I am always telling fishing folks to find someone new, find a kid, take ‘em fishing, and get ‘em hooked! The time spent together in the outdoors is reward enough, but let’s face it, it is even more fun and memorable if fish are caught. The best strategy for getting some beginners or kids catching fish is certainly to keep it simple. Here is what I would recommend, here is what my kids, nieces and nephews started with when fishing with me, and as I recall we caught a darned lot of fish over the years.
For a beginning angler, it is hard to beat a good old-fashioned “push-button” spincast rod and reel combo. You know what I am talking about, that old Zebco reel and a matching rod. Here’s an old Zebco 33.
I have matched that reel with an Ugly Stik rod.
The rod is a 5 1/2-footer, I would go as long as 6 feet.
Let me make a few comments about the rod & reel combination. I have thrown around some brand names here. Once again I am not endorsing any particular product nor am I sponsored by any manufacturer. I do however, want to tell you what has worked for me. The old Zebco spincast reels have been around forever. They are relatively simple, inexpensive, and are dependable. You can see in the photo that reel has been used a lot and it still works with no problem. Zebco is one good brand of spincast reel, but there are others. Likewise, there is nothing special about the Ugly Stik rod; that is one of many good brands. I will tell you that the Ugly Stiks are reasonably-priced and darned near indestructible, just like they advertise on TV, and thus I believe they make good starter rods. Oh, and the Ugly Stiks can be much more than good sticks for beginners; I have one that I have owned since high school, which was a long, long time ago, and I still use it!
The key to the rod & reel combo is to have the right size reel matched with the rod. What is the right size reel? Well, I would tell you that is answered by the size of line to be used. Six or 8-pound test monofilament line is a good all-around line for a lot of Nebraska fishing situations and is an excellent line for a starter outfit. There are a number of quality, name-brand monofilament lines on the market, pick your favorite (I lean towards the Stren products myself, but have been fishing a lot of Suffix recently). The Zebco 33 handles 6- or 8-pound test line very well, and the rod matches that reel.
If you are unsure about matching rods and reels, the easiest thing is to walk into the Fishing Department of your local sporting goods store and purchase a combo. You can find good quality, name brand, spincast reels sold on the appropriate rods. Those outfits are usually already spooled with 6- or 8-pound test monofilament line. I would tell you to shy away from the Pretty Princess or Spiderman rod and reel combos because they are a little bit too cheap and will not last. Besides what kid will want to be using a Princess or Sponge Bob rod and reel combo when they reach the teenage years? Spend a little extra, buy ‘em some quality stuff to begin with, and it will last a lot longer. It will pay off in the long run. But, if it takes a Princess or Bat Man rod and reel combo to get them out there the first time, well, by all means buy ‘em a Princess or Bat Man combo!
Now, come close so you can hear this without me having to say it too loud. If you want some “secret” fishing tips, I am about to give them to you. First of all, if you want the kids to catch fish, take all of your big bobbers and get rid of them.
If you want kids to catch fish, take ‘em where there are a bunch of bluegills to catch. Fortunately, there are waters all across Nebraska where there are bluegills or other panfish. No matter where you live, you probably are not far from one of those fishing spots. The kids do not care how big the fish are, at least to begin with, they can work up to bigger fish when they get older. To get someone new to fishing started, a bunch of hungry bluegills or “sunfish” will be perfect. The thing is, those fish are not large and one of the most common mistakes I see beginning anglers make is using bobbers that are way too stinkin’ big! I have seen a lot of folks using bobbers that were so big they could not even tell they had a bite; even big bluegills were not going to move that big ole bobber when they bit. I know some folks think they need the beachball bobber in order to have enough weight to cast and to that I say “Baloney”. With some quality 6- or 8-pound test monofilament line spooled on a good reel, you can cast as far as you need without having a big bobber attached to the line. In fact, most of the time those bluegills and other panfish are closer to shore than they are the middle of the “lake”.
Here are the size of bobbers I would recommend.
Nope, those are not big, not very big at all. In fact I have a variety of sizes of small floats or bobbers because I want to use one that is just large enough to float my bait.
Here is another “secret” tip on baits. You do not need a bunch of hooks, nor do you need any split shot weights to put on the line. Nope, I would recommend you purchase a bunch of 1/32 or 1/64 oz. jig heads.
You can use painted or unpainted jig heads, the fish do not care. Sometimes a little flash of color might attract more bites, especially in water with some stain or murkiness, and if you purchase jig heads that have already been painted, the kids can pick out their favorite colors. If you are looking for a craft project for a rainy day, purchase a bunch of unpainted heads and a variety of Powder Paints ( http://www.jannsnetcraft.com/powder-paint/023025033105.aspx ) and then make your own painted jig heads. Or just get some white Powder Paint for a base coat and then experiment with a rainbow of fingernail polish colors (yes, I have frequented various women’s establishments in order to purchase a variety of colors of fingernail polish, so what?).
Tie one of those small jig heads on your line, pick out the appropriate size float or bobber and attach it a couple of feet above the jig head.
Start with the float or bobber positioned a couple of feet above the jig head. Floats or bobbers are used for depth control, fishing baits at a certain depth, and for detecting bites. With the small floats bites will be a lot easier to detect and the beginners will catch a lot more fish. If you are not catching fish with the depth set at 2 feet, then experiment with other depths. I have caught fish using the small jig heads set only inches underneath the bobber, and I have caught fish on jig heads set several feet below the bobber, as far below the bobber as you can effectively cast. Be observant and let the fish tell you what they want.
Now the only thing you need to do is put a little bit of bait on the hook of the jig head. Bluegills and other panfish, even large bluegills and large panfish, typically eat relatively small prey items. You do not need a big bait; the small jig head tipped with just a little bait will be an excellent imitation of a small fry or aquatic insect and even small bluegills can suck that bait right in their mouth. If you want to use nightcrawlers, just pinch off an inch or two and put it on the jig head. If you can get some plain ole “garden worms” or sometimes baitshops will sell “red wriggler” worms, those will work better. If you can get them, small leeches are great panfish bait. If you have some crayfish, twist the tails off, and then peel the “shell” off of the tail and slip a little finger of crayfish meat on the hook. There are a variety of GULP! or PowerBaits that will also work, http://www.berkley-fishing.com/products/soft-bait/ . Or, there are a variety of small, extremely soft and flexible plastics that will work well, http://maki-plastic.com/gpage19.html .
If you are still reading this, here is another “shhhh, keep it quiet” secret tip–wax worms ain’t just for ice-fishing!
Now I know what you are going to say, “but none of the baitshops sell wax worms this time of year”. No, and I do not know why? You can order them on-line, anytime, here is where I get mine, http://www.vadosbait.com/ . Or, sometimes you can stop by the local pet shop and pick up some wax worms, but be prepared to pay a bit extra for them there.
One reason I prefer the small jig heads instead of a plain small hook is that the jig heads are weighted already; a person does not have to mess with any split shot weights. But, the biggest reason I like the jig heads is that the weight of the lead on the jig head will prevent bluegills or other panfish from swallowing the bait. You will not have to mess with extracting hooks from gut-hooked fish, and you will have fish that can be quickly unhooked and released back into the water from which they were caught. At the most you may need a pair of forceps for extracting jig heads, but even then those fish will be in good shape and survive the experience.
Make sure to take a camera! It is a guarantee that when you are catching fish you will want to capture the moment.
Before I quit, let me offer up an opinion. I often hear from folks that the kids want to keep some fish. If you are catching some panfish that are big enough to keep, and you want a meal of fresh fish, sure, go ahead and harvest a few. But do not tell me it is the kids who insist on keeping the fish. The kids only know what they have been taught. It ain’t so much that the kids “have” to keep the fish as that is what some adult has taught them. In today’s world with fishing attitudes and fishing regulations the way they are, beginners might as well learn from the very beginning that catch & release, either required by rule or voluntarily practiced, is a part of fishing. None of my kids nor nieces nor nephews, nor any of the other kids I have taken fishing have had a problem with releasing fish. By all means take a camera so they have something to remember the occasion, something to brag about, but do not tell me you have to keep the fish because the kids want to.
This system will flat out catch fish, lots of fish. It works great for bluegills and other species of sunfish and panfish. I have also caught a lot of larger predator fish using the same small jigs and baits. Sometimes you never know what you might catch, it is all about putting a bait in the water and seeing what happens. That’s fishing!
Want some proof that this simple system works? Here are some “blasts from the past”. . . .
It still works when they grow up too!