When the craze started in the States during the Obama administration, and quickly spread to Europe, Australia, and the rest of the civilized world, fishing for children quickly overtook poker as the "must do" and "must see" activity for young and old alike.
At the time master fisherman and TV personality Boots Wingfield published his guide in 2012, everyone was a beginner. The adrenaline-rush of landing that first catch quickly popularized the sport, and--controversy be damned--it quickly grew into a five-billion-dollar a year industry.
Here is Wingfield's brief guide, reprinted for its obvious historical value. As we all celebrate the 50th anniversary of the world's favorite spare-time activity, please take a few minutes for a wide-eyed, bushy tailed, and nostalgic look back at its inception. Be sure to read the 50-year retrospective following Boot's pamphlet (written by Boot's only living relative, his son Tris, one of the leading sports fisherman of the past five decades). We now proudly present the original Fishing For Children by the immortal Boots Wingfield.
Fishing For Children
Boots Wingfield here, thumbing my nose at the world and telling you that the greatest rush in life is to land a baby on a hook.
I tossed my first baby in a lake a year ago, just to shut it up. As I sat on the dock, cracked open a beer, and watched the baby sink, that's when the idea hit me. Quickly grabbing my fishing pole, I tied the baby's teething ring on a double-wing fly-hook, threw it in, and moved the tip a few inches side to side. And before you can say "Snookums" the baby wrapped its mouth around the ring, yanked, and fought me for a few minutes before I reeled it in and caught it in a net.
There was no going back! Once I landed that first one I fell totally in love with the sport.
Seeding the waters
Did you ever just stand still and look deep within a crystal clear lake or pond? There are lilly pads and dragonflies, and ripples where the wind caresses its surface. The sky, blue upon the water, shows clouds serenely passing, while every once in awhile the reflection of a circling bird can be seen, as if swimming. And if you listen with your heart and not your head, the waves breaking against the shore sound like a puppies tongue lightly tickling your hand. Every lake I've seen is pure heaven, and every pond is almost perfect. It's as if Mother Nature has purposely provided respite from the hundreds of demands making up a typical modern day. And the only thing missing are the babies.
When you go to seed a lake or a pond with children, the first thing you do is make sure they're naked as the day they were born (actually, try to toss them in on the day that they're born). Throw them underhand, like a bowling ball or a warmed potato, and try to get them way out there, about twenty feet or so from shore.
Then give them a minute to settle in. If they float back up you may be able to see some tiny fingers or toes break through the water's surface for a moment before dipping under again. Otherwise, you can track where they are by the air bubbles. Notice that some of them crawl along the bottom, while many of the older ones try to resurface. With enough practice you can sense when it's just the right time to either. . .
. . . fish or cut bait
To get the child's attention focused on your line, attach a couple of shiny spinning toys about a half-inch above the bait. Whirly stars, little circus clowns circling on a string, or some kind of animal with big eyes. These will all grab the child's attention. Then experience the thrill as the young 'un approaches your line and either nibbles or bites at the hook. Few of them can resist taking the bait. Especially if they're teething.
I've found that hooks laced with ground-up bananas, sweet crap in jars labeled "Baby Food", and oatmeal cooked in mother's milk all work well. I still use that lucky teething ring sometimes. Children fall for all of these things. Dumber than carp. They will latch on to the hook, usually with the lower lip, and then all you have to do is reel them in inch by inch. Most will give you a good fight, and the stronger and more limber ones will leap from the water a time or two. A beautiful sight. Especially at sunrise, or near sunset, when the light hits their wet skin and reflects off their surprised little eyes just so.
And once you witness their will to survive, you will never forget it. They vigorously fight the line, so determined to shake loose that you can see their little hands rapidly flaying, churning up the water, thinking that they somehow will escape. There's nothing like it. Those moments always remind me of Hemingway's immortal words: "The thrill is in the chase, not the capture. The instinct is to run your prey to ground, to see the life drain from their eyes, not to mount it on a plaque and stare at it from an easy chair for crying out loud."
So during the struggle, use your head. Let the line play out a few feet, and then pull it back in. Be sure to bring along a sturdy net for that all-important last second of combat when you reach down, swoop them up, and spank them in celebration. Before you know it, babies will be laid end-to-end on the dock with one or two of them still wriggling in the bucket.
A note for the better sportsmen: Gather at the bends and rocky areas of the creek, river, or pond. When the current sweeps the children downstream Mother Nature again lends a hand, and slows them down periodically. It is at these spots that they can clearly see the bait dangling before them, and can most easily get their little teeth or gums around it.
Crybabies and rough seas
I've heard it said that when they cry it can sometimes break your heart. Don't make me laugh. When you hear a hooked child cry, or imagine that you see tears coming from its eyes, just remember that they don't feel pain. Their bleats are just a psychosomatic response to a change in air pressure.
And speaking of air pressure, did you know that weather can determine what type of child you will catch? The smaller ones ones tend to come near the surface as a storm approaches and the water gets a good stirring. Babies seem to have prenatal memories of being jostled back and forth in the warm water of the womb, a time in their life that game children are nostalgically reminded of during a a squall. Just use this to your advantage. Artificially create "rough seas" (a.k.a. Mommy walking) by rocking the boat, or by pushing the water around with an oar. This is enough to fool an inexperienced child into thinking that mommy's coming back for them, and then you can net 'em.
Competitive sports fishing
Now we get into the real meat of the sport: Competition. Man against man. You against them. Nature at its most awesomely robust. Let's fish gentlemen!
Two simple rules for competitive child fishing apply in all cases: First, never hold a grudge against a child. This is just wrong. And second, always toss the tiny ones back. In the words of my wife, Bess Wingfield, "If it's a fetus, we do not eat it". Speaking of the feasting to come, Mrs. Wingfield suggests you don't mix the black ones with the white ones. Or the Chinese with anything else for that matter. Because when you get them back to the dock for that all important after-competition fiesta fry, you'll find that the texture and taste of the meat is different, and cooking times vary.
Aside from those two rules, anything goes. Team competition, weight classifications, best hook placement (I once snagged one by the ear and landed it without a tear), quick-skinning contests, and two-on-a-hook trick exhibitions provide fun for the whole family. And remember, these are all Boots Wingfield approved "Adequate tests of manhood"!
Some advice from the old sage: When you arrange a Fishing for Children contest, keep the women and other PETA types out of the loop. They have a way of trying to bring your fishing crews, contest judges, and media coverage to a screeching halt--and I do mean screeching--and that's the last thing you need. Upbeat gentlemen, upbeat all the way.
Deep sea expeditions
My greatest thrill in life was hooking a seven-year old on the open sea. It fought for over an hour, and I had to use every ounce of strength just to get it close enough to the boat to bop it on the head and haul it over the side.
Some ocean fishermen use a drag net, scooping up children, crabs, and lobsters with no more effort than driving the boat. They can catch a good size kindergarten class at once with these things. But I call that cheating. And you can quote me on that. Either catch 'em with a hook, barehand them, or leave them alone! Nets are for sissies, and no one has ever called Boots Wingfield a sissy and gotten away without a black eye and a limp to remind them of their foolishness.
Well, that's all I've got to say. Boots Wingfield and Bess Wingfield wish you fair winds, calm waters, and good fishing gentlemen!
Fishing For Children: A 50-year retrospective
The legendary Boots Wingfield, my dad, died six months after the publication of his now historic document. Trapped in a wading pond populated by more than two dozen children, dad mysteriously drowned in fifteen inches of water, having "slipped under peacefully" according to the two young eyewitnesses who had learned to talk. Although the coroner investigated the many tiny handprint impressions on his neck, back, and shoulders, he ruled that they were the result of a change in air pressure.
But Boot's legacy outlived him by decades. The sport he invented has grown by leaps and bounds, and each year thousands of new anglers are attracted to the life-changing experience by mindweb magazines, holographic images of exciting catches, and the abundance of babies produced by third-world factory-farm maternity wards. Thankfully, since the sports competitive aspect became part of the Summer Olympics in 2024, children have been bred for speed, stamina, ability to elude, and greatly increased lung capacity. Hot diggity dog! If there's one thing I learned from my dad it's that when the human race is determined to do something, it does it right.
And in recent years, as many of you reading this know, extreme Fishing for Children has become very popular among the better classes. Luxurious ocean expeditions--aptly named Wet Safari's--have been developed so that the "man who has everything" can now go comfortably out to the sea in ships and try his luck where the big ones roam.
Not bad for a sport developed long ago by a true visionary, a man who selflessly spent his life wanting nothing more than to provide enjoyment to others. History will justifiably lionize him for creating such an extraordinary outlet for man's innate need for healthy adventure. Thanks a million, Dad! I still miss your smiling face. And the smiling faces of my two younger brothers.
Lovingly published in honor of a great fisherman, a friend to mankind, a dedicated family man, and my father, Boots Wingfield.