Fishing With The
There can be few things more
magical than witnessing the excitement experienced by a child upon
catching their first fish – a truly memorable moment, which also brings
a warm glow to the proud parent, aunt or uncle responsible for making
the occasion possible. Traditionally, such time honored skills have been
passed from father to son; and represent an important mile post along
the respective youngster’s angling journey. While this is often still
the case, parents new to fishing, including greater numbers of modern
moms, are also taking up the challenge of taking their kids fishing.
Unfortunately, such enthusiasm is often met with disappointment, as the
attractively packaged Sponge Bob or Spiderman kids fishing
outfits, typically available through larger stores, are woefully
inadequate for the task at hand. While it isn’t impossible to catch an
occasional fish using such equipment, catch rates can be vastly improved
through the application of more kid friendly methods. Briefly, as
detailed below, by applying philosophies of Keep it Simple,
Catch a Fish, Any Fish and Fish Close to Home it is possible
to virtually guarantee that kids catch good numbers of fish first time
Keep it Simple.
Think bank, not boat! Choosing to fish from the bank makes a preferred option for busy families, as the time and financial constraints associated with hauling a boat to a (likely distant) boat ramp, fuelling, launching, and then fishing most often far outweigh the sheer simplicity and convenience of spending several hours with the kids at a local area park district lake or neighborhood retention pond. Additionally, as is detailed further below (see Fish Close to Home) local parks and other venues, in addition to some fantastic fishing, typically also offer a host of other kid friendly activities.
Tangles, tangles, tangles –
the bane of any parent’s angling experience! An unfortunate truism is
that if there is a tree or bush within 30 feet of a new angler they are
more than likely to become snarled within it. Indeed, it is often the
case that parents spend more time sorting out knotted line and
retrieving bobbers from various fauna a flora than actually having a
line in the water! This frustration can be overcome very simply by
taking casting out of the equation – instead of utilizing a typical rod
‘n reel set up, a simple 6 – 10 ft crappie pole (available through most
angling outlets for less that ~$20) should be employed. With such a set
up, a length of line is simply tied to the pole with a hook, float
(bobber) and shot then added. The rig is then simply swung underhand (no
tangles), rather than cast overhand (lots of tangles!), into the fishing
area. Since the species sought are likely pan fish (see Catch a Fish,
Any Fish below), greater casting distances are neither required nor
Catch a Fish – Any Fish!
The real secret to ensuring a great day at the water with the kids principally lies with understanding which fish species are likely to be encountered during a typical fishing trip. An examination of DNR fish survey data reveals that essentially 90% of all fish present in most bodies of water comprise bluegill. With this truism in mind, it then makes sense to target these species. Indeed, in addition to being the most numerous, bluegill also preferentially inhabit the margins of most bodies of water – meaning that the ‘kid friendly’ short range crappie pole technique, as outlined above, affords the most efficient method for targeting these fish from the bank. Because pan fish have much smaller mouths than bass, and adopt decidedly different feeding strategies, this requires that small hooks and live baits should be used in place of jigs, spinners and other lures when targeting these species. Indeed, the phrase ‘think trout, not bass’ is worth remembering when assembling a rig suitable for bluegill.
In a little more detail, the
rig should be assembled by tying a length of 4 lb test line to the tip
of the pole, then cutting it to about a foot or so shorter than the
pole’s length (e.g. a 5 ft length of line tie to a 6 ft pole). A light
Thill style ‘Shy Bite’ float (bobber) should be added to the line and a
size 16 trout hook tied on. The float should be balanced with small lead
shot until only its small red tip remains visible when cast out.
Typically, a #8 shot is placed 4 inches from the hook, with the
remaining bulk another 6 inches above that. The float should initially
be set so there is ~ 3 ft of line between the hook and float – this
depth can be altered during the session in order to find at which depth
the fish are feeding (3 ft down is typical). Baits should err on the
smaller size, with worm segments or maggots being best. While this set
up may seem a little unusual, it is well suited to the pursuit of pan
fish, which have relatively small mouths and give a delicate bite.
Larger hooks coupled with the dreaded ‘red n’ white’ bobber is a sure
fire route to failure and should be avoided at all costs. In practice
the baited rig is simply swung out underhand, with bites easily detected
as a decisive pull under of the float. Striking hard is not required
–the rig is just smoothly swung back to the angler with the fish
Fish Close to Home.
Kids, by their very nature, can become distracted quite easily. Thus, while the methods detailed here will certainly result in the capture of some fish; when considering a family outing it’s often prudent (especially if kids under age 6 are involved) to select a local park district facility as a destination. In this way, an hour or two of fishing with the kids can easily be worked into a varied schedule. Indeed, if fishing is combined with a picnic, visits to the playground, and maybe some bike riding or playing catch; these activities will typically add up to a very worthwhile and relaxing family outing.
While there are literally
dozens of small park district facilities and neighborhood retention
ponds within a stone’s throw of most readers homes, some of my personal
favorites include: Patriots Park (Barth Pond), Downers Grove, IL – a
wonderful well appointed and maintained venue; Van Horne Woods,
Plainfield IL (great fishing pier); and Gebhard Woods, Morris, IL
(several nice ponds and access to the I&M canal).
Want to learn more?
Dr. Pat Mills, this article’s author, will be presenting a ‘Fishing with the Family’ instructional seminar, featuring the material discussed here, on the evening of Tuesday, April 22nd, 2008 at the Main JJC Campus. Parties interested in attending the seminar (both kids and parents welcome) are encouraged to register through Joliet Junior College. The best way to register is to call 815-280-1555 and quote the class course number (Fishing with the Family - LLC 3315 T1). People can also go to the JJC website (www.jjc.edu), click on E-resources and then to register for a Life Long Learning class (https://eresources.jjc.edu).
In addition, detailed articles featuring the methods discussed here can be viewed in the April 2008 edition of the Outdoor Notebook, while Bank Fishing 101 (an introductory bank fishing book) can also be downloaded free of charge from this website (.pdf, 8.10 MB). Interested parties are also encouraged to contact Pat directly via e-mail at email@example.com or via phone at 815 280 6702.