Lydia and Taylor Williams

Kids like action, and small sunfish are among the best at consistently delivering the goods. Matt’s three-year-old granddaughter, Lydia, and daughter, Taylor, recently joined in the fun on an East Texas lake.

We’re on the cusp of another Texas summer and school is out for thousands of youngsters on the hunt for something fun to do. Whether you are a family guy with a couple of kids to entertain, or a single mom hoping to steer a young boy or girl in a positive direction, there may not be a better way to fill the bill than spending a day or weekend wetting a line on a Texas lake, pond, river or stream.

Fishing is a great sport the entire family can enjoy. Clean and wholesome, it’s also a fun way to pass a lazy summer afternoon, especially when the fish are biting.

A report from the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation indicates plenty of folks are reeling in the message.

The report shows more than 49 million Americans went fishing in 2018. It’s the highest total since 1991, including 3 million who fished for the first time. Hispanic participation also hit an all-time high at 4.2 million.

Fishing isn’t just a guy thing, either. The RBFF report shows 17.1 million females fished in 2018 and represented 45 percent of the sport’s new recruits.

It’s even more encouraging to see more youngsters baiting up. Youth participation in fishing has been on a steady upswing since 2010. The report says nearly 12 million kids wet a line in America last year.

The RBFF keeps close check on the pulse of recreational fishing and boating participation across America.

 The non-profit organization formed in 1998 and has since built key alliances with industry leaders and many state agencies like the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department with the common goal of enticing new recruits to the water.

They hope to see participation increase to 60 million nationwide by 2021.

Reaching out to Beginners

RBFF’s most successful outreach program is TAKEMEFISHING.org. The popular website contains a wealth of useful information about different species of fish, knot tying, catch and release, and fishing with artificial and live baits.

There also are links dedicated to lady anglers, state licensing requirements, free fishing events and an interactive map that shows hundreds of different places to fish and boat around the country. You can even post pictures of a youngster’s first catch and interact with other new anglers via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media.

TPWD’s Angler Education Program (tpwd.texas.gov/education/angler-education) is another good online resource for beginning anglers eager to learn about fishing basics.

The website provides links to all sorts of instructional videos and a full schedule of instructed fishing classes and fishing derbies on tap throughout the summer at various Texas state parks.

There also is a list of locations where you can borrow rods, reels and other gear for up to seven days. Some locations require a deposit for loaner gear made available through grant money and donations.

Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris knows the value of getting more anglers involved in fishing. He recently donated 55,000 rods and reels to youth focused nonprofit organizations to kickoff the Bass Pro Shops/Cabelas “Gone Fishing” program. Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s have donated more than 400,000 items to youth outreach organizations across North America since the program’s inception.

“The most special memories in life come from spending time in nature with those you care about,” says Morris. “For me, it all started with fishing. We want to help as many kids as we can discover the joy of fishing – on the ocean, in a lake or on a stream – so we’re donating thousands of fishing poles, inviting families to catch their first fish at Bass Pro Shops and encouraging everyone to take someone they love fishing this summer.”      

There are plenty of good places to fish in Texas. In addition to hundreds of public reservoirs, miles of coastline and saltwater bays, there are creeks, streams and rivers full of fish willing to bite a hook.

Don’t have a boat? Public fishing piers, docks and private stock tanks are great options for bank fishermen. Another good one is the Neighborhood Fishin’ program run by TPWD.

The program is built around 19 community lakes and ponds. Most are located in close proximity to larger cities, usually in park-like settings that offer easy access.

The lakes are generously stocked with fish, usually at two week intervals. Hatchery raised channel catfish are stocked from spring through fall and rainbow trout during the winter months, when the water is cooler.

Anglers can keep up to five fish per day with no minimum size limit; some sites have cleaning facilities.

There is a comprehensive list of stocking dates listed for each lake on the program website, tpwd.texas.gov/fishboat/fish/management/stocking/neighborhood-fishin.phtml. The action can be particularly fast soon after the fish are released.

You will need your own gear. Fishing is allowed with pole and line only with the limit of two poles per person. Youths under 17 don’t need a license to fish. Adults are required to have a valid license and Freshwater Fishing Stamp.

Getting Hooked on Fishing

It’s one thing to introduce a beginner to fishing. The trick is doing it in a way that they don’t spit the hook.

Here are a few tips for gleaned through personal experiences and conversations with other fishing mentors. Following them won’t guarantee you will reel in a lifetime fishing partner, but it is sure to help keep the kinks out of the line:

Patience: One of the worst things you can do as a fishing mentor is lose your cool when a beginner isn’t performing up to your expectations.

Some people catch on faster than others. Blow a fuse with a rookie angler, particularly a young child, and it could break their fishing spirit long before it has the opportunity to fully develop.  

Don’t Push It: You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t force it to drink. They same is true of kids and fishing.

You can take a kid fishing, but you can’t force them to like it right away. Just because a kid doesn’t take to the sport at age 6 does not mean their interests won’t change later on. Always make the offer to take them but never force the issue.

Let the Kid Take You Fishing: It’s futile to try to make a child watch a bobber dancing on the surface when they are more interested in playing with the bait or shells along the shore.

The idea is to make the fishing trip as enjoyable as possible so they will want to go back, not an exercise in misery. Let the child do what they want, so long as they aren’t bothering anyone else or in danger of getting hurt.

Make It Fun: I recently took my three-year-old granddaughter, Lydia, on her first fishing trip. It was like an instant replay of her mother’s first trip 26 year ago.

She was way more interested in munching on snacks and playing with the earthworms we used for bait than anything else.

Lydia never reeled in the first bluegill but the outing was still a success in my book because she has been talking about going back ever since.

Make Them Comfortable: Texas summers are brutally hot. It’s always best to take youngsters fishing early in the morning or late in the afternoon, when the sun is low and temperatures are coolest. The fish are usually more cooperative during low light conditions.

If it’s sunny and hot take shelter beneath the shade of a tree or a covered dock. Be sure to bring along plenty of sunscreen, snacks and cold drinks, but leave the video games and iPads at home.

Fish That Bite

Kids like action. It’s always best take youngsters fishing for fish that don’t require much skill to catch and are fairly cooperative most of the time.

Here are the best bets:

Top Choice: Bluegills

Bluegills and other small sunfish are abundant in freshwaters around the state. They don’t get big, but they are super competitive and almost always willing to bite a baited hook.

Best Places: Shaded docks, shoreline weed beds, over hanging trees or other cover the fish can use to hide from larger predators.

The bite can be particularly fast when the fish are ganged up in spawning colonies in shallow water from June through August.

Best Baits: Small wax worms, grasshoppers, crickets and earthworms. Berkley PowerBait Power Wigglers are a great manufactured bait.

Fishing Tip: Use a small hook and small bait to accommodate the bluegill’s tiny mouth. A lightweight bobber like the Thill Shy Bite is a big help for detecting subtle bites.

Second Choice: Channel Cat

Channel catfish tend to run in large schools and can be highly competitive when feeding. They are among finest eating fish around.

Best Places: Channel cat are abundant in many reservoirs and rivers. They can be caught near shore or away from the bank around creek channels and in standing timber.

Best Baits: Live shiners, grasshoppers, night crawlers, prepared cheese and punch baits.

Fishing Tip: Channel cat feed largely by a keen sense of smell. Baiting a hole with soured grain-like maize is a good way to spark a feeding frenzy. Souring grain is easy. Fill a 5-gallon bucket 1/2 to 3/4 full with grain, cover with water and the lid slightly cracked. A few days in sun will give the grain a very poignant odor. Use a coffee can to spread grain up down the sides of the boat, but don’t use too much. The idea is to lure the fish in, not feed them until they get full.

Third Choice: Crappie

Crappie spend most of their lives roaming in large schools away from the bank, usually in relation to cover and structure. Considered by many to be one freshwater’s best eating fish.

Best Places: Standing timber, docks, bridge pilings and brush piles.

Best Baits: Small jigs and live shiners.

Fishing Tip: Crappie are prone to suspend in the water column. Once the correct depth is determined, suspend a bait at that depth using a slip cork or on a tight line and and wait for the bite.

Fourth Choice: White Bass/Hybrids

White bass and hybrids are a brawny fish with an attitude. They spend summers in open water, usually in large schools. The fish are super aggressive when the dinner bell rings.

Best Places: Fast action often occurs away from the bank when the fish are schooling on the surface or grouped on underwater humps, points and roadbeds.

Best Baits: Live shiners, cut shad, slab spoons, crankbaits, Rat-L-Traps and topwaters.

Fishing Tip: Use the trolling motor to move quietly within casting distance of fish that are schooling on the surface. Outboard engine noise will spook the fish and could spoil a golden opportunity.

Matt Williams is a freelance writer based in Nacogdoches. He can be reached by e-mail, mattwillwrite4u@yahoo.com.