Showing youngsters the joy of fishing

  Dave Mull photoThis small bass thrilled Asher Bowater, seen here holding it up for the camera with his dad Ben Bowater at his side. He released it in hopes it would grow to legal size.

What a fun, productive day the four of us had in my poor neglected MirroCraft Tuesday.

I took my church pastor Ben Bowater, along with his 8- and 11-year old sons Asher and Judah, fishing on Van Buren County’s Shafer Lake.

My worries leading up to the trip were manifold: We might not catch any fish. My boat might not work. The kids might not have a good time. I might let fly with some words that shouldn’t be exclaimed in front of children and a Christian preacher.

My main concern was catching panfish, the main target of the morning. Pastor Ben rarely has time to fish and when he does, he wants to catch fish to eat. He’s all about the fish fry. On a kayak trip about five years ago with his eldest son, Ben, I lucked into a true lunker of a largemouth bass, which I insisted on releasing.

“Gotta tell you Dave,” Ben said at the time, “if I’d have caught that fish, it would have been headed for the frying pan.”

It’s not easy (for me, anyway) to switch gears from the kayak bass fishing I’d done all spring and to targeting panfish from my 17-foot aluminum boat. Tuesday was to be only the third time it was on the water in 2019. It also would be the first time this year that I would try to have my guests catch bluegills.

That meant finding light-action rods, bobbers, hooks and sinkers. After poking around the piles of tackle in my storage trailer (I’ve taken to calling that area “Big Dave’s Tackle Morass”) no hooks or bobbers showed themselves.

I decided to just go to D&R Sports and buy them. After all, I had to buy some wax worms there anyway, right? I didn’t buy any sinkers because I knew I had several containers of them. After not finding even one lead fishing weight, I drove to Walmart Monday night and bought a pack of those, too.

I found six lightweight spinning rods (two would beheld in reserve just in case of a hopeless tangle or a rod getting dropped into the water. When we met at the ramp as the sun brightened the gray sky we dropped the boat in the water and started fishing.

Since the kids had not yet gained proficiency at casting, we decided to tie on small worms (aka Ned rigs) and cast for bass. The casting would be good practice before the boys had to chuck bobbers with four feet of line dangling down to the hook and wax worm.

That part of the plan worked pretty well. In no time, Asher was tied into his first ever bass, and although it was only about 10 inches long, he was thrilled to catch it. Soon, both boys were showing that they could cast accurately, so we re-rigged our rods with bobbers, hooks and sinkers.

Action now became non-stop. The boys cast wax worms over shallow weeds and small but eager bluegills attacked.

I could see no beds with fish on them, so we backed off and started fishing deeper. I tied up “drop-shot” rigs with a split-shot sinker on the line’s end wth a hook tied on up above. Our hooks were No. 10 Tru Turn brand and the boys quickly learned how to efficiently impale a wax worm to help it stay on the hook.

More as a joke than anything, I’d brought an electronic stopwatch that had a “counter” mode that was advanced by simply clicking a button. I didn’t want us to surpass the state limit of 25 apiece, 100 total fish. When the counter hit “7” after about two hours, I didn’t bother clicking anymore as 100 fish was way out of reach.

The best part of taking kids fishing is remembering how thrilling catching a fish used to be for us older guys. Asher’s first bass thrilled him to the core, and several times during the day he’d exclaim “I like fishing” without any prompting.

Ben then caught a the day’s first dandy bluegill on the drop-shotfished right on bottom in 20 feet of water. It appeared to be a spawned-out female, but we never spotted males guarding nests up shallow. I caught a perch deemed large enough to fillet on the rig, also from about 20 feet of water and we all kept catching bluegills.

The big surprise came about 11 a.m. as we worked down the western shoreline towards where the lake nearly meets I-94. I felt a distinct tap of a fish inhaling my wax worm and set the hookinto something that felt consderably bigger than the bluegills we’d caught. Soon a silvery shape showed itself in the clear water.

“Hey, it’s a trout!” I exclaimed. We just got the net under the 3-pound rainbow befoe the hook came out of the fish’s lip. We added another jumbo bluegill and a 15-inch bass before quitting.

The Bowaters would have their fish fry and I lost my fear of taking fairly inexperienced kids fishing for panfish.

I can’t wait to take that trio out after some fish again.

Outdoors columnist Dave Mull lives in Paw Paw. Write to him at dave.sportfish.mull@gmail.com.