Andrew Cox of San Antonio, Texas, is our four-year-old grandson. On July 2, he went fishing for the first time in his life. His primary quarry was the largemouth bass that inhabit the riprap shoreline along the dam at a 180-acre state reservoir in northeastern Kansas.
Across the years, I have penned a number of words about the best ways to initiate youngsters to the joy and art of angling. During that process, I have asked a variety of anglers, preadolescents, teenagers, and child psychologists for their insights.
I have also had the pleasure of trying to show our four children, 10 grandchildren, and some of their friends a thing or two about fishing and its manifold virtues.
Nowadays I am a 74-year-old parent, grandfather, and ardent recreational angler, and I am still wondering if there is a best way to introduce youngsters to this delightful and grand endeavor that I have relished since I was eight years old. At this point, I have come to the conclusion that the best way to teach a youngster about the joys of fishing remains an inexhaustible mystery.
I have yet to spawn another member of our family who is as enamored with fishing as I am. Nevertheless, I continue to try. And throughout most years, I spend some time fishing with most of them.
During these family outings, we have observed that the lack of physical strength, concentration, endurance, and dexterity can be problems that confound a child's capacity to enjoy an outing with a parent or grandparent. Fear, which is a natural and valuable emotion, can be another obstacle. For instance, we have noticed that all of our preadolescent grandchildren have been skittish about touching a fish, and some of them have remained that way for a number of years. Our granddaughters and grandsons have told us that the best way to harness the fear factor is to fill the boat's livewell with water and place a few of the fish that are caught into it. Then let the youngsters look at the fish, and eventually they begin to stick their fingers and hands into the water and touch the fish. But not until they are 10 to 12 years old have any of our 10 grandchildren been able to remove a hook from a fish's mouth or stick their thumbs into a largemouth bass' mouth.
One of the things that I have learned is that it is best not to fish too long or the boredom phenomenon will erupt. To keep that from occurring, we have developed a formula based on the age of the youngsters, and if the youngsters are four years old, it is best to fish for about 32 minutes; if they are seven years old, it is best to fish about 56 minutes; if they are nine years old, it is best to fish about 63 minutes. But there will be spells, when they might want to fish a bit less or a bit more.
I have determined that it is best to fish with just one youngster at a time, and it is essential to be kind, encouraging, patient, attentive, and helpful every moment that you are afloat. Therefore, it is advisable that the grandparent doesn't fish during these teaching outings.
Another important element is catching fish and a lot of them. Catching fish, however, is not a problem in the public reservoirs in northeastern Kansas — especially if the youngsters employ Midwest finesse tactics, which is what Andrew Cox employed on his first outing.
He used a 5 1/2-foot, medium-action Shakespeare Synergy IM6 casting rod and a Shakespeare TI 10 Synergy spincasting reel that was spooled with six-pound-test red Cajun Line. To the line, we attached a 2 1/2-inch Z-Man Fishing Products' purple-haze ZinkerZ and blue 1/16-ounce Gopher Tackle Mushroom Head Jig. Occasionally he needed some help with his casts, which I provided. He employed a strolling presentation and a drag-and-shake retrieve.
Day in, day out, we have found that the 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZ affixed to a 1/16-ounce Gopher jig is the best combo for our youngsters to employ. But there have been outings, when a shortened four-inch Z-Man's Finesse WormZ on a 1/16-ounce Gopher jig or a Z-Man's Finesse ShadZ on a 1/16-ounce Gopher jig inveigled our grandchildren a few more largemouth bass than the 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZ.
To his and my delight and amazement, Andrew Cox hooked a largemouth bass on the first cast of his life. That bass jumped and tossed his ZinkerZ rig. On his second cast, he hooked and landed a green sunfish, which was the first fish he had ever caught, and he timidly touched it with the tip of his index finger.
After those first two casts, he fished about 25 minutes and caught five largemouth bass and two green sunfish.
We took a few photographs of him holding three of the fish that he caught, and his skittishness about holding a largemouth bass and a green sunfish is reflected in his eyes and face. (Three of those photographs are printed below this column.)
On our way home, he said it was fun, and he wanted to do it again. He also said he was ready to use a spinning rod and reel rather than the spincasting outfit that he used on July 2.
Photographs of Andrew Cox and three of the seven fish he caught on his first outing.