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Fishing for spot and croaker, catching family fun

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Teenagers and parents enjoy an evening of fishing on the Rappahannock River with Capt. William Saunders and his Children’s Fishing Academy.

by Lisa Hinton-Valdrighi

Six-year-old Izzy Eby gave a little squeal and curled her lips up as if she’d taken a big bite out of a lemon as she reeled in a spot aboard Capt. William Saunders deadrise, Miss Nicole.

It was only the second fish she’d caught and she was a little squeamish. But by the end of the two-hour fishing trip, she was reeling them in like a seasoned pro.

“That’s what it’s all about,” said Saunders, who offers Children’s Fishing Academy daily, departing from The Tides Inn on Carter Creek in Irvington.

“Everybody’s smiling. The kids are smiling, the parents are smiling. It’s all about having fun,” he said.

Saunders got the idea for his children’s charters after taking a grandmother and her grandchildren out on a fishing trip.

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Six-year-old Izzy Eby is a little leary of her catch with Capt. William Saunders. Photo by Lisa Hinton-Valdrighi

“After the boy caught the fish, he gave me the same look you see on kids’ faces when they’re opening their favorite present on Christmas morning,” said Saunders. “And I thought, that’d be great to allow any kid that wants to learn to fish the chance.”

Saunders has been a working waterman for over 30 years and has been a charter boat captain for 11 years. He launched his Children’s Fishing Academy as part of his Rappahannock River Charters two months ago and it’s already a success.

I hopped aboard one of his charters last month with 10-year-old Brader Eby and his younger sister, Izzy Eby, their grandmother, Ruth Bernheim, and their mom, Jean Eby, all of Charlottesville.

We left the dock at The Tides Inn and cruised out of the creek towards the Rappahannock River while Saunders answered questions about wildlife, oystering, crabbing and the history of the Northern Neck. We dropped anchor in about 30 feet of water, just short of the Robert O. Norris Jr. Memorial Bridge after Saunders spotted a large school of fish on his finder. The river was a little choppy. Jean, like myself, said she was prone to motion sickness but Saunders let out a lot of anchor line and his 38-foot deadrise shifted to face the waves.

He brought out his bait, a bag of shrimp and blood worms, which got an “eww” from mom and Izzy, and baited the kids’ hooks. That’s something he does for the young anglers to avoid injuries. Spot like the worms, croaker like the shrimp, he said.

Almost as soon as Izzy dropped her line, she got a nibble and fought like she was reeling in a whale as a “keepable” spot broke the surface. Saunders took it off the hook, something else he offers to do, especially for the younger fishermen.

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Ruth Bernheim helps her granddaughter Izzy Eby reel in her fish aboard the Miss Nicole. Photo by Lisa Hinton-Valdrighi

“Most of the time when they start, they’re a little scared, especially if they haven’t fished before,” said Saunders. “But by the end of the trip, they’re loving it. Maybe they didn’t want to reel the fish in at first, but after two hours, they’re doing it on their own.”

There was no lack of fish or action that day. Almost as soon as Izzy or Brader would unhook one fish, rebait and drop the line, they’d get a bite. We got seven or eight croakers and spot worth keeping and threw about five others back.

Bernheim booked the charter for her grandchildren and daughter. She said she’d grown up in Maryland, fishing on the Potomac River and wanted to share that experience with her grandkids.

“Sometimes that’s what this is about,” said Saunders. “A way to share a family history and tradition.”

The Children’s Fishing Academy is offered for anglers ages 6 and older with a capacity of seven, which can include mom, dad and grandparents. He prefers to limit the charter to three or four children and an adult or two.

“But I can be a glorified babysitter if needed and take just the kids,” said Saunders. “I’ll take them out and teach them about nature. It’s about the art of fishing and keeping nature front and center.”

The charters are a great option for visitors who don’t have access to a boat, one reason he made the Tides Inn his home base for the academy.

“We take vacations to see our children enjoying themselves. Seeing the kids happy makes the parents happy. That’s what the vacations are about. Making memories with the kids,” he said.

Bernheim did just that with Izzy and Brader as she and her granddaughter reeled in a good size croaker together. The fish gave its trademark croak and they laughed.

posted 07.27.2017

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