The adage goes something like this: “Give a kid a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a kid to fish and he will never come home for dinner.”
Yeah, that sounds about right.
Kids growing up on the East End typically have ample opportunity to learn to fish and experience the thrill of catching one of the dozens of migratory species that roam local waters in the warmer months. After-school bike rides to the shore, summertime afternoons lining the bulkheads of local creeks, Saturday mornings on the boat with dad—all are experiences that are simultaneously cherished and taken for granted.
But for many young visitors, despite plenty of lazy summer days in the Hamptons, family habits and packed schedules have not afforded them the opportunity to explore the waters of the South Fork and experience the pull of a fish or learn the lessons the bays will give up if one spends sufficient time on them.
For a couple of local natives, that gap presented both a chance to enlighten some young minds about the natural world that surrounds them and a business opportunity. Having run the Flying Point Surf Camp for 10 years, Shane Dykman was well aware that there were plenty of families looking for someone to teach their kids one of the most popular local pastimes. Fishing, he realized, seemed to be another obvious skill in need of some tutoring.
Welcome to Fish Camp.
“I grew up on the water out here. My father had a marina in East Moriches and, after running the Surf Camp for 10 years, we wanted to expand on that and I wanted to take kids fishing,” Mr. Dykman—actually, Captain Dykman—said this week. “If you want your kids to go fishing, there’s really not a lot of options. You’ve got the party boats in Hampton Bays, or you have to hire a charter boat in Montauk, and you don’t get to see the area at all.”
With its two large skiffs, Fish Camp takes two daily trips, three hours each, out of Sag Harbor, exploring the waters of Peconic and Gardiners Bays, catching fluke, porgies, striped bass, blowfish and bluefish. Last week the campers caught one of the more rare and exotic summer visitors—a cobia, a species that typically inhabits Florida waters.
With a boatload of fishing novices aboard, the daily trips, much like Surf Camp excursions, are not just a guided experience. Rather, they are educational excursions intended to allow campers to go forth on their own armed with the basic knowledge they’ll need to catch a fish.
“We teach them how to tie knots, what kind of bait and lures work, what all the fish species are and where they live, how the tides work, everything,” Mr. Dykman said. “A lot of these kids have never fished before in their lives, so we’re starting completely from scratch.”
And, of course, the experience is not just about catching dinner. Fish don’t always bite so well, and, on some days, they bite so well that one can actually get tired of catching them. So the Fish Camp captains have a secondary mission: educating their young pupils on the mysteries of the local bays and harbors, and the marine species that abound in them.
Thanks to traps that commercial fishermen use to capture fish placed strategically throughout Shelter Island Sound, the campers also get ample opportunity to bring a bit of the wild subsurface world into their own.
“When the kids get tired of reeling in fish, we go into the bays and check our traps—eel traps, killie pots, crab traps—and they get to see all the different species we have around here,” said Mr. Dykman, who runs one of the Fish Camp boats with his partner, Captain James Davis. “When we catch scrap fish, we use them to bait the pots—it’s real bayman-type stuff. The kids get very into it.”
A week ago the campers pulled up a pot with a monstrous American eel in it, a slithering leviathan nearly 3 feet in length that Mr. Dykman said thrilled campers. Another day, while fishing for the fluke and porgies that are common in the area in summertime, they hooked into a brute of a fish that, after a protracted tug-of-war, turned out to be a cobia, a rare visitor and one of the biggest Mr. Dykman has ever seen.
Some days the fish just don’t bite. When things are slow, Fish Camp boats can become floating, sun-drenched classrooms where the tides, marine conservation and water quality are discussed. Those lessons, of course, can be suddenly interrupted by the sing of a reel’s drag.
“Whatever the day may bring, you never know,” Mr. Dykman said. “Every day is a mini-adventure.”