Fishing 101: How To Entertain Kids With Nature On A Summer Day

In just six easy steps, any parent can be a fishing guide for their very special clients.

People here in Potomac River country excel at what they do – but few do much fishing.

Even fewer of our children ask at the breakfast table to spend the day fishing. Does this matter? Fishing can help our children get to know the Potomac River and the C&O Canal. It also gives parents a chance to introduce their children to the world of nature.  

“But I don’t know the first thing about fishing,” you might say.

That’s about to change. Here are six simple steps for teaching a child how to fish:

1. Get a cane rod

Start simple. You don’t need or want one of those blister pack fishing sets, with their lollypop colors and pictures of Mickey Mouse.

Get a pole – an old-fashioned stick of bamboo, eight feet long. You can cut your own, but I’d suggest buying one from a place such as Bass Pro Shops near Baltimore. The rod has a ferrule in the middle so you can separate it into two pieces. It also comes with line, a bobber, and a #8 aberdeen hook. For this most classic of fishing outfits, you pay about $5.

Pick up a few extra hooks, a couple more bobbers, and some 1/8 ounce split shot.

2. Rig it right

Tie one end of the line to the tip of the rod, and cut off the other end to make it about as long as the rod. If the line is made of Dacron, you can use pretty much any knot to tie on the hook. If it is nylon monofilament, check out this link.

Snap the bobber on the line one or two feet from the end, and squeeze on one or two split shot about 4” above the hook.

You’re ready to go.

3. Gummi bears anyone?

Sunfish have similar tastes in food as humans, so raid the kitchen: a little cheese, a chunk of hotdog, a slice of smoked salmon. Canned corn is a traditional favorite, but you could try some of your kids’ gummi bears.

How about worms? Some of my fondest childhood memories are of digging for worms. I can still feel the moist earth, freshly cleaved with a shovel, and the excitement of the hunt.  

If you’re OK with worms, probe in rich soils, like along the edges of flower or weed beds.

4. Chose a spot

The Potomac is a great fishing river, but it is not a fishing hole. I’d recommend the C&O Canal just upstream from Pennyfield Lock.

The lock gate backs up the slow-moving water, creating a weedy pond filled with sunfish, bass, crappie and a supporting cast of frogs, turtles and birds.

5. Plan a strategy

Pick a spot where the water is at least a couple of feet deep, preferably by a brushy shore along the edge of some weeds, or right up against the lock gate.  Use the rod to lower the hook and bobber exactly where you want it to go.

Most people assume that fishing means lots of sitting and waiting. Don’t believe it. Give your spot a minute or so, and if nothing bites, drift your bait a few yards away. Or try someplace else altogether. You can also try removing the bobber and letting the bait rest on the bottom.

Still nothing?  Put down the pole and chase a grasshopper or admire some flowers. Fishing is about exploring and discovery. This is what kids are supposed to do, before they make concessions to the adult world.    

6. Get ready for action

The bobber quivers and starts to dance. Down it plunges.

“Mommy, what do I do?”

“Just pull up, I guess,” comes the reply.

Now the little fish is flopping around on the bank. The child kneels down, eyes dancing with excitement.  

You force a smile and pick up the tiny creature. You jiggle the hook back and forth, and out it slides. “The fish doesn’t feel a thing,” you say.

What if the fish just aren’t biting?

Take a tip from professional fishing guides – with their knowledge of nature and the repartee of late night TV comics, their job is to keep clients happy. Go looking for turtles sunning themselves on logs. Tell stories about your own exploits with fish, even if you have to make them up, and always keep an eye out for Nature Channel moments, such as a frog eating a dragonfly.


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