With Trout Opener Almost Here, Now is the Time to Teach Children to Fish
By Gary Lewis
For her fourth birthday we gave Jennifer a fishing rod. Tiffany, our oldest, had been fishing with her own for several years already. The three of us spent a few hours over the next month and a half, practicing for the trout opener.
We went over the basics again and again. Pinch the line against the rod, flip the bail open, cast, reel, stop and wait. If you feel a tug on the line, then lift the rod quick and start reeling. We practiced this without hooks in the house, then later in the backyard.
On the morning the season opened, we bought a dozen worms and headed for the lake.
There were deer in the trail and we gave them time to get away from us before we headed down the path. The girls carry their own gear and I had to stop and wait while they maneuvered tackle boxes, snacks and bait along the trail.
The rods were rigged the night before. Fresh knots held hooks to leaders and weights were crimped to the line just above a barrel swivel. Above the weight, I fastened a cork which could be adjusted to coincide with the depth the fish were holding.
The water was clear but high from recent rain and I could see a large dark shadow on the bottom. The water had a slight current and so I cast upstream first to let Jen's bait drift into the shadow. I set the rod down and helped Tiff cast her bait.
The shadow moved beneath the bobbers and soon a fish was taking Jen's bait, the bobber dancing and weaving.
Now that was all well and good except that Jennifer wasn't paying attention. Four year-old fisherpersons are easily distracted. When I called, she came running but the fish and the worm were long gone. Next it was Tiff's turn and I took the liberty of setting the hook myself before calling her from her play. As she cranked in the first fish of the day I turned to see Jen's bobber going under. Soon there were two fish coming to the bank and a couple of little girls who were suddenly a lot more interested than they had been a few minutes ago.
Many favorite trout spots are opening in April. With many local waters scheduled to receive hatchery trout, now is the time to take a kid fishing (see the fishing report in Thursday's paper for details).
With so many things competing for a child's attention, fishing, if it is to be appreciated, must be exciting for them. An older child may have the patience to sit and watch a cork or cast a fly for an hour without a strike but a younger one needs action. Consider the chances of catching fish before you make the trip. And think about leaving your own rod at home the first few times. This is their fishing trip, not yours.
The weather can change quickly early in the season so bring warm clothes and something to change into if someone falls in. Bring something to eat and drink as well. Allow children the freedom to play on the bank and spend a little time looking at the bugs that live under the rocks. Explain that the trout don't just eat worms, but that their diet consists mainly of insects. Make it interesting and fun.
Bring a camera so that you can preserve your catch and the fun on film. And when the whining starts, find a way to make them laugh and smile again. But get ready to leave. It's better to go home smiling so their memory of fishing is a positive one.
Start off with tackle matched to their size, but choose it carefully. A light five to six foot rod is about right for a three to four foot child. Don't skimp on the rod or reel. A good reel will help keep tangles to a minimum. A bad reel will go a long way toward making everybody miserable.
Fill the reel with good line. The better lines won't tangle as easily and resist abrasions that could cause the line to break just when a trout is being banked. Four to six pound test is perfect for trout. It casts easier than heavier line and won't spook as many fish. Put a few barrel swivels in with their tackle. You will tie a swivel on the end of the main line and then tie a twenty inch leader on the end of that. Knot a size 10 or 12 bait hook to the leader. Buy hooks with a non-reflective finish and barbs to hold the bait. I stay away from the snelled hooks because of the short leader length, heavy line and large hooks that spook trout. Kids need all the help they can get.
For bait fishing, it doesn't get much better than worms but you will do well to experiment with some of the other trout baits. Sometimes one bait or combination of baits will work when nothing else does.
Some people will want to encourage their children toward fly fishing. An easy way is to start with spin fishing tackle, bobber and bait then transition to bobber and fly on spin tackle. After a few fish have been caught this way then traditional fly tackle can be picked up.
With a little patience and preparation, even parents who aren't fishermen can teach and enjoy fishing with their children.