The largest key to getting a kid hooked is success and having fun.
I may have been all of 8 years old when my mom brought me to Byron Lake State Park in Oakdale. I had my fishing rod, a few hooks and some nightcrawlers I had dug up the day before. I fished for what seemed like forever to no avail. Then I decided for no good reason at all to go drop a line down the grate that was letting water exit the lake. Within seconds I hooked a “monster” catfish – remember guys, I was 8 – and then could not get him up through the grate. I was heartbroken when I lost him, but I was also hooked on catching more, and larger fish. This experience helped build my lifelong passion for fishing. The moral to this is simple – give a rod, reel, bobber and a worm, and they will be hooked for life.
Planning Leads To Success
Before you go throwing your child at the local lake with a worm and rod, you need to make some careful planning. The largest key to getting a kid hooked is success and having fun. With this in mind, you need to do a little research and fishing on your own first to ensure their first time goes much smoother. Talk to your local tackle shops about what lakes are active and what fish are in them as well as good access points. The worst thing you can do is bring a child fishing and catch nothing! Their attention span will be short, so activity is critical. As they grow into an avid angler, they will realize fishing is more than just catching. The initial way to get them hooked is with good action and no I don’t mean physically hooked. That may cause them to give up fishing for a long time.
Your first trip in my opinion should be a lake with an abundance of panfish. Bluegill, yellow perch and crappie are good starters. They are easy to catch, bite virtually all the time, and fight pretty good. Look for a lake that you can see active fish in. This is done by look for beds (nests) where fish have laid eggs or are protecting. They will look like circles of sand and can be easily seen. One area that comes to mind is Upper Lake in Yaphank. Right along the new dock line, you can see countless nests.
Before heading out with the kids, give the lake a try for yourself and make sure the fish do indeed bite!
Lets Go Fishing
Tackle is simple. A 5- to 6-foot light action spinning rod matched to a 2000 size reel is perfect. They are easy to cast and will handle any fish you encounter. This may sound silly, but I still like a 10-pound test braid and a 6-pound test leader for the line. The braid will make for longer casts, which the kids love, and will not wind loop as easy as mono. I am not a fan of closed spool spincasters, but they are easy to use, although a little time spent on a spinning reel is also pretty easy once you get the hang of it. Besides a spinning reel is by far most popular so getting them used to that from the start will give them an advantage. When selecting hooks, snelled Eagle Claws in size 6 or 8 is the way to go.
Another fun way to start them is to “snatch” nightcrawlers the day before. I remember using a flashlight at night after watering the lawn, or a good rainfall to snatch them. It is really fun and makes for a good start. You can grab a dozen worms at your local tackle shop too but I believe catching your own bait makes the whole experience more entertaining if you can go that route.
Okay, you have the bait, you have picked a lake, and you are on your way. When you arrive at the lake, show your child the active beds you found. This will show them the fish are there and get them excited.
Depending on their age, you can rig them up, or show them how to hook a worm before casting, Also depending on age, you can let them cast, or you can cast and then show them how to hold the rod and reel and when to reel it back in. Remember, they are kids, so reeling it back in could happen quite often. Remember to have patience.
Utilizing a float will give the kids a good look at when they should reel and when to leave it in the spot. Show them how the float works and how it will let them know a fish has taken his bait and when to begin reeling. Don’t worry about hook sets at this point, most panfish will grab it well enough to be reeled in. After catching your fish, you can teach catch and release, or you can allow them to keep a few for dinner that night. The first fish I ever ate was huge bluegills from Brookwood Hall in Islip. They were great fried up and I learned how to clean them (with help of course because youngsters need not be playing with a sharp knife!).
Let’s also not forget about the vast trout fishing opportunities that Long Island has to offer. Every year a list of lakes is filled with beautiful rainbow and brown trout that are quite easy for kids to catch. The Fisherman Magazine publishes a list of all these locations in the April issue with the quantity of fish stocked and an estimated time that they are released into these bodies of water. Use the same guidelines I mentioned above to catch these fish.
Long Island’s Best Kid-Friendly Lakes
By far, in my opinion, the best lake is Upper Yaphank Lake. The lake has ample parking and a nice new dock spanning the north end making it easy to throw a line in. The lake also holds an abundance of panfish, trout and some large bass. When you arrive, the best place for panfish is the shallow area on the east side of the lake off the sandy beach or the east side of the dock near the cattails.
Moving south, Brookwood Hall in Islip has always been a favorite of mine, especially since I grew up in Islip. This lake has a solid supply of panfish and some bass as well. The panfish are usually close to the dam and along the east side of the lake all the way back to the dock about mid-way down.
If you live in Nassau County, the entire Massapequa chain of lakes holds panfish, trout, pickerel and bass. Park on the north side of Sunrise Highway and the lake is a short walk away. There are ample areas to fish, but again, close to, or adjacent to the dam is best for panfish.
Although access is very limited, if you live on the North Fork, nothing beats Great Pond in Southold. You will need a Southold parking pass and access is tight, but there is enough shoreline and plenty of fish to make it worth the trip. I like the area on the south side near the small launch area. Walk through the cattails about 20 yards to a small sandy spot.
Gibbs Pond in Ronkonkoma is small but has a load of bluegills in it. What makes this spot appealing is there is a playground across the street in case the fish are not biting, you can take a break with the kids and hit the park.
There are tons of other lakes on Long Island – Lake Ronkonkoma, West and Patchogue lakes, Laurel Lake, Peconic River system and Fort Pond in Suffolk. Belmont Lake offers some fine kid-friendly fishing in the spring as well. It is stocked quite well with trout. In Nassau, Hempstead Lake State Park, Brady Park, Smiths and Lofts Pond Park will all hold a solid supply of panfish and other species.
The time is fast approaching and warmer weather means it’s time to get the kids out. Snatch some worms, set up the rods and reels, and let’s go fishing!