Photos © Ken Schultz
When looking for a fishing or boating gift for someone, please do not get them a rod, reel, fishing box, boating accessory, or any other fish and boat specific product because you think it is something they would like or would use. That is, unless they have already given you very specific guidance.
Most of the people who are looking to give a fisherman a hobby gift are completely ignorant of the sport or the nuances of different types of fishing or the methods or boating needs. Hence, their default setting is a gift card for a local or national business. That’s fine, and of course the recipient can use the certificate to purchase something they really need or desire.
But why not think a little bigger? Fishery products usually have a limited lifespan. What about a fishing and boating gift that will last a lifetime? Here are some options.
1. Obtain a lifetime fishing license for a young angler
A lifetime fishing license is a good idea for people of all ages, but especially teenagers who are too young to need a license (even a baby or toddler). The initial effort is high, but the money the license holder will save over their lifetime is significant. In many cases, such a license remains valid even if the recipient moves out of the state in which the license was issued.
I have three different lifetime licenses that I bought as an adult and they were a great investment. In addition, the money that the government agency receives can in some cases be invested in a fund that helps government conservation programs over the long term. Check to see if your state or the state of residence of your intended recipient offers a lifetime fishing license.
2. Get a book
As the author of many books and someone who has inscribed many hundreds of books that were given away as Christmas and birthday gifts, I am partly interested in the idea of giving someone a printed or electronic book that they will also inform and entertain to help them to enjoy or better master some or all aspects of fishing.
Large format books (“coffee tables”) are delightful, but since many of them are made by European publishers, they typically deal with European styles and techniques that are not helpful to an American audience. Make sure a good looking book or book on a specific type of fishing, or guide to fish species, is appropriate for your recipient. This is easier to do in person in a store than viewing a description online.
3. Register a female angler for an outdoor educational workshop
A general classroom course for new anglers, especially women and girls, is an especially great way to learn fishing, boating, and other basics for outdoor activities in a non-pressurized, supportive environment. Many state fisheries and wildlife agencies run workshops for women outdoors. These usually focus on both hunting and fishing activities. Here is a very good article on such a program in Delaware. They should also check with the relevant state whether they are aware of any strictly fishing-related workshops, whether they are run by them or another source.
4. Send someone to fishing school
Most fishing schools are for fly fishing. Orvis is undoubtedly a leader in running fly fishing schools, with more than 1,500 certified instructors in retail locations across the country offering free courses on certain dates. I attended a fly fishing school (not Orvis) decades ago and it was very helpful in getting my casting mechanics on track. While a school is a good idea for anyone new to fly fishing, it is especially good for teenagers and women.
5. Send someone out on a boat safety education course
Such a course is required in some states, but not all. It is advisable to have attended this standardized course. Gifting someone with a paid training session (usually through the U.S. Coast Guard or online) can help ensure they learn about boat safety, navigation, and local knowledge. In addition, the post-graduation card allows the recipient to operate a motorboat if they move to another state where such a course is required.
6. Give someone a local club membership as a gift
This requires some work on the part of the gift giver. You will need to speak to a knowledgeable source at a local bait and fishing store to find out what clubs exist in the gift recipient area and who the contact person is.
Some clubs only host fishing trips or tournaments (not so good for beginners). Some have regular meetings with guest speakers (better for learning). Some have regular sessions to learn certain activities, like tying flies or building rods.
Annual membership in a local club is modest. I accelerated my entry into fishing by joining a large fishing and hunting association and attending their meetings. So I know that being part of the right fishing industry can help in many ways.
7. Give a complete beginner a pay-to-fish experience
There are “pay ponds,” “pay for canned fish,” “fish farms,” and similarly named places that are commercial establishments stocked with catfish, trout, and various panfish, and possibly other species, where you pay through Pounds for what you catch. No license is required and the device is usually provisioned.
Purists mock this almost guaranteed successful type of fishing, but as a starter for a teenager (or a disabled person), getting a safe pull on a line is a good thing. I was part of a group that brought downtown kids to such a place every year, and it was always a huge hit with the kids. Check with your state fisheries board and / or local bait and fishing shop to find such a location, or do an online search by saying: pay to fish ponds + pay per pound.
8. Get a subscription to a State Fish & Wildlife Agency publication
Many state wildlife agencies publish a monthly, bimonthly, or quarterly magazine about the state’s natural resources. Some of them are very broad, others focus on fish and wildlife themes. Most are very informative about species of interest to outdoor enthusiasts as well as government-run public areas and can really help a person know their own state’s resources a lot better. More knowledge makes the stewards more interested, and this complements the overall fishing and boating experience.
These publications may be available in print via a modest paid subscription or can be read online for free. Go to the home page of your state fish and wildlife agency or state department of natural resources and search for publications. You may have to search through many fact sheets and bulletins to find the type of magazine I am referring to, and not every state has one.
9. The greatest gift
If you are a seasoned angler, perhaps the greatest gift you can give is your time. Fishing a newbie at a time and place where the experience will be enjoyable, fruitful, and educational will leave a lasting impression on that person. You can hook them for life. This is the best gift of all.