It’s easy for longtime anglers to complicate things. There’s always new gear to put through its paces, and new techniques to try. These are all very exciting in their own right, but when you’re looking to initiate a new angler to the joys of fishing, it’s ideal to focus on the basics. If you’re nodding to yourself, and thinking, “Absolutely. It all starts with topwater frogs in thick lily pads,” you may want to back up. Think really basic. Like, “why our ancestors paddled makeshift boats into shark-infested seas” basic. The most elemental motive for fishing is that fish taste really good! If you’re looking to get someone hooked on fishing, nothing brings a day on the water full circle like cleaning and eating your catch.
The success of your master plan to unleash hungry new anglers on the world depends on one thing: catching fish. Thankfully, this is a highly achievable goal, only requiring a kids spinning combo in hand (a smaller adult spinning combo or spincast combo will work equally well). Whether you’re fishing from shore at a public park, or walking the banks of a friend’s farm pond, chances are there are edible fish within casting distance for a youngster. Now it’s just a matter of adjusting expectations. With a rookie angler on your hands, you need to go for the sure thing, not the wallhanger. The “sure thing” means panfish. You know the fish. Bream. Crappie. Perch. Wherever you live in the United States, there is a body of water near you teeming with one of these feisty and delicious species. The right bait presentation with simple tackle can fill up a stringer most times of the year, in most places across the nation. With your kids spinning combo in hand, a #6 hook with a long shank (for easy hook removal), a split shot weight, and – depending on the water depth – a simple float, is all you need to get someone on the path to a fish fry of their own making. Some readers will cringe at the next sentence, but it needs to be said. Don’t be ashamed of live bait. Crickets, worms and minnows work. Your ultra-realistic 8-inch swimbait can wait it out for another trip. You need to put edible fish in the cooler, and live bait is about the best bang for your buck when it comes to panfish. Casting a live worm or cricket around structure is a simple, but time-tested, method for catching panfish. You can go teach your pupil to do this with the aid of a float, or teach them to cast in a fan pattern without one, and “mop the bottom” by slowing reeling the bait in. In this situation, be willing to keep even small panfish (within the limits of what is allowed in your state’s rules and regulations). Letting your new fishing buddy eat their own prize is sure to bring a smile to their face!
Cleaning the fish you catch is when it really gets real for the rookie angler. It’s the process of turning a trophy into food, and one that many people are unfamiliar with. There will be blood, there will be guts, and there will be scales. That said, many children are fascinated by the ugly business. If you’re planning to fry some small fish whole (always a great idea), let the kids lend a hand with scaling. Using either a spoon, or another scaling device, they can participate in getting the fish ready for the fryer. This lets them get their hands dirty, learn how to dress their catch, and also keeps them away from the filet knife. If you’re inducting someone old enough to handle a knife, don’t be afraid to let them follow your lead in gutting or filleting the fish. After all, the goal is someone who wants to do it for themselves, and has the confidence to carry it out. If possible, make note of a specific fish that your new angler caught, so they can feast on the fruits of their labors. There are a wealth of videos online demonstrating the numerous methods for dressing fish. If you’re new to cleaning fish, detailed instruction is only a few clicks away.
Fried panfish are one of life’s true pleasures. The only thing that makes it better is having caught the fish yourself. Whether you are frying small fish whole, or cooking filets, preparation is remarkably simple. Salt and pepper the fish, dredge them in flour or cornmeal (packaged fish fry mix is on the shelves at your local grocery store), and plop them down in hot grease. The sight of crispy, golden brown fish on the plate is more than most can resist. If you cooked the fish whole, surprise the new angler by letting them eat the tail. It’s the crunchy, savory delicacy that every fish connoisseur knows to go for first. If you opt to avoid the grease, and grill the fish, a simple application of butter, salt, pepper and lemon will bring out the rich natural flavor of the meat. Cook the fish on foil, with some olive oil daubed on to avoid sticking. When the white meat flakes away, you are in store for a real treat.
This is not a step-by-step instructional in how to catch, clean or cook fish. It’s an encouragement to introduce someone else to the joy of fishing by bringing the whole sport full circle. From pond-to-table, if you will. Go fishing, give back, and before long, that new angler may be inviting you to a fish fry of their own.