.

I was younger then.

So were they.

This is when my sons learned to love fishing. It happened before they could walk. It’s the draw of the water. The cool air that blows off the river and flutters over the trees. The swallows that dip and dive over the river and pick off Slate Drake mayflies. The inherent peace of a streamside walk. The silence of all things beyond the stream, making way for some freedom of thought among the evening hemlocks or the dew-dripping ferns at dawn.

Parenting is mostly guessing and then hoping you were right. My design all along has been to get the boys beside a river as often as possible.

Yes. My boys learned to love what surrounds the fish (the water, the air, the earth and the trees) and now they crave it. Without those streamside hikes in the blue backpack, I don’t know if, all these years later, Joey would whisper that question into my tired ear: “Dad, can we go fishing?”


Ten years, now. And my sons have gone through phases.

Parenting is mostly guessing and then hoping you were right. My design all along has been to get the boys beside a river as often as possible.

Has it been enough? I hope so. These early years are my opportunity. I can give them a chance to connect to what’s out there, away from carpeted floors and blinking screens — to provide for them a base relationship with the outdoors.

Will they be fly fishermen at fifty? Will they take on fishing as a way of life? Will they need it as something to help them through difficult times? I don’t know. But I’m giving them that chance.

I’ve tried to keep a balance, too. While Joey is currently asking me at every turn to take the next fishing trip together, my younger son, Aiden, cares most about playing outside with his neighborhood friends right now.

Joey asks me every day. I say yes when I can. I ask Aiden every couple days, and lately he says no. But if he declines long enough, I’ll make some decisions for him.

Yesterday, Joey ran off the bus through the rain to ask if we could fish. I broke his heart a little when I said the river was in flood stage. So I took both boys on an adventure, visiting all our favorite spots to see the power and force of big water. Aiden lit up when he spotted a massive oak, uprooted and carried midstream in the wash.

Home stream, way over the banks and spilling into the park.

Neither of the boys fished much this year during the spring baseball season, either. And while their absence from the river presses on me, that feeling motivates me to keep the river in our lives no matter what happens.

— — — — — —

Joey waded through a knee-deep riffle, toward a bank side boulder that he’d never reached before. We’d fished for two hours with the fish count as zero as the skies unloaded a hard rain into the river. I waited underneath the half-shelter of a large sycamore and watched my son from twenty feet away. Wet and undeterred, Joey swung the rod forward and pushed the tip toward his target. The line and the nymph followed on course. After tens of thousands of casts over the years, his motion was an instinct, and he finally could think of something else.

Where is the trout? He asked himself. Inside the seam, or in front of the boulder?

Joey chose a cast that landed in the whitewater. The fly sank with the accelerated current, and Joey tightened the slack with a raised rod tip that tracked downstream just a few inches.

He struck at nothing. No signal. No indication. Just faith, and an instinct that his trout was there.

The hook stuck solid, and Joey went into fish-fighting mode. He reeled too much and held the rod too high. But we’ll work on it.

“How’d you know to set the hook?” I asked him as I netted the trout.

“I was born to fish big, Dad!” Joey yelled with a fist pump in the air.

I don’t know what that means, but I laughed hard when he said it.

After the release we stood there together in the pouring rain, watching the river rise.



Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky


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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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  1. Great article, thanks! Hits close to home as I have boys age 5,3, and 1. Would love to hear your tips on teaching kids to cast, tie knots, etc. Want to get them hooked early, mainly so I have an excuse to go more!

    • Hi Jeremy.

      Thanks for the kind words.

      You have your hands full with three, buddy!

      My best tip is probably along the lines of the story posted above — get them to simply enjoy the outdoors by taking them out there, no matter the day and no matter the conditions. Still to this day, we take more hikes and stream walks than actual fishing.

      That way, when you do fish, the environment is familiar. They will know how to walk in the water. They’ll understand some things about currents because they’ve thrown sticks in the water and watched them float downstream.

      So just get out there and see what happens.

      I do plan to get a “Fishing With Kids” series going. I’ll do stories like above, but also share some of the things that have worked for me. Because, ultimately, if you don’t get kids into trout, they won’t be excited to be out there all that often.


      Email me if you like.


      • Thanks Dom, can’t wait for your fishing with kids series!

  2. Thank god I’m not the only one who finds Hemingway underwhelming… I fail to see the attraction.

    Great article about your boys and the pictures are awesome. I remember going through much the same with my son. His passion for fishing ebbed and flowed with the onslaught of adolescence. It was difficult to know when to step on the gas and when to lay off at times, but we came through the turbulent years with some great memories we laugh over now. Don’t blink, Dom; they grow up sooooo fast.

    • Ha! Yeah, I feel that way about Hemingway a good bit too. Sometimes the style is most interesting, but the content is not.

  3. Outstanding. That’s what I want with me and my 8 year old…

    • Cheers, Dave.

  4. My kids are near the same age and I try to get them out as much as possible as well. They have similar personalities to yours. One loves the outdoors and the other loves sports, video games and playing with kids in the neighborhood. They go with me I think more out of having bad time than fishing. I’m hoping eventually they will enjoy the fishing just as much.

    • I believe they will. I really do think if we just get them out there, the river grows on them.

      I go through phases, up and down, where I feel like I haven’t fished with the boys enough, and then maybe I’ve done it too much with them. I don’t want to burn them out either, or take away other interests from them. But I guess the story above was a moment where I felt real good about everything. Seeing the progress that Joey has made, in particular, makes me realize that I’ve probably gotten both boys out there enough to give them a chance. And they both do. I think it will stick, too.

      Good luck with your own boys. Email me some pics.

      • The problem I have is the my idea of how the fishing trip goes NEVER goes as planned. I try to find the best runs, flies and easiest fishing location to make the trip worth while to them. Especially with their attention span being so short. What I seem to be in denial about is the years it’s taken me to learn what I have and the fickled ever changing conditions of water. You can’t really plan how a trip is going to be you just have to go and hope for the best. The other hard part has been finding waders that fit my kids. Wet wading is great but the good trout fishing where I live is in the colder months and kid waders have been hard to find. At least at a reasonable price. I have a trip planned at the beginning of Oct. I’m going to take my kids to a stream that gets heavily stocked with dumb trout. The only concern I have is the weather. If it’s cold they probably won’t stand for being in the stream long. Especially if there’s any wind.

        • I hear ya. It’s not easy.

          Regarding waders for real young kids, try Oakiwear. That’s what Aiden is wearing in this post:

          Once Joey was big enough, I got him a pair of Herters with felt soles. They have kids sizes. They are not breathable, but are much more durable.

          Simms is making kids waders now too.

          • Yeah, I’ve seen those before. I don’t want to spend $100 for waders my kids will grow out of in a year. I think I’m going to go with Frogg Toggs hip waders. You can get them at Walmart for $40.

          • For what it’s worth, hip boots in that size were a bust for me. I bought real small hip boots for Joey, early on. But I quickly realized that they hardly did any good. The most challenging thing about getting kids into fish is getting them into position to catch fish. We have to pick spots where they can wade shallow (but deep to them) and cast into deeper stuff. I found that having chest waders made a huge difference. I don’t allow them to wade over their waist, but those few extra inches they can wade beyond what hip boots permit makes all the difference.

            Honestly, the best thing is to wait until you can have them wet wade. When the weather is warm enough, that’s the ticket. And if the water is then too warm for trout, target fallfish — they eat dry flies like trout, but aren’t nearly as picky.

          • We have red horse suckers which are similar but I’ve found to be pretty picky about what they hit. You can get them on pheasant tails and other small nymphs from time to time. Certain times of the year they’ll chase streamers. I would prefer the kids to be in hip waders for not only the reasons you mentioned but just out of general comfort. I’m just not confident the opportunity to better access and comfort warrant the price for what most of those cost. If I knew that garanteed my kids enjoying themselves more and making them fish for hours I’d gladly spend the money. What I could see for sure is them taking a few steps having to pee then going through stripping those things off. My daughter would hate that.

          • After googling fallfish I take it back. We do have something similar here called chubs. They don’t get super large but they will annoy you when the water is warmer. They hit flies as soon as they meet the surface and trout will not waste time competing with them. Once the water cools they disappear.

  5. Domenic, Great background story. So much of fishing is just being in the woods, the place, the water.

    What a great term “Fish big”. That’s a keeper.

    Thanks for going deep in your writing. It taps into the richness of what we experience on the water.

    • “Fish Big.” You like that? I’ve been thinking recently about words and sentences to put on Troutbitten T-Shirts. I hadn’t considered that one.

      • Yep, “Fish Big” works for me.

  6. Currently in this stage with my 6 year old son. Trying not to push and telling him how great it can be… Wanting him to go more and waiting for him to ask when we can go again….. The one hour car ride usually turns him off. Thanks for the post. See you next month!

  7. I was blessed with two young ladies. One lived to fish until she found boys and married. The other never really wanted to be involved. I miss them both by the river.

    Read Robert Ruark’s “The Old Man and the Boy” and “The Old Man’s Boy Grows Older.” Ruark is by far my favorite author for fishing and hunting.

    No matter what, spend the time with your boys…time passes way too quickly I’ve found.

  8. I love this post. All dads can get behind this.


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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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