Growing up with a fishing pole in one hand and a net in the other, I didn’t need the latest study to tell me that relaxing outdoors and being close to nature were the primary reasons why many people fished, or that folks who participate in outdoor recreation are often more satisfied with life.
For me it was just, “Mom, can you drop me off at …,” followed by the location of any of a half-dozen or more spots. Worm-digging in the lawn – or a moonlight excursion picking up nightcrawlers – usually preceded the request. Most of the time, my adventures were solo outings from a dock, pier, rocky stream bank or an old, wooden boat rented or borrowed from a lakeside business or property owner.
Today’s kids don’t always have it so easy. Many live in urban or suburban areas where fishing access is not readily available or where competition for the few existing spots is heavy. Many also have lots of scheduled activities, with too little time for unstructured leisure.
Life is all about choices, and I’m here to tell you that fishing (and catching fish!) can be life-changing.
You don’t even need a boat. There are dozens of public shore-fishing spots available at county parks, piers, docks and shorelines. The knowledgeable staff members at a local bait and tackle shop can not only set you up for success, but they can point you in the right direction.
Fishing takes you away from the busyness of life. Go solo, and the solitude will create a new perspective and a fresh outlook. You’ll return energized, ready to tackle the latest project around your home or office.
A huge part of the experience of non-solo outings is sharing uninterrupted conversation while fishing with your family or friends. At other times, you’ll enjoy quiet moments as your mind drifts while waiting for a bite.
Taking kids on their first fishing trip is one of my favorite things to do. I shoot for low-pressure trips with plenty of laughter. We might gather our own bait, or we might buy it. We always pick up litter that others left behind.
The goal is to have a fun time, teach some skills and educate the youngsters on why it’s so important to have clean air and water. The lesson often ends with a plate of fried bluegills, perch and sunfish – the same way it has for more than four decades.
Tips for the first fishing trip
You don’t need fancy equipment to go fishing or to catch fish, but buying the cheapest rod-and-reel combos out there is a recipe for frustration. Check with a knowledgeable angler for advice, or visit an expert at a tackle shop.
Many of today’s top tournament fishers and guides mastered the basics as young people catching bluegills, sunfish, crappies and perch, but panfish aren’t just for kids. Big ones, taken on light tackle, offer both a challenge and a worthy fight for even the most seasoned anglers. Leafworms, wax worms, redworms and garden worms will lure most species.
Establish rules before you head out — things such as no running with fishing rods, and look around before you cast. It’s also good to set up a buddy system if you’ll be in a group because the youngest kids need constant supervision. And always use personal flotation devices.
Besides the rods, reels and bait, take sunscreen, bug repellent, water, snacks, camera and a basic first-aid kit. Have a small cooler filled with ice for any fish you want to eat.
A time-tested cooking method is to roll fresh fillets in a flour- or cornmeal-based breading mixture (add the spices of your choice), then pan-fry them in butter, coconut oil or other oil until they’re a deep, golden brown. That’s the kind of snack that has “summer vacation” written all over it!
Record water levels
Summer began with all five Great Lakes at record water levels.
As of June 21, Lake Michigan was an inch above the previous high, set in 1986, and 15 inches higher than the first day of spring last year.
Water levels increased six inches in the past month alone (likely more after heavy rain earlier this week) and stood 33 inches above the 100-year average.
Lake Ontario was three inches above its previous high, set in 2017; Lakes Superior and St. Clair were four inches higher than their 1986 highs; and Lake Erie was five inches higher, a high also set in 1986.
Put fish on your plate
Eating fish is a great choice for lean protein, healthful omega-3 fatty acids, and many vitamins and minerals. Get tips on choosing, cleaning and cooking fish at dhs.wisconsin.gov/water/fish.htm and ChooseYourFish.org.