A couple of weeks ago I got to go fishing with one of my favorite people in the whole world. No, it wasn’t a sage, old veteran angler, a well-known fishing guide or even one of my own kin. Nope, it was a 6-year-old angling sensation who lights up every time we get to share the water.
Ryan is different from most kids his age. For one, he just can’t keep that infectious smile off his face, no matter what the circumstances. If it’s hot out, he’ll just crack a water bottle and keep on going. If the fish aren’t biting, he’ll strike up a chat about airplanes (his first love), or how bluegills “talk” underwater or how the corn has been coming along on his parents’ farm. If the fish are biting, he is heavily into baiting hooks with worms and capturing the biggest fish of the day. Never a complaint or whining about anything. I wish I knew more adults like him.
Our trip was a well-planed effort that involved beating the scorching summer heat in hopes of catching a few post-spawn bluegills. As usual, our bait of choice was worms that, you guessed it, were freshly purchased from the local quick-stop. We carried buckets and chairs to our “secret spot” and got comfortable with the fish as we settled in for a morning of bobber watching. We had a shot at about two hours of “shade fishing” to stay out of the sun.
On the back side of the pond, it was cool and shady and we immediately were on the fish. No giants, mind you, just willing bluegills that were eager to grab a worm and pull a bobber below the surface. Last year, we hit it “just right” as the bluegill spawn was hectic as we caught many decent fish. This time out, however, we had to work a little for a good catch. “Work” is actually code for sitting on our chairs and watching motionless bobbers for a period of time, punctuated with the occasional disappearing of the float as it headed deeper.
Our first several bluegills were bonafide dinks —bluegills that were under the 6-inch “dink status.” Soon, however, we would pick up several rotund sunfish that would push the 9-inch mark, certifiable slabs by any panfish anglers’ standards. At one point, Ryan commented as to how bluegills might communicate underwater. Soon, he uttered a series of “blub-ablub-blubs” gibberish style as to imitate a talking bluegill. I responded with similar speak and soon we were off to the races in genuine, sub-surface bluegill talk. We envisioned that we were bluegills trying to warn the others about the pitfalls of eating worms, getting caught and having our pictures taken with the fishermen who caught us. Blubba-blub-blub.
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All kidding aside, we actually did well despite the heat that came on strong shortly after 9 a.m. Maybe 20 or so fish total, including a couple of nice crappies and a few more high-end bluegills and a few small bass. It was a hoot hanging with Ryan and soon bug bites and humidity made us head home for a mid-morning respite from the elements.
Getting kids started in fishing can be a very rewarding experience for all involved. Here are a few tips for a good outing and success:
Yes, hook, line and bobber are the ways to go, and few baits work better than live worms, bought or dug from the flower beds. Encourage the child to bait their own hook and teach them how to safely handle un-hooking chores without getting poked. Ryan had the tough assignment of picking out “the best” worm for each and every cast and he took his responsibility seriously. Stick with close-to-home venues with lots of bluegills and the panfish action should keep them busy.
That’s right, bring chairs or stools to sit on, sunscreen and plenty of water or flavored drinks to refresh and restore. A small cooler with a few snacks is a good gig for both young and old alike. Consider insect repellent where needed and remember that this is about them catching fish, not you or I.
Besides the fishing, there are tons of beauty and wonders in the natural world that surrounds us. Ryan and I have seen bald eagles, ospreys, deer, fox, beavers and waterfowl of great variety whenever we go fishing. If you have the knowledge, explain about frogs and crayfish or fish behavior. We like to educate children that the cycle of life, and death, is a never-ending circle in the natural world. If a fish dies, then a turtle will have a meal later that day. Raccoons eat crayfish, ospreys attack and consume spawning bass and bluegills. As beautiful as the natural world is, teach kids that both life, and death, occur in accordance to the balance of nature.
Indeed, there will be times when the fish just aren’t biting, the rain is moving in or it’s just too hot to fish. Have a back-up game plan in case you need to move indoors for whatever reason. Realize that some kids just aren’t meant for the outdoors and might not be cut out for fishing, or hunting, or bird watching or boating activities. I firmly believe that way too many kids are “hooked” on electronic devices rather than outdoor activities. Your gentle “tug” to get them off the couch may start a lifetime love of the outdoors.
I’ll be the first to admit that enjoying the outdoors, be it fishing, hunting, hiking or whatever, is not the say-all, end-all for today’s youth. With so many influences on today’s kids at every turn, you can bet that some are very good and some are very bad. But heading outdoors is, in my opinion, a pretty good place to start with impressionistic children who want to enjoy the natural world. My little friend Ryan can’t get enough of it, and we need to go again, and soon. Yes, when I grow up, I think I want to be like Ryan.