First Fish

"Oh, Analeigh! You've got a dandy on the line!"

"Hold on tight!"

"Keep reeling, honey!"

"Don't let him get away!"

Mom, Dad and Grandma and Grandpa (She calls me "Pawpaw") called out advice to the two-year old angler with curly brown hair as she tussled with her very first fish.

My granddaughter's eyes twinkled, and she laughed excitedly as she cranked the fish to shore. She had to perform a little dance to tow the 9-inch bluegill up the bank.

"Pawpaw, Snoopy caught a fish!" she exclaimed. Snoopy, her plastic bobber, had seemed on the verge of drowning as the big bluegill pulled at the gob of worms at the end of her line.

Holding the line with both hands, Analeigh lifted her bluegill so everyone could see. We took photos to preserve the happy moment, then I unhooked the fish and released it to fight another day. Through Analeigh, our family's fishing heritage had just been passed to another generation.

On a wall in my office, I keep the pictures of all three of my daughters with their first fish. Their big days were spread out over a few years, but their reactions had been pretty much the same as Analeigh's. You can see it in the pictures. They were proud to the point of bursting.

So was I.

10 Tips for a First Fish Trip

  1. Pick a spot where fish are abundant. Conservation Department regional offices can provide suggestions for places to go in your area.
  2. Plan a short trip. An hour is plenty for a youngster.
  3. Pack snacks.
  4. If you go in the summer, fish during the cool part of the day. Fish are usually more active in the morning and evening.
  5. Use push-button spincast reels and live bait. Simple equipment translates into faster learning and better success.
  6. Teach basic skills like casting, knot tying and baiting the hook. Help a first-timer remove the hook from a fish. Some fish have sharp spines. Don't let a good experience turn into a painful one.
  7. Bring the camera to preserve the memory.
  8. Point out birds, frogs, flowers, trees and other items of interest.
  9. Don't stop after one trip. Repeat trips keep the fishing bug alive.
  10. Take advantage of the many fishing clinics offered throughout the year by the Conservation Department, fishing clubs and community organizations.

I've been working in the fisheries division of the Conservation Department for my entire career, so I might gush a little bit more than most about the joys of fishing. There's research that shows most people