The old phrase goes “give a person a fish and he eats for a day; teach him to fish and he‘ll never go hungry”. Teaching kids to fish can be fun and educational on many levels and might lead to a life long interest. Hopatcong’s abundance of panfish, like Sunfish, makes it easy.
Keep to a few guidelines and you’ll be introducing a youngster to new interests in biology and ecology.
First – keep it simple
Second – make it fun
Third – keep it short
Virtually any shallow water area around the lake has plenty of Sunfish. They always seem to be hungry and eager to be caught. All you need is a basic rod and reel (I prefer casting vs. spinning reels), small hooks (size three, or smaller), a bobber, bait and a bucket. Don’t forget the camera. Left over bread (rolls, bagels etc.) is great for attracting the fish. I prefer corn kernels for bait. It’s cheaper and more plentiful than worms and a lot less messy. The yellow kernels are also easily visible under the water. Attract the Sunnies with small pieces of bread. The more the better. Once you see them feeding, break out the rod. Set the bobber about 2 to 3 feet above the hook. Make sure the hook sits at least a f oot above the bottom. Hook on a piece of corn and the action begins. Make sure that the youngster watches the bobber. Help hold the pole and set the hook when the bobber moves until your protégé gets the feel of it. I’ve found that three, or four year olds can typically catch fish on their own.
Once a catch is made, the biology lesson begins. Note the color, shape, fins, gills, teeth, etc. Touching a fish for the first time is exciting. They really are beautiful creatures. Keep a rag handy to help hold the fish while removing the hook. Make sure the bucket has plenty of water so the fish can swim around. Keeping the catch in a bucket for a while serves a couple of purposes. You get to see how quickly they swim and compare the different colors and sizes. And you have the opportunity to dump them back in the lake. They’ll typically last 20 to 30 minutes in the bucket, before the oxygen is used up and they need to be released.
If your young fisherman gets “hooked” on the sport, there plenty of additional opportunities. The bait can be more sophisticated ie. worms, lures or herring. You can take them out fishing in a boat. Organizations like the Knee Deep Club have great junior programs. Any of the bait shops are fun place to visit with plenty of photos, gear and bait to see. A number of our friend’s children, now parents themselves, still remember their first fishing experience at our dock. Wh o knows, with the right start you might just ignite a life long passion.