By Jill J Easton
“Papaw look!” Tera squealed. She held up a neon-blue and gold long-eared sunfish shining in the afternoon light. “This was only my first cast. I even beat Charlie. Tonight this fish is gonna catch a giant catfish, I just know it. Can I go with you when you put out the jugs? I just love fishing.”
Tera is excited about fishing and Tom Green made it happen. He taught her the basics of working the rod and reel and knowing when to set the hook. Tera took over from there, she got her cousin Charlie excited and then the whole bunch of younger grandchildren got excited about fishing too. The bottom line? It’s all about catching baitfish.
Tom had his best happy ”pawpaw face” on, but he didn’t have much time to think about Tera’s obvious glee with that first fish. The proud grandfather was in more demand than the last pickle in the jar, with six of his smaller grandkids in some stage of learning to fish. Granddad was constantly untangling snarled lines, putting on new worms, unhooking fish and putting them in the live well. In a few hours the bigger kids would get to go out on Lake Norfork with him to put out the jugs.
There is no one more excited than a kid with a first fish, and there is so much right with taking kids bait fishing. The action is fast, rods and reels begin to make sense and there is an additional reward of getting the first, prettiest or biggest fish. The satisfaction of teaching someone fishing is immense for both the teacher and student.
Unlike many other types of fishing, catching bait doesn’t require a lot of coordination and the patent Zebco 33 makes it simple even for little ones. For millions of kids, including me, the Zebco 33 taught the art of casting and bringing in fish without the constant backlashes that come with many reels in inexperienced hands.
Bringing in bait
Catching bait fish is simple. Drop a baited hook down to the bottom, crank up one turn, wait for the tug. It doesn’t matter if your water is murky or clear, if you are near one of the millions of bream hangouts around the country, fish will find the bait. If the first spot doesn’t work, move over a few feet and try again.
Fish in places where the water is four to about ten feet deep. Look for rocks, weeds or other cover and they will come. Bait fish can be caught on piers, bank fishing or out of a boat. Use a small hook with a long shank to make unhooking easy.
A #6 or # 8 hook is probably about right for a bluegill; larger hooks can be used on the other sunfish. Bait can be almost any small bit of food. A cricket or small chunk of hot dog or mushed up bread balls are good sunfish bait, but a piece of worm no more than a half inch long will make a group of fish fight to be the first to attack.
A light, flexible rod and small reel work best. That makes it is easy to feel the taps of fish trying to take the bait. Catching three or four different kinds of bream from the same hole is a regular occurrence.
In the south bream or panfish means members of the sunfish family, in other parts of the country they are called perch or sunfish. There are a number of fish are lumped in this category. They include green, spotted, longear and redear sunfish, bluegill, warmouth, pumpkinseed and rock bass.
Confused yet? These fish rarely get to be 12 inches long and a big sunfish might weigh 12 ounces although bait fish should be about half that size. Many are colorful, especially in breeding season. Some are deep blue, purple or green. Bluegill have green vertical stripes, long ear sunfish mix neon blue and gold, and several species of males have a fiery orange bellies.
Once a bream is caught, put the fish in a live well or fish basket so they will stay alive and healthy until it is time to put them on a hook to catch larger fish. Never use a stringer on bait fish.
The next day excitement was still high, Tera and Charlie, the only two tween-agers in the mob of kids, had to show me ‘their fish’. The two, followed by a tail of a half-dozen younger grandkids, carried an ice chest half-full of water up a steep hill to show me the one catfish they caught jugging, The catfish was the only one that wasn’t having a grand and glorious time.
Tom smiled down at the two youngsters showing off their prize. He was already seeing the rebaits from taking his grandkids fishing. He has hooked fishing buddies for many years to come and brought the love of the wild outdoors into their lives.