I’ve made some good fishing trips this spring, a jaunt to Lake Erie for a limit of walleyes, and visits to other places in-state and out. But the two best trips I’ve made this year were to farm ponds less than three miles from my home, because I made them with my two grandsons here to visit me from Switzerland.

The first outing was with 6 year old Theodore, who absolutely loves to fish and gets little chance to do so where he lives. He was asking when we could go almost before his bags were unpacked, so the next day I put together a rod with a thin pencil float, a splitshot, an ice spoon in green and yellow, and a box of waxworms, and we hit a local farm pond that I knew was full of good sized bluegills.

He was a fast learner and it didn’t take him long to understand just what to do when the float went under. He learned how to bait his hook too, and how to unhook his catch with careful coaching, and spent time on every fish admiring its colors, holding it, and receiving accolades from mother and grandpa on the size of each and the skill of his rod handling. We kept two to take home and fillet so he could eat his catch.

The next day I took out 8 year old Atticus, and since he was a little older I decided to start him with a white Roostertail spinner and try for bass. He wasn’t quite ready for lure fishing, so we quickly switched to the float and waxworm combination again and he had a great time catching the ever present bluegills. By the time we got home both young men were already asking “When can we go again?”

This youthful pair loves fishing and my own son and daughter still enjoy the sport too, but they’re not avid anglers because it’s simply fun, they all like it because I planned each trip like General Patton going after Rommel. I’ve seen so many young fishermen spoiled for their sport because their dad did everything wrong and made their outings a trial instead of a memory maker. Like the guy two years ago who fished a pond I was working. He gave his young son a piece of junk with a float half the size of a baseball, then hurried to the far end of the pond to bass fish. The kid made a few casts, tangled his line, and finally sat down disconsolate while his dad blithely cast away. That’s not how you build a fishing partner.

I took Theodore and Atticus to a carefully selected pond, rather than a large lake, one that I knew had lots of bluegills. Bluegills are a kids fish, prone to hit quick and fight hard. Take a youngster after bass or walleye or muskies before they’re ready, and they’re going to get bored very quickly. The pond was carefully manicured too, with mowed grass around its edges instead of brush and trees to hang up casts, briers to scratch, and mosquitoes to bite. I didn’t fish at all, but remained close to coach the young nimrod, repair any tangles, take initial fish off the hook, and rebait until they learned to do it themselves. They were complimented on each catch and their mother joined in with plenty of admiration and congratulation. If they wanted to wade in the water and get a little muddy, that was fine, and if they wanted to walk a little and look for frogs and small fish, that was fine, too. Most important, I kept the outing short, quitting for the morning when they were still eager and having a good time. Sitting in a hot sun for long hours isn’t the way to build good memories. Had I planned to stay longer, I’d have had soft drinks and sandwiches in the nearby car for a little picnic, but it wasn’t necessary this time, and I made sure to take a couple home so grandma could admire them too, then fry the fillets into an instant snack.

It sums up to the simple fact that youngsters MUST have fun on those early trips. Fish for bluegills and nothing else, let them enjoy the pond, do no fishing yourself, and keep it short. That’s the way to build a fishing companion who’ll still enjoy going out with dad or grandpa when your hair has gone to white. It’s worth any trouble it takes.

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