In the last two weeks I have become a full-time teacher, cook, gym instructor and referee in addition to my normal professions, which admittedly were wide and varied to begin with. Having been something of a jack-of-all-trades and an angler of all species thus far in life has helped prepare me for these duties brought on by our recent societal changes. My favorite responsibilities in this time of transition, however, remain boat captain, hook baiter, fish remover and photographer to capture those memories made as a warm stretch has allowed for time on the water. For those who haven’t been as lucky as I to have had the experience mentoring youth or their own kids in a angling-related setting, there has never been a better time than now – when many states are issuing stay-at-home orders with exceptions for outdoor activities in them – to get young people out and catching fish. What follows are some basics to help up your odds of success in this time of social distancing and add fishing hero to your growing list of titles.
1. Not in the Middle of It. When fishing from shore, casting out into the depths of a pond or lake is rarely productive. Instead, guide your young anglers to work along the edge of the water, adjusting slip floats or casting spoons and spinners to cover the shallows, where many fish lurk in spring as the water warms. Look for those areas where the clear spring water fades to the depths and target the breaks and if there’s fishable structure like rocks, gravel or a few scattered boulders, have them cast around those areas, or help put their baits in place for better success. Avoid any complex shoreline structure though, unless they’re skilled enough to cast around trees, rip-rap or docks, to prevent snags and break-offs.
2. Rig a Slip Float. Spurn that classic red-and-white bobber for a slip float which can easily be adjusted to where the fish are. Starting with the bare end of the line, thread on and tighten a bobber stop, then a bead, then the float to get things going. Hold it all in place with a split shot pinched about a foot up from the end of the line, and tie on a small jig or a chosen hook. Using smaller jigs for panfish will aid in easy releases and provide some extra casting weight. Whether on a spiderman push-button caster or a spinning rod for a more mature angler, a slip float system is easier to cast, will help explore the water column better and ultimately catch more fish.
3. Use Bait. You may be a die-hard basser, catching fish on artificial lures and turning up your nose at the idea of live bait as a ticket to success. You might be a dry-fly purist that thinks the imitation is better than the real thing. When it comes to fishing with kids though, put your pride aside and spear a piece of nightcrawler on a hook or add a waxworm to a panfish jig to make certain kids can connect with their quarry. Have plenty of worms, waxies, minnows or maggots on hand for the chosen species to make sure those bobbers go down and lines stay tight.
4. Target the Right Fish. Pick a species of fish that kids can catch. As lake ice recedes and waters open up, panfish are some of the first species to move into the shallows and become ready biters. Crappies and bluegills will eagerly take a baited hook, small jigs and plastics and other easy-to-fish options. Additionally, pike are a popular spring fish, and where seasons are open, early runs can be found relating to areas of moving water, inflowing creeks and other pre-spawn areas. Casting simple spoons or jigs and twisters are all it takes to trigger the bite and a memorable battle. When stocked trout hit the water, key in on those opportunities for fast action with spoons and spinners. From these species move on to more advanced options like walleyes and bass, according to the skill of the angler.
5. Record the Memory. With a digital camera on every phone, there’s no excuse for not having a bunch of pictures from every trip this spring. Having the photo to encapsulate each notable fish, the experience and who was along, is as important to preserving the memory as it is to creating the bond between those anglers involved. Take as many pictures as possible and have the young anglers write about their experiences, not only covering the trip but also the current times they find themselves in and the importance of being outdoors. If you’re pulling double duty as schoolteacher, you’ve just checked off English and Biology and an extracurricular fishing outing for the day as a result.
Keeping things simple, targeting active fish and recording the good times in this era of challenge is as important as ever when it comes to getting young anglers involved and keeping them connected to the natural world. Where conditions and controls in place allow for it, use this time of being together while apart from the rest of the world to help kids hone their skills on the water, or simply just catch a few fish with these tips, offsetting the challenges we face with the joys that can only be found…in our outdoors.
By: Nick Simonson