Last week, while the soft suburban children played on sand beaches within close proximity of their sunscreen slathering, summer-hat wearing mothers, my son and his friend dove from piers and hid near where the horses make their upward rise to meet the stringers. They dove and swam, swam and dove, fighting and playing, hiding and seeking. Swimming under water with his eyes open, my son spotted something that captured his attention. A large bass, carefully guarding the gravel patch that she had brushed bare with her tail.
My son returned to the pier to tell his friend where the fish was, how big it was, and what they would do next. The plan was to tie on a small jig, a white one with a feather for a tail and big yellow eyes drawn onto a round lead head. They assembled their gear and made casts. The first cast fell short. The second, too. They switched positions, the friend now in the starter slot, casting as far as he could cast. Each effort fell short, there was to be no catching that fish on that day, because the jig was too light and the line too heavy.
The soft beach children would have given up by now, assuming they somehow knew that fish was there, which, of course, they couldn’t have known if they were only splashing in the shallows with small plastic shovels and buckets made specifically for the building of sand castles. Every fisherman knows there is no greater frustration than the inability to catch a fish that has presented itself as a target. This is why bonefish are highly prized quarry, and equally disappointing when they refuse to eat a well-presented fly. There had to be a way.
There was no boat, and eleven year olds shouldn’t be driving those anyway. There was a dingy, but the one oar slot is loose, and when the rower attempts to row, the left oar always pops out of place. The exercise is confounding, and if the desired goal is to row from A to B, there will be circuitous visits to C,D,E,M along the way. No, the rowboat wouldn’t work, but they hatched a plan that would, in theory, work.
The friend was to hold the rod, with the bail open so the line would pull freely. My son would hold the jig in his hand, and swim carefully and slowly out to where the bass was on guard. Once over the target zone, he would release the jig. His friend would know he had released it by the thumb’s up my son would give as he thrust his hand out of the water. Once the jig floated slowly down to the bass, my son would give his friend another thumb’s up, this one to indicate that the bass had eaten the jig and that a swift setting of the hook was in order.
When the bass moved quickly to bite the jig, it was clear this plan had worked. The friend battled the great fish, while my son swam from the scene. On the pier, they held the fish briefly for a photo and released it to the depths. They have been taught many habits by their fathers, habits both good and mostly bad, but to carefully handle a fish and release it immediately is counted as one of the better habits learned. That evening, when my son told me the story of his efforts, I couldn’t help but smile.
Parents ask me about fishing often. They ask the best way to catch fish from piers in Geneva Lake. As I have more experience on the subject than any other Realtor in this market (without any question), I will offer you my sage advice. The fishing rig should be simple. A lightweight rod and reel, no Snoopy emblems allowed. The line should be six pound test. Any lighter and you risk a break off from an ornery fish, any thicker and you look silly. The next key to successful pier fishing involves small jigs. It does not involve worms or other forms of live bait.
I know, I know, worms are a staple of pier fishing worldwide. But they are also messy and once a mess of them die in your refrigerator the smell is as ungodly as any smell could ever aspire to be. The other problem with small children fishing with worms is that inevitably the fish swallows the hook, and then the dad or mom spends a few minutes ripping the hook out of the fish’s throat, rooting around for that hook as though it were made from gold exhumed from the Titanic’s dining room. This is unacceptable. As an aside, if you must fish with worms and the fish swallows the hook, you should cut the line right next to the fish’s mouth in hope that the fish survives the order by digesting the hook over time.
Another key to understanding fish is to understand that they do not breathe well outside of the water. I’ve watched a parent rip a fish apart for a few minutes, then throw it back into the lake. If the fish somehow survived the massive stomach trauma, it certainly didn’t survive the minute or two spent out of the water. Parents, be smart. Don’t fish with worms because worms are for people who don’t understand things particularly well.
So, we have the line and the rod, now the jigs. Buy small feathery looking ones, in chartreuse or white. They should be 1/32 ounce jigs. Not big ones. Once you have the jigs, take a pliers and bend down the barb of the hook, so that the hook will easily come out when the time comes. This is very important if you want to teach your kid to fish on their own, as the largest part of that fishing is the removal of a hook from the fish. The jig should be tied directly to the line, not onto some leader or some metal clip thing. This is horrible, and I see it often and then go wash my eyes with bleach. Rod, line, small jig, ready to fish. But how? Easy, silly. Let the line out near the pier and have your kid jig it very subtly, very slowly, right next to the cribs. The fish hide there, and they’ll come out to eat the jig. Your child will be thrilled.
And since you had the good sense to bend down the barb, you’ll be pleased because your kid can remove the hook without your assistance. In this, the fish should be held gently and the hook removed. My daughter saw a kid step on a fish to get the hook out, and she yelled at him, because she’s smart and this kid was not. Hold the fish carefully, quickly remove the hook, and return it to the water. Don’t put it in a bucket for a few hours to play with it, because you’ll then be like my dog when he plays with a chipmunk, which is to say you’ll kill the play thing.
There you have it. The guide to pier fishing with kids. Follow these steps and you’ll be a star, and you’ll teach your kid some valuable lessons about respecting fish. You’ll also set them up for future independence, and your leisure time will be so much sweeter if you don’t need to constantly monitor and assist in their fishing endeavors.
Above, my son with a beautiful brown trout he caught on a fly this week.