Lifetime of angling begins with a few simple steps
Advanced anglers have access to volumes of information about tips and tactics, but what about people who want to learn to fish?
With such a wide array of tackle, lures, boats, depthfinders and other “essential” equipment, entering the fishing world can be daunting for newcomers. The most successful bass tournament pros were once beginners, and they started with basic tactics and equipment, too.
Here is a quick primer on how to get started:
Despite the fishing media’s tendency to overcomplicate, fishing is essentially trying to fool an animal to bite something that is unnatural in its natural environment.
Live bait on a hook is the nearest approximation to natural prey, so a fish is more likely to eat a live creature more readily than an imposter made of plastic or wood.
Sometimes, you don’t even need bait. When I was 8 years old, I caught dozens of bream on a bare hook at a golf course pond. That was a once-in-a-lifetime event, though. Bait is required, along with line and a hook.
A pole or rod is required, too, although as a child, I spent many days fishing creeks in and around Sherwood with only a spool of cheap line from K-Mart. I unwrapped as much line as I needed from the spool and simply pitched the hook, line and bobber into the water and caught multitudes of bream, catfish and even crappie. That’s making things unnecessarily hard, though.
You can catch plenty of fish from the bank, so boats aren’t required.
All you really need is desire and a sense of adventure.
A fishing rod is essentially a device to deliver a lure to a greater distance more accurately than you can throw it by hand. It also tires and ultimately subdues a fish.
You can make your own rod from a willow branch or from a cane stalk. Cut a circular notch near the tip of the branch to hold the initial line loop. Cinch the loop knot tightly into the notch and then wrap an appropriate amount of line around the tip. Twenty feet is enough. You’ll have no more than 6 feet to 7 feet of line out at once, but the extra reservoir around the tip will enable you to retie if your terminal line frays or breaks.
From ages 6-10, I used a rod with a broken tip that my dad put out to the trash. Fishing rods were comparatively more expensive and harder to find in Little Rock in the late 1960s and early 1970s, so I was glad to have it.
Nowadays, you can buy a fully rigged spinning rig complete with line for $20 or less. Pawnshops and yard sales are good places to find tackle, too.
For beginners, you can’t beat a spincasting reel. It’s the push-button type with a cone over the spool. It’s easy to cast and easy to retrieve. Push the button and release the button at the lure’s release point.
While spincasters are considered entry-level equipment, some of the big boys use them on the sly. Woo Daves, who won the 2000 Bassmaster Classic, used a Zebco 808 to win a Bassmaster tournament in 1991.
Spinning reels are the next step up, and they are almost as easy to master as spincasters.
A spinning reel consists of an open-faced spool with an oscillating bail that wraps line around the spool while reeling.
To cast, lift the bail and pull down a small amount of line. Pin the line to the bottom of the rod with your finger. Lift your finger at the release point to launch your bait. Pull the bail down to put tension on the line and keep it secured to the spool.
Most spinning reels have a drag tensioning knob on the front of the spool, but some have the knob on the rear of the reel. Tighten the tensioner to produce the desired amount of drag. Mainly, your spool should remain stationary when you set the hook. It should only let out line under strong tension or from a strong jolt.
Baitcasting reels are the final step in the progression. Because of their ability to backlash, we don’t recommend them for beginners.
On the other hand, if you master a baitcaster in your beginner phase, your learning curve will flatten immensely.
Nothing catches fish better than a live grasshopper. Not worms, not crickets, nothing.
Unfortunately, catching grasshoppers can be harder than catching fish. They’re fast, and they can fly a long way. They are also escape artists.
I learned this as a kid when I imprisoned a big mess of grasshoppers in a paper bag. With their caustic saliva, those hoppers utterly destroyed that bag before I reached the fishing hole.
If you use grasshoppers or crickets, you’ll need a cricket bucket or a tube. Both are made of wire or plastic mesh. A bucket is open at the top, with a plastic flange that’s flush at the top of the bucket but extends inside. This prevents crickets and grasshoppers from climbing out. Apparently they don’t know how to jump out.
A tube has a stopper or a sliding tab over a tapered end. Open the top and shake a cricket into your hand.
Worms also work great, and you can dig your own from garden soil, compost or decomposed leaf litter. Put them in a can and cover them with moist soil.
The problem with worms is that bream are experts at eating them without getting hooked. No matter how well you thread a worm on a hook, bream will nip and tug until they pull the worm free.
Big bream are more likely to eat it whole, as are bass and catfish, but most of the bream you’ll find in creeks are small.
For my money, nothing works better than a small chunk of raw bacon fat with a slight ribbon of lean. The oil attracts all kinds of fish, especially bream and catfish.
Bacon is tough, so fish can’t pull it away from a hook. When a fish bites, it actually forces the bacon up the shank. Just reposition it after you unhook your fish. It will endure and remain effective all day.
WHERE TO FISH
There are plenty of places to fish in central Arkansas, especially in Little Rock.
You can catch catfish and bream from the bank at the ponds at MacArthur Park. You can also fish in Rock Creek in Boyle Park, where the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission stocks trout in the winter, and in the Arkansas River at Murray Park, and Cooks Landing at Murray Lock and Dam.
Bank fishing is also available in Maumelle at Lake Willastein.
Gloria Perez and Maria Perez, 3, fish from the bank recently on the Tennessee River in Chattanooga, Tenn. Using the most simple techniques and tackle, fishing can quickly and easily become an enjoyable activity for the entire family.
There’s no telling how many anglers got started with simple spincasting rigs such as the Zebco 202 and Zebco Delta (left photo), which are simple and easy to use. A spinning rig is almost as easy and is more versatile. As for bait, a cricket bucket (right photo, left) allows you to easily transport and access crickets. Children like them because they can reach in and handle crickets without them escaping. The Frabill Crawler Can keeps worms cool and fresh all day by way of an ice chamber on the bottom.