It’s the morning of Father’s Day and my two children (9 year old daughter and 5 year old son) are super excited to spend the day with me. I’m just as excited as they are, cause I know exactly what’s on the agenda. It’s the same routine each year and I absolutely love every minute of it.

Here’s the Coles notes on what my day will entail: kick it off with a short sleep-in, have a nice breakfast at home, get showered with a few small gifts and handmade cards (no ties for this Daddy 😊). Then it’s time to pack a nice picnic lunch and gather our fishing gear, we’re going fishing for the day. Life is good!

With little kids, I tend not to take my rod with me on these trips. I’m usually kept busy tending to snags, tangles and wormless hooks. But this day would be different. My kids were adamant that I take my rod this time; they argued that they are getting bigger, that I’ve taught them quite a bit about how to fish safely (for them and the fish), and that it’s my special day. Who am I to argue with that……”ok, I’m taking my rod”. It was also at this point that I noticed my little guy was feeling a little bummed out. It had to be asked: “why so glum chum?” After much discussion (with a 5 year old) it was quite clear that he was “a big boy now, but I’m still fishing with my baby rod”. He had a point, he was still using his Spiderman rod, a rod that caused us nothing but grief. Side note – if you’ve seen the movie Office Space, I’m sure you recall the scene where the guys take that old fax machine out into the field and go ham on it with the baseball bat – the Spiderman rod deserves the same treatment.

I knew this day would come and I was prepared. When the kids were distracted with packing the car, I went to my usual garage hiding place (Santa knows it well 😉) and pulled out his new big boy rod I’d been saving for his birthday. When he turned around and saw it, the smile that came across his face was priceless, his excitement was back, and we were equally psyched to get on the road. Our picnic is packed, fishing gear is packed, sunscreen and bug spray…..check. Let’s do this!!

Being an outdoorsy kinda guy, I feel very fortunate to live in Peterborough County. There are countless recreational opportunities for families to enjoy, many of which are just minutes from home.

Over the years, the kids and I have enjoyed discovering new shoreline fishing spots. With two little ones learning to cast, you need a decent sized space, and preferably one without many trees. We now have a handful of family favorites, some of which have been named, and on this particular day our family has decided that we are heading to “Pickerel Point”.  A quick stop to buy some nightcrawlers and about five minutes later we arrived.

We quickly setup our spot for the day; get the blankets laid out, search for a bit of firewood for a campfire later, get our rods all rigged up and fill our 10 gallon bucket (I’ll touch on that bucket a little later). The kids get their own rods all rigged up and are already fishing, luckily the panfish stayed off their lines for a few minutes while I got my rod all setup. My lure of choice for the day would be the new Berkley minnow and black jig hooks that the kids gave me for Father’s Day. Today would be the first time that I’ve been able to fish along with my kids. I’m not going to lie, I was apprehensive, a lot can happen in a blink of the eye. Two kids, water, and fishing hooks. But, Mom was with us and her second set of eyes put me at ease.

It’s not long until I hear my daughter yelling out that she has a fish on. A quick fight and the pumpkinseed came off. I watch, smiling ear to ear as she gets a new worm on her hook and is ready to cast out again. But, to my surprise she asks Mom if she’d like a turn. Mom agrees and casts one out. Again, I’m watching and smiling. I haven’t seen my wife fish in about 20 years. It’s just not her thing, she’d much rather hangout with us while reading a good book. And wouldn’t you know it…..Mom lands the first fish of the day: a brightly coloured pumpkinseed. And here’s where our bucket comes into play.

The biologist in me loves to come out when we do family activities like this. It’s an opportunity for me to educate my kids on our native fish species, their key identification features, their habitat requirements, what they eat, how they eat and what might try to eat them. I do this not with the hopes that they will gain a better appreciation for our environment and the species that depend on us being good stewards.

So, it’s off to the bucket for you little pumpkinseed and we can begin our lesson. We start by looking at the colouring and patterns, and if they think it’s a male or female and why. Then we move on to body and tail shape. Is this fish built for speedy swimming to ambush prey? Ok, no it’s not, so what might it eat? Let’s look at the shape, position and size of its mouth to help us decide what it eats. We talk about the area it was caught in, so we can learn about its habitat requirements. Was there aquatic vegetation nearby and why would that be important? I like doing this with every “new to us” species we catch. I enjoy the discussions we have, their level of engagement and that we share a similar appreciation.

With our pumpkinseed safely back in the water, we are ready to get back to fishing.  My son has noticed something in the water; he has spotted an “eddy”. An eddy forms wherever current is impeded, forming behind an obstruction like a boulder or structure like a dock or channel marker. They can also form on bends in the river or waterway and along the shores away from the main channel. The eddy he has spotted seems to always hold fish and he’s about to find out why this spot has been named “Pickerel Point”.  First cast with my new lure, I let it sink but a moment and wham, fish on!! I can tell it’s only a little one, but according to those headshakes I know it’s a walleye. As I reel this in I’m already thinking of the lesson plan for this species and the first lesson will be how to safely handle a toothy fish. I take the time to show my kids how to carefully lift the gill plate and safely slide your hand in, being mindful of the fish’s gills, gill rakers, and teeth. Again we talk about its key identification features – can’t miss that white tipped caudal fin (tail), and that large eye. We talk about the large eye and why it’s so important for this species. That discussion takes a slight detour into water quality and invasive species issues, such as the impacts zebra mussels have on water clarity and how it will impact walleye populations. With our lesson over, it’s time to release this one. I primarily practice catch and release. I have no issues with fisher people harvesting their catches, I just choose not to.

For the next hour or so, I continually cast into that little eddy. My kids’ rods keep coming up short on distance to reach the small target (literally 20ft2), so it’s Daddy to the rescue and I’m glad they convinced me to bring my rod today. We have a plan, I’ll be making the cast with my rod and “special bait”, then hand it off to them. They each take turns reeling walleye in, with each fish being bigger than the last.

To me, this experience was my Father’s Day gift. The laughs, the excitement, and watching them struggle a bit with a bigger fish on the end of their line. We probably should have stopped for a lunch break to enjoy the nice picnic we had packed but we were on a roll. In the words of Queen: “don’t stop me now, don’t stop me, ‘cause I’m having a good time, having a good time”.

By days end, we had landed a total of 11 walleye, 2 smallmouth bass, 1 yellow perch, 2 pumpkinseed and a rock bass. With five different species, there was a lot of learning going on at “Pickerel Point”. And a lot of great fun and memories too.