A freckle-faced child, sitting by Dad on a grassy riverbank, dangles his bare feet in a cooling spring breeze. Lazily, the anglers probe pools for prey bent on stealing a garden worm or minnow. The bobber rides up and down on the ripples before suddenly ducking under the water while the line begins to cut in circles.
At this moment, two freshmen fishermen pioneer the combined thrill and confusion of catching their first fish. But before this watery moment of wonder unfolds, chances are they have already managed to spill the bait, snag their lines on pesky branches, trespass on a dweller's land or take an unscheduled dip in the water.
Few rules or guidelines will spare the novice angler from the fickle fates of fishing a type of recreation Izaac Walton dubbed "an art and an art worth your learning" in The Compleat Angler.
But a few suggestions, liberally applied, can help prevent a totally misspent afternoon of unwinding lives and lines.
At the outset, get a map of the local fishing waters. Stop by a local bait and tackle shop or call a knowedgeable friend and find out where the fish are biting. Pay attention to the weather. Wind and rain are rarely the fisherman's friends, but a cloudy day can be an asset, especially in very hot weather.
After you have selected a destination and mapped your course, buy your gear accordingly. By and large, different types of equipment are needed for fresh-and salt-water fishing. With a salesman's help, select an inexpensive outfit (less than $50 for rod, reel, line, bobbers, hooks and net) to begin with.
Then spend an hour in the back yard with all trainees. Tie the bobber on the end of the line, attach a small weight and practice casting. Unless restricted by natural formations, always cast with the rod tip straight up, instead of whipping it behind your shoulder and letting ti fly. This can prevent a lot of snags, such as in human flesh.
For fresh-water fishing, a pair of polarized sunglasses are mandatory: They cut the glare of the water and uncover schools of fish that would otherwise go undetected.
In general, the first fishing trip should be made on land. There's enough to do, expecially on a family outing with little children, on shore without having to worry about overturning a canoe or wrestling with the wind in a rowboat.
After checking to see if the site is posted "No Fishing," ask any nearby land-owners for permission to fish. This can provide an avenue to new friends and valuable information on local fishing conditions.
Next, approach the water's edge with caution. At lakeside, deer and beaver are often stirring. The river's edge can appear sturdy while a grassy lip that covers an eroded bank of soil can lead to an unplanned swim.
Rule 1 is that fish like worms (and minnows too). It may sound silly, but worms and minnows can provide a brisk day of action. Artificial lures require a higher degree of skill, and are more expensive.
Once at the site, place the fat, bulging section of the worm on the hook and slide it all the way up on the shank of the hook. Depending upon the depth of the water (easily checked with a nearby stick), place the the bobber about two feet above the bait.
Find a deep pool or quiet recess and cast. Once the first fish strikes your bait and the bobber disapperars under the water, be patient, and let the fish "take the bait." Count to three, firmly set hook by pulling the rod upward and toward you in the same motion. Then keep the rod held high to prevent the fish from escaping.
Reel the fish in as it swims toward you. Net it, then remove it from the net while standing away from the water. Hold the hook with one hand and grab the fish by folding the dorsal fins down on its back.
If it meets the legal standards, or if you intend to eat your catch, ice it down to keep it from rapidly decomposing. If not, return it gently to the water to prevent further injury. Do not simply throw it back. Properly handled, the fish will survive.
Fishing is a great family opportuinty to commune with nature. So take time to learn the land and water. Follow Rule 2 and never liter. Be patient with children and don't be afraid to experiment after you feel comfortable with the basic skills that lead to piscatoral bliss.
Then follow Rule 3: Have a good time.