Illustration by Paul Bunch

Take Them Fishing

Parents looking to take their kids fishing for the first time mistakenly believe the most important things they need are rods, reels, hooks and worms. Anyone who has survived this cat-herding exercise knows that Band-aids, candy, extra sets of clothing and insurance co-pays are just as necessary.

Like it or not, your kids' first fishing experience will become a regular topic at family get-togethers for decades. It also could go a long way toward determining whether your kid has a better future relationship with the outdoors or an xBox.

So don't create a day of forced fishing that ends in sunburns, crabby Tax Deductions and not a bite to show for it. And worse, don't rely on some outdoor show where they're standing over a plastic wading pool holding a dowel with line taped to it trying to catch a freaked-out trout while some hot-tub salesman pummels you about the virtues of rotating jets.

You don't have to be a cross between Zane Grey and Mr. Rogers to pull off an afternoon of fishing with your kids as long as you follow some basic rules while remembering the credo that fishing is fun, no matter what.

First, you have to pick a good day. Spring is perfect because fish are getting lively, the days aren't too hot and the NBA playoffs haven't started yet.

Then figure out where to go. Whetstone Pond at the Denman Wildlife Area, Agate Lake off Highway 140 near White City, Emigrant Lake near Ashland and Expo Pond near the Jackson County Expo Park are classic first-fish locales.

Emigrant and Agate lakes are good because they have good access and multiple species of fish in them. Kids don't know the difference between a trout and a perch and could care less, as long as they hook something that wiggles and grins.

At Emigrant Lake, Songer Wayside off Highway 66 and the shore near the county park are good spots.

At Agate, the rock dam is a good spot because kids don't have to cast far, and trying to catch lizards increases the fun factor between bites.

Expo Pond is close, well stocked and pretty kid-friendly.

For a very trouty experience, the fishing pier at Howard Prairie Resort is a solid first choice, as well.

Before you go, stock up on snacks, especially those that keep your dentist in a Mercedes.

Lollipops, Skittles, M&Ms. They're the candy du jour for fishers who can't eat that much sugar on normal days. They might want to fish with you again for no other reason than the trip to the candy aisle.

Then comes the time to choose your weapons wisely.

Fishing rods are rods unless they're under $20, which is when they officially become known as poles. First fish are caught with cheap poles — or even better, borrowed ones — not rods.

The best way to arm the pole is with a bobber and worm.

Remember how the kiddies used to stare at Barney on television like it was visual valium? Kids can get just as mesmerized watching a bobber and they get awfully excited once it starts wiggling from a nibbling fish. Of course, once they get bored, they'll probably wander around and throw rocks while keeping an occasional eye on their bobber.

To rig up a bobber, tie a swivel onto the end of the line, then attach a leader and a hook to the swivel. Thread a worm onto the hook, attach a split-shot sinker near the swivel and attach the bobber three feet or so above the worm. Just lob the bobber and worm out into the water and reel up most of the slack line.

When taking more than one kid, different colored bobbers are a good idea.

When fishing at trout lakes, the first-fish ticket often is punched with dough bait.

Dough baits, such as the popular PowerBait brand, are as close to trout crack as you can get. The baits are formulated to remind trout of their lives in hatchery ponds eating fish pellets, and they're easy to use.

First, slide a small egg sinker up the line, then tie a swivel onto the end of the line. Attach a small treble hook (usually sizes 10 to 14) and leader to the swivel.

Take a gob of the dough bait (rainbow and chartreuse are top sellers for a reason) and roll it into a ball about the size of a small marble. Then push the hook into the ball until it is invisible.

Cast the bait out, and after it settles reel in the slack until the line is straight but not dragging the sinker. The dough bait will float off the bottom, and trout usually hit it hard. And they usually do so when the kids aren't watching, so make sure the pole butt is jammed under a rock or something heavy so it won't launch into the lake never to be seen again.

Unlike the kids.

Put a kid next to a lake for more than five minutes, and it's inevitable they will get wet and muddy. That's why a towel and change of clothes can save your car from looking and smelling like Emigrant Lake for a week.

And while they're snacking and slipping and wading and throwing rocks and chasing lizards, you can't even entertain the notion of fishing yourself. Your time will be spent untangling their bird's-nest tangles of line, rebaiting hooks and passing the Dorrito's until someone notices that a bobber seems to be missing or a pole is sliding into the water.

The fight can be chaotic, and that's not the time to give a Field-and-Stream discourse on fish-landing techniques. Just tell them to keep a bend in the pole and reel it in.

If somebody manages to get the fish up to the bank, that's the time to remember where you stowed those thin-nosed pliers you last used to pull a hook out of your kid's clothes.

Use the pliers to remove the hook from the trout's mouth, then pull out your phone for a jpeg moment. That image of your happy kid holding his or her first fish will live as your screensaver for years.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or Follow him on Twitter at

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