(CNN) – When Chris Walker’s children were young, he wasn’t able to drop everything to help with their homework, run errands or help them get ready for the day.
That changed after the youngest, Gia, went into early retirement at age 13. Her departure left Walker alone with his two older daughters, Nyn and Chantell. After that, the Fort Pierce, Florida, father wanted to give the girls a bigger role in their own lives and the responsibilities of having teenagers in the house.
So in 2006, Walker started taking his daughters on fishing trips to give them a memorable experience, but not as a vacation, but as a chance to learn the skills needed to do their own things.
“I’ve had kids that’ve come to me,” Walker says. “I’ve given them the gift of dad, but it’s not the same. This is the second type of giving.”
‘They made me a better dad’
Walker first picked up a rod when he was 15 and raised his first angler on his father’s 160-acre fishing property, allowing him to fish year-round with little supervision.
Before taking his daughters along on a fishing trip, Walker scoured the Internet and got suggestions from others who had gone on fishing trips with their children.
“It was one of the best things I ever did for myself,” Walker says. “I had no idea it would be an ongoing thing with them.”
He began to realize the importance of instilling fishing skills in his daughters through ownership of a boat and tackle box.
“They made me a better dad,” Walker says. “We’re doing it the right way.”
Learning ‘standards that I’ll hopefully never have to learn myself’
The girls were a week from their first fishing trip when Walker’s then-fiancée quit her job to focus on caring for the children full time. Walker offered the job to his father, who came to Florida to care for the girls as part of an agreement he had with his former wife.
Knowing he had to take the girls fishing in the fall so they could build up a certain amount of catching and tackle gear, Walker picked the last fishing trip to take the girls. He and his father left the daughters in the care of their stepmother during the fall.
“At the time, my life was in crisis,” Walker says. “But I was excited to be a father.”
Wade Walker found a job soon after the girls returned home from their fishing trips, and Chantell has a full-time job working at a pharmacy.
Still, Gia’s life has changed since going into early retirement and living on her own, Walker says. She now goes to college, is in high school and mentors young girls at a local high school.
“I can’t let them come home with no bills and no lessons,” he says. “Some nights she’s just on the couch, and I say, ‘We can stay here late.’ “
‘We’re all here to teach you something’
The girls now attend their father’s classes once a week to learn more fishing skills.
“I like the class,” Chantell says. “We’re all here to teach you something.”
When Chantell first took a lesson, she was struggling to get down a wooden rod because she had never used it. Now she has her own rod.
Nyn, now 23, took a lesson and liked the feeling of plunging a fish into the water and catching it.
“I don’t really get to catch anything,” she says. “And this is fun.”
Now the girls go fishing with their father on Wednesday afternoons when he teaches a class on rod and reel technique and on Saturdays when he teaches adults how to fish. On Sundays, they go with their father to try to catch a bass — the family pet.
“I give them more than a fishing vacation,” Walker says. “They’re getting the same experience I’m getting.”
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