If you love fishing and your child says they, too, want to learn, it’s time for the proverbial happy dance. Anglers generally pray that their kids will follow in their waders. However, if you can’t tell an improved clinch knot from a Windsor, that child’s request can be as awkward as the one about where babies come from. Without having done it, how does one explain the intricacies of threading a slimy red worm on to a No. 10 hook? Or, how to cast a line so the bait lands in the water, not in the grasp of a tree?
Not that the experienced angler is always the best teacher. There is a natural inclination towards overkill. Fight the urge to get your boy or girl into the biggest fish possible the first day out. The ultimate angling experience for a child is not reeling in a record billfish, but simply catching something—anything—when dunking a worm.
Whether you are a veteran fisher or a duffer, keep it simple. Equipment for kids should be basic and easy to use. That does not mean cheap. Junky rods and reels function poorly after just a little use. There is nothing worse for a child than trying to learn how to cast with a reel that malfunctions. Go to places that are easy to access and fish. Try for fish that are the most plentiful and catchable. Make it fun and rewarding. If fishing becomes frustrating rather than fun, it defeats the purpose. Remember too that the juvenile attention span runs short. Even if the fish are biting, a break catching frogs is sometimes in order.
Before heading out to the fishing hole, be aware that while fishing in public waters you may be approached by someone in a uniform asking to see your papers. People age 16 years and up need a state fishing license—one for freshwater, one for marine, or a combination. You can find all you need to know about fishing rules and regulations at a website operated by the State Department of Energy and Environmental Conservation (DEEP): www.ct.gov/deep/fishing. You can buy licenses at many town clerk offices, tackle shops, from the DEEP, and online. An annual DEEP Angler’s Guide has all the rules, places to fish and tons of other information for anglers. You can get it where licenses are sold, or online. Over age 65? The license is a freebie.
If you are a neophyte, it’s a no-brainer to ask angler friends for advice. Lacking such, head to a tackle shop. The people behind the counter in tackle shops readily dispense fishing secrets. The more people they hook on fishing, the better for them. Most guys who run shops are decent sorts who love to talk fishing. Beware the occasional shyster who tries to sell you everything on the rack right off. And don’t be afraid to ask how to put a worm on a hook, or tie a knot.
For something a bit more organized, hook up with the DEEP’s Connecticut Aquatic Resources Education (CARE) program. With the help of 700-plus volunteer certified instructors, CARE teaches about 10,000 adults and kids about fish and fishing annually. Run by senior fisheries biologist Thomas Bourret, and fisheries technician Justin Wiggins, out of a center at Forster Pond State Park, in Killingworth, CARE has been teaching children and families to fish for a quarter century. The center is the former home of famed architect Frank J. Forster, who in the 1920s and 1930s designed mansions and castles for the rich and famous. Across State Route 80 from Chatfield Hollow State Park, Forster Pond is closed to the public except for CARE activities. CARE runs programs with and for schools, camps, and myriad community groups. With municipal parks and recreation departments, Scout groups and other organizations, CARE offers a family fishing course for children and adults. The course (two hours in class and four at a fishing hole) turns novices into anglers who can tie a strong knot and cast with competence. To find out more, call CARE at 860-663-1656 or check out www.ct.gov/deep/CARE.
Even though Coastal Connecticut’s marine waters offer excellent saltwater angling, it’s best to start out kids from safely shore in easily accessible freshwater ponds and lakes. Required tackle is lighter, access generally easier, and the type of fish in these waters suited to inexperienced youngsters. What fish to target first? “Sunfish,” say CARE’s fishing gurus— particularly the ubiquitous bluegill. When hooked, a bluegill zigs and zags with abandon, enough to make the contest exciting but easy enough to land.
Bluegills are so abundant in many ponds that they are the bane of trout and bass anglers looking for bigger fish to fry. When it comes to the nuts and bolts of gear needed for a fledgling young fisher, keep it basic. In its programs, CARE uses easy-to-operate spincast rods and reels. The spincast reel releases line at the push of button, which is right under the thumb while the reel is held in hand. It takes little digital dexterity to operate. Expect to spend between $40 and $50 for a quality rod and reel.
“For general freshwater fishing in Connecticut, you can’t go wrong with six-to-eight-pound monofilament fishing line,” says Wiggins. Figure about $10 for sufficient line. Forget about filling a tackle box with costly lures. For beginners, Bourret suggests a rig of bobber, lead split shot for weight, and a no. 6 or no. 8 hook. Bait can be earthworms, mealworms or crickets. If you are new to fishing knots, learn and use the simple “improved clinch knot.” The internet is loaded with web sites showing how to tie knots, set up rigs, and affix bait to hooks.
Coastal Connecticut has a plethora of ponds and lakes suitable for an outing with a first-time fisher. Here are some of the best:
• The Supply Ponds in Branford has a fishway, plus trails and a worthy nature experience.
• Lake Quonnipaug in North Guilford is one of the State’s prime fishing spots.
• Messerschmidt Pond in Westbrook and Deep River is a superlative family spot.
• Uncas and Norwich ponds in Lyme’s Nehantic State Forest offer good fishing, and a taste of the big woods of northern New England.
The aforementioned waters are not just for sunfish: they also hold most of the freshwater gamefish found in the state. Quonnipaug is famed for big trout.
The best spot in our region to introduce youngsters to trout is Chatfield Hollow. It is one of 11 places designated as a “trout park” by the DEEP. Designed specifically for families, children and novice anglers, trout parks are easy to reach, heavily stocked with big trout, with amenities such as bathrooms and picnic areas.
CARE also runs an annual Family Fishing Day at a different site each year. Families join with sportsmen, community groups and others for a day of fishing (no license required). Check the website for details. One special date to focus on is May 9—statewide Free Fishing day. For those with a license, April 11 marks opening day of the 2015 freshwater fishing season, when virtually all Connecticut waters open up after a winter.