While Memorial Day marks the start of the summer recreational season for many folks, we should all take time for the true meaning of the day by honoring the memory of those whose service and sacrifices have ensured the many freedoms we enjoy as a nation.
Monday is also the first of two "Fish-For-Free" days in Pennsylvania, so no fishing license is required to fish any waterway in the state. Keep in mind, however, that while the license requirements are waived, all other fishing regulations, such as size and creel limits, are still in effect.
For most of us avid anglers who already have a fishing license, the free fishing day is a great way to get friends or family members who typically don't buy a fishing license most years out on the water again.
It's also a perfect opportunity to introduce someone to the sport, so if your Memorial Day plans include some fishing time, consider taking along an extra rod and reel and sharing the fun with a new angler.
Of course, anyone under the age of 16 does not need a fishing license in Pennsylvania, so any day is a good time to take a youngster fishing. And with the onset of summer and the end of another school year, allow me to offer a reminder to all my fellow anglers to make it a point to take a kid fishing sometime soon.
Not only will you be teaching a young person a wholesome form of outdoor recreation but also initiating him or her to what could potentially be a satisfying lifetime hobby. Those are wonderful gifts.
In addition, few things are as satisfying for an experienced angler as helping a child catch his or her first fish. I've enjoyed that special moment many times, most recently with my 5-year-old niece, Halee, on the opening day of trout season this year, which I wrote about a few weeks ago.
Even though I have no children of my own, I've always liked fishing with young folks and have been very successful at it. Part of that probably stems from more than 18 years of experience as a fishing guide, instructing anglers of all ages and skill levels.
But maybe because even after nearly five decades of fishing, I'm still able to approach each new day on the water with the wonder and enthusiasm of a 10-year-old.
But as gratifying as teaching kids to fish can be, there are some details that need to be considered. Here are three basic tips that will make an outing with young folks more productive and enjoyable for all concerned.
First, use good equipment. I've always made it a rule never to hand a kid or any beginner a rod and reel I couldn't or wouldn't fish with myself. And "good" equipment does not necessarily mean expensive.
When shopping for an outfit for niece this spring, I found lots of nice ones for $25 or less. Resist the urge, however, to go with some cute packaged outfit depicting cartoon characters or some other pop-culture icon. Most of those are cheesy at best and will be a misery on the water. Opt instead for a smaller open-face spinning outfit. I've taught kids as young as three to fish with that type of gear.
Next, make it fun. That sounds simple, but I see a lot of adults who take kids fishing and end up boring them to death. Remember, "sit down and be quiet" sounds more like punishment than recreation to a youngster. Kids are full of energy and like to be doing something, not sitting around watching a bobber or a rod propped on a forked stick. Rig your young fishing partner with baits or lures that will allow him or her to do plenty of casting and retrieving. Small crankbaits or soft-plastic twister tails on a jighead are excellent for this and good fish catchers as well.
Finally, make sure the youngster catches some fish, preferably quickly and often. Teaching the virtues of patience can come later, after the child has had some success and developed some interest in the sport. Kids often have a relatively short attention span even when the fish are biting and will lose interest even quicker without at least some action.
Size and species doesn't matter to most young folks when it comes to their first fish. Therefore, sunfish are a good bet for starters. These panfish are easy to catch and can be found in virtually every lake or pond in our region.
After capturing the young angler's interest by landing a few sunfish, I will then try to get him or her into a bass or other game fish that may be available in the water we are fishing. That often seals the deal, and another young angler is "hooked" for life.