This instructable demonstrates how to fish in fresh water such as ponds, streams, and lakes, using a minimum of inexpensive equipment. It is designed for non-fishing parents that wish to give their kids a fun and educational experience or for those that simply want to give it a try without investing a lot of money. The thrill of catching your first fish is exactly the same whether you spend $20 or $2000, and you can always ramp up to the expensive stuff later.
Step 1: Materials
Everything you need to fish can be purchased at your local Wal-Mart or sporting good store for under $20. You will need:
- A cane pole - I bought a 2 piece pole at Wal-Mart for $3.54
- An assortment of small hooks - about $2.00
- Some bobbers or floats, smaller is better- a pack of small ones is about $2.00
- Monofilament line, cheap is fine. Get 10 or 12 lb test - about $10.00
Some country stores may carry long one-piece cane poles, and these are good for serious cane-pole fishing by adults. For kids, I like the ones that come in two pieces and are about 10 feet long when assembled. You simply insert the top end into the bottom end and you are ready to go. Afterwards, they are easily disassembled to put in the trunk of the car.
Step 2: Rigging the Pole 1
You can rig the pole before you leave for the lake or after you get there.
First, unpack and assemble the bamboo pole segments - they simply plug together. If your pole came with line, hook, and bobber, you can use those if you wish, but the line in mine was way too thin and the hook was too wimpy. You should use the line and hooks and bobber you purchased so you will know how to rig a pole from scratch.
Next, use an improved clinch knot to tie the monofilament line to the end of the pole. My pole had a nice eyelet at the end, but yours may not, in which case simply tie the line just below the last bamboo joint so the line won't slip off.
Step 3: Rigging the Pole 2
With the line now tied to the tip of the assembled pole, measure out a pole's length of line to just below the bottom end of the pole. You want a couple of inches more than the length of the pole. Cut the line at that point.
Step 4: Rigging the Pole 3
Next, string the bobber onto the line. I much prefer the type of bobber that is long with a hole through the middle and a small plastic plug to hold it in place. If you bought this type, remove the plug, and thread your line through the bobber. Position it about 1.5 to 2.0 feet from the end of the line and insert the plug to hold it firmly in place. Another type of bobber commonly seen is the round ones with a button on top. When the button is pressed a small hook-shaped piece of wire comes out the bottom so you can attach it to your line. After attaching the bottom end, hold the bottom wire in place and press the button down again, only this time do it with the edge of the button to expose the top hook in the middle of the button. You use this to attach the top of your line to the top of the bobber so that the button now faces the tip of your pole.
Step 5: Rigging the Pole 4
We complete the pole by attaching the hook. Select a small hook approximately the size shown. Hook size is determined by the size of the fish you expect to catch and we will be mainly fishing for panfish such as bluegills. If you bought an assortment of hooks as suggested, you should have a supply that will last you for years.
Attach the hook to the end of the line using a palomar knot as shown.
This completes the rigging of the pole. If you rigged the pole before leaving the house, you can now break down the pole by separating the two bamboo pole halves, wind the line around the two poles held together and wrap a quick turn or two of any kind of tape around each end. Make sure you cover the hook with the tape for safety sake. You should pack the pole the same way after you are done fishing and are ready to store the pole for the next time.
Step 6: Bait
We will be using doughballs made from comon white bread as bait. The fresher and "squishier" the bread the better. One slice of bread will bait a couple of dozen hooks, and a loaf will keep a gaggle of kids in bait for hours.
If you aren't squeamish, you can also be traditional and fish with worms. This can occupy the kids and help generate fishing excitement. It is not necessary to dig for worms - simply find some dead leaves or small logs and turn them over. Worms can be found in abundance under most forest litter. Put some topsoil in a coffee can or small bucket to hold your worms.
Step 7: Baiting the hook
To make a doughball, pinch off a small piece of bread. Don't bother with the crust - it can't be squished down into a ball. Instead, you can throw the crust out in the water to help attract fish, or simply eat it yourself.
Make the doughball by squishing the pinch of bread between the thumb and first finger of each hand as shown. Press hard to make a nice square shaped bait glob.
Put the doughball on the hook by inserting the tip of the hook into the ball. The idea is to hide the tip in the ball so that when the fish takes the bait, they also get the tip of the hook.
Step 8: Fish!
Now it is time to get the bait in front of the fish. With a cane pole, you do not "cast" the bait as you do with a rod and reel setup - you simply swing it out into the water.
To put the line in the water, hold the end of the pole in one hand and the line just above the hook in the other. Face the water near the bank. Hold the pole at about a 45 degree angle and let go of the line so it swings out over the water, and at the farthest end of the swing, drop the end of the pole, thus dropping the bait and bobber into the water. You can get the full distance of the line by slightly raising and lowering the tip of the pole midway through the swing. Practice helps, especially if you will be later showing your kids how to do this and don't want to look dorky.
DO NOT allow your kids to wildly swing the line around to get it in the water. The hook is guaranteed to end up in everything except the water, and that includes the other kids, you, your pet, and trees and bushes. Use only the "swing out" method when cane pole fishing as this offers the best control and safety.
Once in the water, the weight of the hook will take the bait down to where the fish (hopefully) are. The nice thing about fishing for bluegills and other panfish is that they are always hungry, so if there are fish around and they can see the bait, they will probably bite. Be patient. Patience is one of the valuable lessons that fishing can teach your kids. If after a few minutes, you haven't had a bite, pull up the line (raise the pole straight up and catch it with your other hand as it swings towards you) and try another spot. Even a few feet away can make a difference. If changing locations doesn't help, try moving the bobber farther up the line, thus allowing the bait to sink father down in the water.
How do you know when you have a fish? The common wisdom is not to jerk the line up at the first nibble - wait until there is evidence that the fish has the bait firmly in their mouth. That will be the case if the bobber goes completely under the water, stands on end and stays there, or begins to race across the surface. When any of these things happen, pull up the line. Do not jerk wildly, but firmly lift the pole. With luck, you will hook the fish and can then lift it out of the water.
Step 9: Remove Fish from Hook
The cold reality of fishing comes home when you catch your first fish - you now have to take it off the hook! It makes absolutely no sense to fish unless you are willing to follow through - and it is unfair to ask someone else to shoulder the burden of removing it for you after you have had the thrill of catching it. Even if you will not be eating what you catch, you must still remove the fish. This is much easier than you think.
The biggest impediment to removing the hook is that the fish tends to be flopping around. So, the first step is to hold the fish properly so that it is completely in your control and stops flopping. For panfish such as bluegills, you grasp the fish by coming at it from the back of the fish, placing your thumb on one gill and - with your palm over the fish's head and back - put your other fingers on the other gill. Hold firmly and the fish will stop flopping. Don't be tentative about this or the fish will get loose and flop around some more. Once secured, you can then grasp the hook and work it out of the mouth of the fish. It will normally be hooked through the lip. Work the hook around - the idea is to back it out at about the same angle that it went in. Getting the barb back out through the lip is the hardest part and some force may be necessary at times.
For hooks that have been swallowed a bit or are farther down in the mouth out of reach, use a pair of needlenose pliers to get at it. Lacking pliers, you can do almost as well with a small stick. It is often enough simply to push the hook farther into the fishes mouth as this most often gets the barb out after which you can ease the hook out of the mouth.
If you will be keeping your fish to eat, simply toss it in a bucket. The bucket doesn't need any water in it, assuming you will be cleaning the fish within a few hours. You can also use a "stringer" to keep your fish alive. This is a nylon cord with a metal ring at one and and a metal spike at the other, sold for a couple of bucks where you bought your pole and tackle. The spike is inserted up through the gills and out the mouth of the fish and then - for the first fish only - through the ring. The spike is then set in the bank and the fish go in the water.
If you are fishing for fun, simply toss the fish gently back in the water - it will be fine and may even bite again (fish aren't terribly smart). A bluegill about the size of an adult hand is a nice eating size and a "keeper". Smaller ones can be tossed back.
PARENTAL ADVICE: If you want to keep your sanity, I strongly advise making a firm rule that if you want to fish, you have to bait your own hook and remove your own fish. Not only does this foster self-reliance, it frees you up to go back to reading that book your brought with you or doing your own bit of fishing. Once my five-year-old daughter got past the "isn't it cute!" reaction to her first fish, she easily got the hang of taking the fish off the hook and had loads of fun. She now brags about her self-reliance to her more squeamish girlfriends. A very good thing in my book.
There is also a good solid safety reason for having kids bait their own hook. Imagine that your excited child is eagerly awaiting your efforts to make a doughball and bait the hook. They are holding the pole and you are holding the line and hook. Now imagine that your child sees that you have just finished baiting the hook. Seriously now - will your child try and race back to the water before you have let go of the line, or is your child patient enough to wait for you to say its OK? I know what MY kids would do. For the hook-baiter this is a no-win situation and is likely to result in a hook embedded in the baiters hand.
Step 10: Bigger fish
There are several kinds of fish that you might catch in fresh water depending on the area of the country and the type of bait you are using. These include catfish, bass, crappie, yellow perch, and others.
Fishing with doughballs might get you a catfish. These can grow large enough to break your pole, but are excellent eating. When removing catfish from the line, you will need to exercise some care (kids will need some help here), since catfish have barbed fins on each side just behind the gills and on top along the spine. These barbs are painful if the catfish flops and manages to embed one in you.
A catfish can be safely held using the same grip as used for bluegills, but because catfish have skin instead of scales, they can be harder to hold and require a very firm grip. The thumb goes on one gill just before the barbed fin, the palm against the back in front of the top barbed fin, and the first and second fingers against the opposite gill in front of the barbed fin, with the third and fourth fingers in back of the barbed fin. This gives you excellent control of the catfish and the hook can be removed safely.
If you are fishing with worms, in addition to bluegills and catfish, you might also catch bass, crappie, or yellow perch. These fish prefer live bait and worms are a favorite.
If you are fishing with worms, the easiest way to bait your hook to catch bluegills is to pinch the worm in half and then thread the worm onto the hook, leaving the tip of the worm to wiggle and attract the fish. Once bluegills realize that worms are available, they will bite on even the tiniest bit of worm on the end of the barb.
Step 11: Good luck!
Hooking a really big fish can be exciting and it tends to happen when you least expect it. While taking pictures for this instructable with my daughter, I was carefully explaining that when you hook a large fish you never want to point the cane pole at the water, since a large fish can pull the top segment off the bottom segment. I pointed the pole at the water to show her what not to do, and at that moment a huge catfish grabbed the bait and separated the top segment of the pole which promptly took off across the pond. My daughter immediately took off her shoes and claimed that she was going in after the fish, but I suggested using a casting rod with a lure to hook the errant pole segment and retrieve the pole, line, and fish. After a few tries with a topwater lure, and after removing the three bass that hit the lure while I made the attempts, we managed to hook the line and bring in the fish, with the results seen here.
The filets that came off this fish were excellent.
Step 12: Cleaning and Cooking
A dozen bluegills can easily make a meal if you will be keeping them, and they are delicious. Details of how to clean your fish can be easily found on the web, but for bluegills, the basics are shown below, and it can be the culmination of the fishing adventure for your kids, as well as a fun end to a family outing.
CLEANING AND COOKING BLUEGILLS
- Use a spoon to scrape off the scales - go from tail to head when scraping
- Cut off the head in back of the gills
- Cut a slit down the stomach to the vent and remove the entrails
- Wash in cold water.
- Dip in milk and egg then roll in flour with some salt and pepper to taste and fry in oil
until golden brown
- Instruct younger kids to be careful of small bones. A fork can be used to flake off the meat from the bones.