If you’re teaching a kid to fish forego the cheap fishing equipment…


Want a New Year’s resolution? Teach a kid how to fish this year.

I met 10-year-old Ben in November. His mother, Mindy, and I sometimes work the same front desk shift at the YMCA, and during a lull one day, we got to talking about hobbies. I mentioned the only one I really have is fishing.

“My youngest son LOVES to fish,” said Mindy. “He went to a fishing camp and learned some basics and now he wants to do it all the time. I feel bad for him because I really don’t know anything about fishing.”

Opportunity knocked. I’ve taught a couple of kids how to fish over the years, and doing so created lots of good memories. So, with his mom’s permission, I put together a starter kit of lures, hooks and jig heads, simple presentations that can catch different species. Ben already had a couple of spinning rods. I figured three things that can usually catch some bass are a Ned rig, a wacky worm and a small swimbait. Since Mindy usually works Sundays and I usually have that day off, I could meet with Ben a couple Sundays a month and teach him some ways to rig a few basic lures, maybe find an open tennis court or group exercise room at the YMCA and work on casting.

Our first lesson went well. Ben showed up with his tackle box and a new Shakespeare spinning rod combo his mom had found on sale, which brings up an important point. If you’re teaching a kid to fish, forego the cheap “Snoopy” push-button spincast combos and get something you wouldn’t mind fishing with yourself. You might spend $100 on a spinning combo, but you’ll give the kid something that will last several years or longer. Sure, learning to cast and fish with an open-face spinning reel has some challenges, but you learned how to do it, right? With patience and some practice, so will the kid.

Our first lesson, I first showed Ben how to string a little Z-Man Finesse TRD on a jig hook, making sure it was as straight as possible. I gave him a pack of TRDs in the Mud Minnow pattern, which features a light gray belly and dark back.

“When you put it on the hook, you want to make sure the dark back is on top and the light part is on the bottom,” I said, holding one of the 2 ¾-inch soft plastics between thumb and forefinger. Then asked, “Why do you suppose you want to do that?”

A wacky worm (this one with a Frenzy Baits Wacky Saddle) and a Ned rig are two setups that can catch fish for kids learning to fish.

“Because it looks like a fish!” Ben said immediately. I think he will be a quick study.

So I demonstrated running the hook right up the center of the lure, bringing the hook point out and pushing the nose of the TRD against the head of the jig. It wasn’t quite straight enough.

“The nice thing about this ElazTech material is you can take it right back off the hook and re-rig it if it’s not quite right,” I said. “You really can’t do that with most kinds of soft plastics because they wear out.”

Second attempt, I got the little worm on the hook straight, then took it off the hook again and handed the jig and TRD to Ben. It took him a few attempts, but eventually, he got the worm on straight.

“That’s great! You got it!” I encouraged him. “You can practice it at home.”

Next was a wacky rig, placing a hook exactly halfway between the nose and tail of a 5-inch stick worm. This is a good “kid rig,” as it is easy to put together and heavy enough to cast. Plus, bass eat it.

I had some Wacky Saddles from Frenzy Baits, which consist of two connected O rings that you fold and slide on a stick worm and can adjust to the exact middle of the bait. Your hook goes between the bait and the piece of plastic that connects the O rings. The Wacky Saddle not only helps place the hook in the middle of the bait, but it allows the worm to last longer since you’re not piercing it with your hook.

Ben caught on to this setup right away.

“I’m gonna have my mom take me fishing today!” Ben exclaimed. Since the outside temperature was a rainy 38 degrees, I suggested he spend time practicing his rigging and wait for better weather. Which he did, although when I next worked with Mindy, she said Ben wanted to practice rigging instead of getting out the door to school.

“He said, ‘Dave told me to practice,’” she told me. I suggested she tell him he could practice while watching TV.

I haven’t put together an entire curriculum, but we’ll definitely be spending time tying good, simple knots and practicing casting. Ben was having trouble with his new spinning combo, snarls of line coming off the reel when he cast. I looked at his reel and realized he’d had the back-reeling switch set so the handle would move backward. I explained how it worked and showed him how to adjust the drag, keeping the backreel switch set to “off”.

It would be easy to overwhelm the kid with rigs and baits. I still overwhelm myself with them sometimes, so I aim to keep things simple. Eventually we’ll get into Texas-rigging worms. We’ll also put together a split-shot rig once he’s got the Texas rig figured out. I want to keep the initial lessons limited to single-hook rigs since they are easy to use, usually effective and because bass that you land on crankbaits and stickbaits with two treble hooks are kind of dangerous for beginners to handle.

Then, when the weather gets halfway decent, we’ll either find a pond with fish in it and cast for them from shore or hit a favorite local lake in my boat and talk about where fish are likely to hang out and put some of these lessons into practice.

I have a feeling his first decent bass will be memorable for both of us.