A great way to spend your Fourth of July holiday

This Wednesday — the Fourth of July — is the second Fish-For-Free day in Pennsylvania for 2018, so no fishing license is required to fish anywhere in the state. If your holiday plans include spending some time on the water, consider packing an extra rod and reel and inviting someone to go with you.

Or if you haven’t bought a license to fish this year, dust off your tackle and get on the water. For those anglers taking advantage of the free fishing day, remember that only the license requirement is waived. All other fishing laws and regulations are still in effect and must be complied with. If you intend to keep your catch, make sure you know the size and creel limits that apply to the water you are fishing. A summary of the fishing laws and regulations can be picked up at no charge at any fishing license issuing agent.

Fish-For-Free days are a great time to introduce a friend or family member to fishing or for someone who has left the sport in recent years to reconnect with fishing. Of course, youngsters under the age of 16 don’t need a fishing license, so any day is a good day to take a kid fishing. As a fishing instructor and guide for almost 30 years, I’ve taught hundreds of folks of all ages to fish or to improve their angling skills and that experience is always gratifying. I’ve also learned a few things about teaching in that time. Here are some basic tips that will make an outing with young folks or any first-time angler more productive and enjoyable for everyone.

The first of those is to use good equipment. I make it a rule never to hand a kid or any beginner a rod and reel I couldn’t or wouldn’t fish with myself. And “good” equipment does not necessarily mean expensive. I’ve seen all sorts of decent rod-and-reel combos starting for as little as $25. I strongly recommend avoiding the push-button type spin-cast reels. They seem simple but they really tend to be clunky and awkward to cast and to fish with. Also resist the urge to buy one of the cute packaged outfits for kids depicting cartoon characters or something like that. Most of those, too, are cheesy and will be a misery on the water. Select instead an open-face spinning outfit and take a few minutes to learn to cast with it. I’ve taught kids as young as three to fish with a smaller open-face spinning outfit.

Rule number two is to catch something. I know that might sound silly, but I know many nice folks who fish a lot and really enjoy it but don’t catch many fish. And fishing is certainly not always about catching a bunch of fish. But beginners need a little positive reinforcement for their efforts. There is something magical about feeling a fish at the end of your line, so a beginner needs a good dose of that magic. Beginners don’t care what species of fish or how big they are. All that will come soon enough once they are hooked on the sport. Find a bunch of sunfish or other species that will be sure to bite and have at them.

Finally, keep it fun. That sounds simple, but I see a lot of adults who take kids fishing and end up boring them to death. Remember, “sit down and be quiet” sounds more like punishment than recreation to a youngster. Kids are full of energy and like to be doing something, not sitting. Don’t make them sit and watch a stupid bobber, especially if the fish are biting well.

Tie on some kind of lure and teach them to cast and retrieve it properly. Young folks have a short attention span and are often diverted by other things around them. Let them catch bugs, pick flowers or throw stones if they want. Let then indulge their natural fascination for all the things in nature around them. You want them to want to come back outdoors.

Younger kids also will need almost constant help and supervision to make things go smoothly, so I always make working with my young student the priority in deference to my own fishing. I’ve never found that to be a sacrifice as few things are as satisfying as watching a young person catch his or her first fish.

In a time when we desperately need to engage young folks in all aspects of the natural world, I find it incredibly bothersome so many well-intentioned adults promote the route of “instant gratification” and “everybody gets a trophy.” Giving a kid a phony experience of catching a bunch of fish or big fish on an initial outing is almost a guarantee the youngster will lose interest the first time he or she has a tough day.

A much better course is to instill a fascination and appreciation for the natural world and make it fun. Most important, show them fishing is a true challenge, a sport that provides some great days to be celebrated and less successful outings that are an incentive to do better next time.

Teaching others to fish can be giving them the gift of a wholesome form of outdoor recreation, something that could potentially be a satisfying lifetime hobby.

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