A few weeks ago I got to go fishing with one of my favorite people around the world. No, it wasn’t a wise old experienced angler, a well-known fishing guide, or even one of my own relatives. No, it was a 6 year old fishing sensation that lights up every time we part the water.
Ryan is unlike most kids his age. For one thing, he just can’t keep that contagious smile off his face, no matter the circumstances. When it’s hot outside, he just cracks a water bottle and keeps going. When the fish aren’t biting, he starts talking about airplanes (his first love) or how bluegills “speak” underwater or how the corn on his parents’ farm evolved. When the fish bite, he’s intent on baiting hooks with worms and catching 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 planned effort that included braving the scorching summer heat in hopes of catching a few bluegills after spawning. As usual, our bait of choice was worms, which were, you guessed it, bought fresh from the local quick stop. We carried buckets and chairs to our ‘secret spot’ and made ourselves comfortable with the fish while settling down for a morning of bobber watching. We had a chance of about two hours of “shade fishing” to avoid the sun.
It was cool and shady at the back of the pond and we got fishing right away. No giants, mind you, just willing bluegills eager to grab a worm and drag a swimmer beneath the surface. Last year we got it ‘spot on’ as the bluegill spawn was hectic and we caught a lot of decent fish. This time, however, we had to work a little to get a good catch. “Work” is actually code for sitting in our chairs and watching motionless swimmers for a period of time, punctuated by the swimmer’s occasional disappearance as they went deeper.
Our first bluegills were true dinks—bluegills that were under 6-inch “dink status.” However, we would soon pick up several plump sunfish that would exceed the 9 inch mark, certifiable plates by any panfish angler’s standards. Ryan once commented on how bluegills could communicate underwater. Soon he was uttering a series of “blub-ablub-blubs” gibberish style to imitate a talking Bluegill. I responded with similar words and soon we were off to the races in real, under the surface Bluegill talk. We imagined we were bluegills trying to warn the others about the pitfalls of eating worms, getting caught and having our picture taken with the fishermen who caught us. Blubba-blub-blub.
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Jokes aside, we did well despite the heat, which hit hard just after 9am. Maybe 20 or so fish in total including some nice crappies and a few more high end bluegills and a few small bass. Hanging out with Ryan was a breeze and soon bug bites and humidity were forcing us to head home to recover from the elements.
Getting kids into fishing can be a very rewarding experience for everyone involved. Here are a few tips for a good trip and success:
Yes, hook, line, and bobber are the ways to go, and few baits work better than live worms purchased or dug from the flower beds. Encourage the child to bait their own hook and teach them how to safely unhook without getting stung. Ryan had the difficult task of choosing “the best” worm for each litter, and he took his responsibility seriously. Stick to nearby spots 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 cool box with some snacks is a good entrance for both young and old. Consider insect repellent if needed, and remember it’s about them catching fish, not you or me.
Besides fishing, there is a lot of beauty and wonder in the nature that surrounds us. Ryan and I have seen bald eagles, osprey, deer, fox, beaver and waterfowl in great variety whenever we went fishing. If you have the knowledge, explain something about the behavior of frogs and crabs or fish. We want to teach children that the cycle of life and death in nature is an endless cycle. If a fish dies, a turtle will eat a meal later in the day. Raccoons eat crayfish, ospreys attack and consume sunfish and sunfish. As beautiful as nature is, teach children that both life and death are in harmony with nature’s balance.
In fact, there will be times when the fish just won’t bite, the rain is coming or it’s just too hot to fish. Have a backup game plan in case you need to move indoors for any reason. Realize that some children are just not meant for the great outdoors and may not be suited to fishing, hunting, bird watching or boating. I firmly believe that far too many children are more “addicted” to electronic devices than to outdoor activities. Her gentle “tugs” to get her off the couch can spark a lifelong love of nature.
I’ll be the first to admit that enjoying the great outdoors, whether it’s fishing, hunting, hiking or whatever, isn’t the be-all and end-all for today’s youth. With so many influences on today’s kids at every turn, you can bet some are very good and some are very bad. But getting outside I think is a pretty good start for impressionistic kids who want to enjoy the great outdoors. My little friend Ryan can’t get enough of this and we have to go back soon. Yes, when I grow up I want to be like Ryan.