Jessica Mounts knows a thing or 15,000 about taking kids fishing. That’s how many youths have participated in the fishing clinics she’s helped host in the Wichita area for the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism over the past 10 years.
Mounts, an angler, hunter and mother of two teenage boys who love the outdoors, said there are a variety of things adults can do to increase the chances a child has a great experience their first few times to the water.
“Setting them up for success is really important,” said Mounts. “One thing is age, and that depends on the kid. Some kids are ready as young as 3 or 4 and sometimes a kid’s not ready until they’re 7 or 8. Most parents know when their child has enough patience to stand around for a while.”
As well as following her advice as to best locations, equipment and times for helping kids catch fish, Mounts suggests adults go through a complete, kidless practice session on their own.
“It’s a good idea, once you decide on a spot, to go ahead and try it yourself, with the same equipment the kids will be using, to see how things go,” she said. “That’s really important if you, the adult, doesn’t have a lot of fishing experience. It’s good to get things figured out before you have a young child along.”
Location, location, location
It’s best to stay away from larger bodies of water and concentrate on lakes and ponds that will probably have more bluegill and green sunfish. Both usually inhabit such waters in high numbers and are easily found and caught.
Within Wichita, the lakes at O.J. Watson Park and Sedgwick County Park can be good, Mounts said, as can ponds located within many city parks. Surrounding communities like Valley Center and Derby have such park ponds.
Many of the ponds in subdivisions also are great waters for beginning anglers.
Look for easy access and a well-maintained shoreline. Tall grass can lead to chiggers and ticks. Insect repellant is recommended, even if the grass has been mowed. A good shower or bath immediately after the trip helps, too.
While the dry part of the shoreline should be clean, kids will catch more fish if the wet side isn’t. Look for areas with rocks, flooded vegetation or some scattered brush. Such are the places where sunfish and bluegill love to hide from predators yet still find plenty of food for themselves.
If the area is shaded, so much the better because the fish won’t feel as vulnerable to predators like great blue herons.
Since attention spans will be short, Mounts suggests looking for places that offer more than just fishing. She likes to take bored kids to where they can find things like grasshoppers and crickets. As well as continuing their outdoors experience, such creatures can be taken back to the pond and used for bait.
A nearby playground can offer a few minutes’ respite until the kid is ready to try fishing again. To be honest, few things entertain kids more than walking a rocky shoreline and tossing stones into the water. Keep in mind, though, that does scare away fish and should never be done close to where others are fishing.
When you take a young person can be almost as important as where. There are times of the year, and of the day, when fish are most active.
Fishing can be good any time of the late spring into early fall, but the last half of May and first half of June can be particularly productive as bluegill and green sunfish are spawning.
Male bluegill are especially protective of the nests they’re guarding and will attack about any bait that comes within easy reach. If the pond or lake is ringed with growing, flooded vegetation, you should be able to see open areas where the fish have built nests.
Early fall can be productive, too, as fish are feeding for the cold winter months when they won’t be as active.
As for time of day, early and late are usually best.
“I’ve seen some very successful fishing trips where the action was over by noon,” Mounts said. “I’ve also seen others where the fishing was really good between, like, 6 p.m. and 8 p.m.”
Shadows covering the water give fish a better sense of security. During the heat of the summer, it’s also when water is at its coolest and the fish will probably be the most active.
Mounts is a big fan of keeping equipment options simple for kids, and that includes staying away from the cute, cartoon character rods and reels. Most are of fairly limited quality and hard to cast, and that’s something beginning anglers have no business worrying about, too.
“The most effective method for catching fish is the simple cane pole, and a bobber with a little bit of worm below it,” Mounts said. “That’s all you really need, since all the fish you’re after are living close to the shoreline, so there’s no need to cast.”
For years, Wildlife and Parks has used telescoping poles that stretch from about 4 to 10 feet in length. Mounts said most can be purchased for $10-$12 and are lightweight enough to be easily handled by kids. They also reduce the temptation to continually be casting or reeling in the bait.
Most such rods come with line, a few hooks, bobbers and weights. If not, you can tie on about 8 to 10 feet of 10-pound test-line.
If you’re buying hooks, keep in mind that less size can mean more action.
“A small hook can catch about any size fish, but a hook that’s too big makes it hard to catch the smaller fish most kids will be catching,” Mounts said. “We use a size six hook. They seem to do well.”
The dozens of poles and lines Mounts uses in her fishing clinics are fitted with fairly small bobbers, too. A large bobber may cause too much resistance and a fish may quit taking a bait, or at least the strike would be hard to discern.
Her rigs usually include foam bobbers about as big as your pinky finger. A few split-shot are added, a few inches above the hook to keep the bait down below the bobber. Mounts adds just enough weight so the float sits low and doesn’t take much pulling to be tugged under the surface by a fish.
As already stated, it’s hard to beat the old standby when it comes to bait – worms. Actually, make that pieces of worms.
“You only need about a one-inch piece of worm, and you thread that on the hook like a sock on a foot,” she said. “You don’t want any pieces dangling off the hook that the fish can pull on without getting hooked.”
Here are two free opportunities to introduce kids to fishing:
▪ The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism will host several “Family Fishing Nights” at the Great Plains Nature Center, 29th North and Woodlawn. Events run from 6 to 8 p.m. on May 28, June 25 and July 23. Preregistration is required. Call 316-683-8069 for information.
▪ The 14th Annual Wichita Eagle Kids Fishing Clinic will be June 13 in conjunction with the Walk with Wildlife at Chisholm Creek Park, 29th North and Woodlawn. The event gives kids ages 12 and younger a chance to catch a fish. Fishing is catch and release, and half-hour sessions are assigned from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The event is free, but admission to the Walk with Wildlife is $2. For information on how to register, go to Kansas.com/outdoors or look for ads in The Wichita Eagle.