Few outdoor experiences are greater than taking a child fishing. Youth reminds experienced anglers of mysteries long forgotten. Experienced anglers in return provide youth with opportunities to visit nature instead of playing computer games or watching television. Fall is a great time to take your kids fishing.
We that walked past thousands of snails, frogs or snakes are shown by youth that treasures of nature still exist and flourish in their world; many are creatures whose place in the food chain is low. A child salutes these lowly critters by paying attention, a good lesson I was recently reminded of.
Sherry Clinton, 11-year-old daughter of Barry and Sandy Clinton, can fill a creel with trout, bluegill and any other species. She has the touch. Her father, my brother, Rodney, and I recently received a fishing lesson from the energetic young lady who limited out on trout at Bennett Spring at least an hour before those of us with 40 to 50 years of angling experience. Then she started chasing a swallowtail butterfly with her dad’s trout net while we stared at our fishing rods, hoping for a bite.
The morning started at 6:30 a.m. when men, women and children lined the bank, waiting for a horn to blow that signals it is legal to cast. New trout were released the night before with trout who survived previous days of flies, lures and power bait bombardments. This lucky group spent the night feeding on insects and trout guts that floated past. Fortunately for anglers, the stream is filled with trout that compete for food. They bite really well when the starting siren fills the air.
Sherry was the first to hook a trout. She set the hook and started reeling while we cheered her on. Soon her dad hooked the flopping trout on a stringer after taking her picture. She proclaimed with a big smile, “That was my second trout ever.” Her next three fish were soon to follow while we continued to watch our rods.
Bennett Spring is not where most anglers consider taking a child to fish. Many wear chest-high waders and wade in with others holding $1,000 fly rods and use a wide variety of the best flies; many of these versions were first made over 1,000 years ago in European countries. Others fish in the bait area where you will find kids of all ages, from 5 to 80.
We started the weekend without success and tried almost everything imaginable. Then I made my customary trip to Weaver’s Bait Shop just up the hill from Bennett Spring on Missouri 64 and they suggested the colors to use and suggested methods. Their advice paid off in enough fish for the evening camp meal.
Rodney fried a big pan of potatoes over an open fire while four trout roasted on a charcoal grill, their split-open stomach cavities stuffed with onions and butter. We savored those remarkable trout by campfire light with a light touch of salt and pepper. The potatoes were cooked to perfection.
Next day Sherry’s dad came up with a better method of catching the trout by fishing brown Powerbait off the bottom in current. The trout were suspended in fast water and searching for forage. Powerbait tends to float and the scented bait really attracts trout. Like most fish, they prefer different colors at different times, perhaps because of water clarity. The water was slightly high and stained on our visit. The trout responded to yellow and bright orange. Dark brown Powerbait made to imitate hatchery pellets worked the best.
Sherry quickly caught her fish and walked up and down the bank in search of nature’s prizes. She eventually found a family of snails and picked several up for closer examination. She studied smaller fish suspended in the shallows and continued looking for the unexpected while we tried to catch trout.
I stepped down the bank and spooked a big orange and white snake out of the rocks. I watched, relieved that it was swimming away in the chilling water. Sherry wanted to catch the large reptile who no doubt fed on small fish or snails. She just considered the snake another treasure of nature. I won’t print what I considered the reptile to be.
Sherry, who hopes to be a wildlife biologist someday, observed a lot of wildlife, took a lion’s share of teasing in camp and generally had a great time with her dad and friends. She furthered her education by observing nature first hand instead of reading about the inhabitants of an Ozark stream in a classroom or on a computer. Someday maybe she will write about her early trips with dad and his buddies. I know she will never forget.
You too can take your child fishing. Here are a few points to consider:
FIND PRODUCTIVE FISHING: You can bore any child by spending a couple of hours trying to find a spot where the fish are biting. Locate good crappie or bluegill water and know the best techniques for catching either species
TEACH THE BASICS: Let each child create their own experience. Some adults do everything for the child and this can be a mistake.
SETTING THE HOOK: An eager child will likely lose a fish or two by setting the hook too hard. Teach them to set the hook quickly and firmly to improve their technique. Remember to let them land a fish, even if you have to set the hook and hand them the rod.
CHOOSE EQUIPMENT WISELY: Most kids should start with a spincast reel wound with 4- to 10-pound test line, I recommend Zebco. Later they can learn techniques for casting and different types of retrieves. But for now, keep it simple.
PROPERLY FITTING LIFE VESTS: Each child in your boat must wear a life jacket. Make sure the vest fits snuggly and comfortably. Trying to fit an adult-sized vest on a child’s frame is a mistake. The child will be uncomfortable and it is an unsafe act.
BE A WEATHER WATCHER: Choose your days well before taking that child fishing. Avoid windy, rainy or cold days. Bluebird days are ideal for the best childhood memories. Remember to take extra jackets for weather changes.
KNOW WHEN TO LEAVE: Boredom in youth may strike at any time – even when the fish are biting. Forcing children to stay out longer than their attention span allows is a good way to turn them off from fishing forever. Don’t forget snacks and potty breaks.
– Kenneth Kieser, a veteran outdoors writer and member of the Waterfowlers Hall of Fame and National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, writes a weekly outdoors column for The Examiner. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.