Saturday, June 5th was free fishing day, one of two such days in New Hampshire when grown-up anglers do not need a fishing license to enjoy the sport. Stan and Laurie Archambault of Mason were at Grassy Pond in Rindge for the event, but they were not fishing – their three grandchildren, Logan, age 8, Payton, 7, and Colton, 5, were the anglers.
Grandpa was in charge of baiting hooks, casting lines and taking fish off the hook. The sunfish were hungry, so he was busy doing all of that.
“I didn’t even bring a pole for myself,” Stan said. “I’m just trying to keep things from becoming a major tangle.”
Laurie was the coach, and she was busy, too. The kids were catching sunfish one after another and thoroughly enjoying themselves.
Anyone seeking a fun experience for children need look no further than the local pond. Introduce children to the sport of fishing and chances are good it will become a lifelong habit, luring them away from the video game console and getting them outdoors to enjoy the natural world. As they grow and become more independent, fishing will become wholesome entertainment they can do on their own.
So how do you teach them this sport? And what if you, the adult, aren’t an angler, how do you learn?
Most kids learn from their parents and grandparents who already enjoy the activity or have in the past. But experienced anglers have probably formed a bias towards particular types of angling – fly fishing, for instance, or a focus on species, like trout or largemouth bass. To capture a child’s interest, you need to set all that adult stuff aside and focus on catching some fish.
Kids who haven’t already been introduced to the sport just want to catch fish. If it takes too long to do so, they will likely lose interest. So, it is best to focus on species that are abundant and easy to catch. Once they discover the thrill of catching fish, they’ll form their own preferences regarding types of fishing and fish.
The most plentiful, eager to take the bait fish species are the ones called panfish – sunfish, bluegills, perch and crappie. They can be found aplenty in the shallows of just about every pond in the area. The most popular bait for these fish is worms. Regular worms and those jumbo worms called night crawlers are available to purchase at most convenience stores these days. But digging your own garden worms or going on a nighttime crawler hunt are their own adventures – something that might be as entertaining as the fishing itself. Do not overlook that opportunity.
The adult should be the official baiter. Show the kids how to bait the hook but be prepared to do it yourself until they reach the age where they would rather do it themselves. The same goes for casting the line. Teach them how to do it by example until they decide they want to be the one to cast. A bobber attached to the line a couple feet above the hook will send a signal that a fish has taken the bait. Now that things have become exciting, it’s time to set the hook and reel in the prize.
Then it’s decision time. Does the child want to keep and eat that fish – or put it back in the water? Whatever the choice, be prepared to assist. Show the child how to safely unhook the fish without getting stuck by those spines in the dorsal fins. Give them a chance to admire the form and colors of the fish and identify it for them before you let it go. Or put it in the creel or cooler if you’re going to take it home and teach them how to clean and prepare it for cooking. Panfish, while not typically very large, are tasty table fare.
Here’s a word of advice for experienced anglers teaching children how to fish. Don’t try to fish yourself while doing this. In addition to being the coach and cheerleader, you’re the hook baiter, the caster and the person who takes the fish of the hook. You don’t have time to fish. And don’t be entirely focused on fishing to exclusion of all else. The natural world has some interesting distractions like dragonflies, snails and frogs. Sometimes it is smart to let the child determine the experience. You should also allow the child to decide when it’s time to quit.
But what if you’re not an experienced angler? How else, other than soliciting help from another adult, can you teach the kids (and yourself)?
New Hampshire Fish and Game has a program for that. It’s called “Let’s go fishing.” These classes are designed primarily for first time anglers, age eight and older. Children 14 and younger must be accompanied by an adult. There are four different classes: basic fishing, ice fishing, fly fishing and fly tying. They’re taught year-round by trained volunteer instructors. For more info call (603) 271-3212 weekdays 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
However you go about it – good luck.