What’s the perfect time to teach your children how to fish?

Our resident fisherman turns his tackle over to his three-year-old grandson. Knowing when to introduce children to the joys of fishing is a conundrum, but youth often means confidence – and success.

The ideal age at which to introduce a child to the arts of angling is a peren-nial problem and rather depends upon individual temperament. We must not make it seem a chore and the venue must be entertaining enough that ennui does not set in. At four, I first dawdled a half hour by a Highland burn (without success), but a chap I met who caught his first salmon at six seems to have been pushing it a bit.

When our own children were small, the best bet was during an annual Hebridean trip to The Doctor’s hideaway on Harris, where there’s always plenty of rough fishing to be had. In 43 years, I’ve never not caught something there – either mackerel safaris or odd hours on the House Loch have always delivered the glittering goodies. This summer, we took grandson Finlay (three), so I packed a little float rod, together with the shrimping nets, in case he showed some interest in his grandpa’s lifelong passion.

finlay goes fishing

Our first day dawned bright and calm as the Riviera. Over 7am porridge, Finlay announced: ‘I want to go fishing, fishing, fishing!’ My spirits surged, until it was clear he meant dredging through the rockpools with his ‘lobster net’ (we had two butter-fly nets, one pink, one yellow); still, it was a promising start.

When our three were tiddlers, I took this minor branch of fishing quite seriously: equipped with bonefish cap, polarised glasses and chest waders, I cheerfully supervised the capture of butterfish, shannies and blennies from the shoreline. This year, I found my enthusiasm hadn’t abated a jot.

‘Pompey the spaniel sprinted down the strand, executed a battle leap worthy of a Celtic warrior-hero and caught a tern in mid air’

I’d been hoping for one of those misty, moisty days so we could try the loch, but the ‘glorious’ weather continued and, for much of the week, we had to mount expeditions to the various sandy beaches for which the island is famed. There’s one near a graveyard on the western coast that shows some excellent tidal pools on the ebb and here we were able to harvest a multitude of mackerel fry, plus a brace of astonishing, purple-squirting sea slugs.

Apart from one moment – when Pompey the spaniel sprinted down the strand, executed a battle leap worthy of a Celtic warrior-hero and caught a tern in mid air (his retrieve was released unscathed) – these trips were lovely, quagmirey fun. But I was beginning to develop serious fin fever.

david profumo

One teatime, we toiled up the brae towards the loch, hoping to find some breeze. I had rigged a 10ft match rod with a handmade float recently bought at auction and was describing to Finlay the delicious sight it would make as it dithered and dipped upon a bite. Instead, in the preternatural calm, it sat ‘as idle as a painted ship/upon a painted ocean’.

Midges congregated. Pompey turned his insolent hazelnut gaze upon me. I could imagine the Editor saying it was a poor class of fishing correspondent who couldn’t get his own grandson connected to a wild brownie on a worm rod. I know perseverance is a piscatorial virtue, but there is also truth in W. C. Fields’s dictum, ‘if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There’s no point in being a damn fool about it’. Defeated, I trudged back to the croft to do more dinosaur stickers.

‘Are you going to be a fisherman when you grow up?’ Turning his pale, imperious gaze upon us, he firmly replied: ‘I am a fisherman now!’

At home in Perthshire, I have two lochans stocked occasionally with trout, but rarely fished, except by the osprey in May and the odd marauding cormorant. We drove the arthritic Defender down the track, Finlay at the wheel wearing his lucky-shark sequin T-shirt. His father James baited up the tackle, as I observed from the far bank. After 10 anxious minutes, the tell-tale began to march slowly against the direction of the breeze, then disappeared.

By the time I had yomped back through the field, they had a stupendously good trout in the net – a brownie that pulled the pointer down to precisely three pounds on my match scales and, with its rich-chocolate, gold-foil and vermillion-prinked livery was a trophy for an angler of any age.

Next day, helping to gut a rainbow he had also caught, Finlay was asked: ‘Are you going to be a fisherman when you grow up?’ Turning his pale, imperious gaze upon us, he firmly replied: ‘I am a fisherman now!’