All my son wants to do this weekend is go fishing with his old man.
It’s the best Father’s Day gift a dad could ask for.
But when it comes to fishing with my eager 6 year old, I always take advantage of a trick I learned as a fishing guide in Alaska. Get a fish — any fish — on the line as quickly as possible.
Just like my young son hitting the local lakes, the folks that came to fish with me way up north had high expectations. After all, they were fishing in Alaska — the land where, as the brochures tout, the fish are so thick you can walk across them. If I didn’t prove it within the first few minutes, well, let’s just say the mood tended to go sour.
As a father, the same lesson applies. When fishing with the little guy, it’s imperative to hook into a fish right from the start. If not, he’s off in the bushes catching ants. Or worse yet, he’s telling me he’s bored — a forbidden word at our house.
Up north, I had a couple of sure-fire holes that would almost always produce a bite or two. Around here, the go-to source of action when fishing with a youngster has been a generational constant — bluegills.
In fact, the very first fish I remember catching was a bluegill with my grandpa. It was a fish that sparked a lifelong passion. I imagine the majority of anglers throughout the state have a similar tale. It’s as if the tiny fish with a telltale spot were put in our lakes and ponds with a single purpose, to hook young anglers.
There is no doubt that bluegills and the rest of the sunfish family are easy to catch, at least this time of the year. The last one my son caught was enticed by a single baked bean smashed onto the hook. Like I said, these fish are easy. But if you want to go a bit more professional, or aim for the big ones, there are some simple tactics.
First, if you’re looking for the “bulls,” fish for them the same way you would target a largemouth bass. Concentrate on structure and stealth. While you can stand over a school of small bluegills and dangle your bait in front of them, that’s not the case with the big, wiser fish. Stay back and use a gentler approach.
As far as bait, again, do things the same way you would for more “sporty” fish. When we fish for trout, we’re constantly trying to match the hatch. While a small bluegill might fall for a piece of a burnt hot dog, his granddaddy won’t. For the big fish, use insect larvae, worms or even a small cricket. Again, think of their natural prey.
I will admit there are not too many times when I have set out to catch the biggest bluegill in the lake. While I wouldn’t complain if I caught it, fishing for bluegills isn’t supposed to be about size or even numbers. It’s about remembering what the sport is about.
There are few things more memory-invoking than watching a youngster hook into a bluegill. Every time I do it, I am reminded of why I’m so passionate about the sport.
Happy Father’s Day. Celebrate it by taking a kid fishing.
Andy Snyder writes about the outdoors for The York Dispatch. He can be reached at email@example.com.