Mike Race of Wadhams, a second grader at Westport Central School, shows off the smallmouth bass he caught with Howard Hammonds.
Fishing is about making memories. I have a ton of great ones dating all the way back to childhood. Some of my fondest recollections are of fishing with my grandfather on a lake bank in rural East Tennessee on a bright sunny day catching bluegills and carp. Other times we would fish all night from the highway bridges that spanned the section of the Tennessee River near my home. Then there is another memory of catching that first wall hanger bass at age 13, a monstrous 4 ½ pounder. Or the 40th birthday gift mom gave me of a long ago picture of me at 3 years old holding my first bass. Priceless!
Recently, I had the opportunity to take my neighbor’s second grade son fishing. On many days I would return from fishing and find young Mike waiting to see if I had caught anything or watch me fillet perch. As soon as I would unhook the boat, he’d climb in and look in the live wells or ask a thousand questions about how the four electronic units on my go-fast bass boat work. He would listen with wide eyes as I described how my GPS unit could tell me where I was and my depth finder could show structure in 3-D images.
Finally one day I asked the dumb and obvious question: “Hey Mike, do you want to go fishing after school one day?”
Well, you know the answer.
So the plan was set: “Have a good report from your teacher tomorrow and you can go fishing” said his dad.
One stellar report from his teacher the next day and off we went.
Mike buzzed me with rapid fire questions about where we were going and what we were going to catch. I finally launched the boat, zipped up Mike in his life jacket and then set a heading for Button Bay — I knew the smallmouth were staging for pre-spawn and there are many rock piles along the bank. It was time to prove the Wacky Senko technique would work.
Knowing Mike had never been on a boat before I took it easy, moving at a very modest 30 mph.
Mike wasn’t having any of that.
“Hammer it!” he yelled.
Now, Mike only weighs 65 pounds soaking wet and I figured anything faster than 50 mph would blow him right out of the boat, so I stayed at 50. The laughing and giggling was endless the whole 5 minutes it took to cross the lake.
Now the real challenge began, Mike had never cast his rod and reel. We took several minutes for some quick lessons on casting an open-faced spinning reel. He was a quick learner.
“Cast to that big rock pile, Mike,” I said. “Let it sink, watch your line, wind up the slack.”
His cast was right on target; suddenly, the line took off.
I’m yelling: “Reel! Reel!” and sure enough Mike winds like crazy holding on for dear life with a big pull on the end of his line. Suddenly the water explodes, with a smallmouth jumping two feet out of the water. Mike’s yelling and winding. He gets that smallmouth to the side of the boat and I go to grab it, but Mike has seen too many bass fishing shows, so he jumps the fish right in the boat just like the pros.
Whooping and hollering for the next few minutes was expected. After a quick lesson on holding a fish, and a few quick pictures, it went back in the water. For the next hour we cruised the bank casting and catching, yes even losing some. And after every fish the same question was asked: “We aren’t going home yet, are we?”
“Nope Mike,” I’d reassure him. “They are still biting.”
All good things do have to come to an end, however, and Mike had homework waiting, so another quick boat ride back to Westport and the rest of the story now lives in his memory for a lifetime!
A few pointers on “Taking a kid fishing:”
•Purchase a good vest type life jacket.
•I recommend a closed face spinning reel and rod. The push button type.
•Practice casting a day or two in the backyard.
•Make sure to take sun screen, sun glasses (polarized) and a ball cap.
•Keep it short. A couple hours.
•Go in a boat if available. You can move around and the boat ride is as much fun as the fishing.
•Live bait works real well, minnows or worms.
•Use wet gloves to handle the fish, no point getting stuck by a fin on your first trip.
•Lots of snacks and drinks, you can’t believe how much energy you need for fishing.
Howard Hammonds is a guide and experienced bass fisherman living in Westport. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.