Some suggestions if you're wondering how to introduce a child to America's favorite recreational activity. First, a few don'ts.

Don't start with a costly rod and reel. You wouldn't start a young golfer, say, with a $1,000 set of clubs, and the same holds true for the beginning fisher.

At the same time, don't buy super cheapies that might break on the first outing, and don't copy the mistake of an acquaintance of mine who routinely hands his kids outlandishly sized saltwater trolling gear, then tells his boys -- ages seven and nine -- to go to a nearby farmpond to try to catch little sunfish. All this with line strong enough to tow a boat, and a reel and rod big enough to land a marlin.

Instead, visit a neighborhood sports shop or department store and take a close look at what fishing-tackle manufacturers call "starter outfits." They come pre-packed with rod and reel, already loaded with line, and often include a fish stringer or a small lure pack. Average cost: $13 to $20. At the risk of being accused of crass commercialism, I recommend sticking with well-known brand names such as Garcia, Shakespeare, Zebco, Johnson, Daiwa or Shimano, to name a few.

For example, the Garcia Kingfisher 43 spinning reel and rod combination is ideal. So is a Zebco 202 or 404 matched spincast combo. All tackle companies produce similar outfits in the same price range. Along with the starter outfit, buy several packets of snelled hooks, sizes 3 or 4 (not 3/0 or 4/0). Then add a few medium-size plastic floats -- also called bobbers -- to keep the bait from snagging on underwater obstacles.

And where should the equipment be used? Young anglers are better off looking to small freshwater ponds and creeks where sunfish, crappies, catfish and little bass abound. In such places success will come almost without fail, which is most important. You'll never turn kids into fishing fanatics by making them suffer through lengthy, unproductive outings.

When you get to the chosen spot, tie the hook to the line; pinch a float to the line about 21/2 feet above the hook. Cut a nightcrawler into half-inch-long pieces and pierce one of the slivers onto the hook making sure most of the hook metal is covered by the worm. (Any tackleshop and many convenience stores will supply you with a dozen nightcrawlers for $1.50.)

That's it. The line can be cast toward a waterlogged fallen tree, a rock, anything that looks like sanctuary for a fish. With a bit of backyard casting practice, the new angler can become amazingly accurate. The sunfish or juvenile bass will do the rest. Later, as confidence grows, you can add a small tacklebox to the inventory, loaded with "retrieve" lures. Top fish-catchers for all types of freshwater fish are Mepps and Roostertail spinners in sizes 1, 2 and 3. But these spinners must be immediately retrieved by turning the reel handle after they hit the water, or they'll be lost to pond-bottom snags.

The rest of a seasoned fisherman's inventory comes in due time. Plastic worms, spinnerbaits, topwater buzzers, plastic jigs, frogs, flyrod equipment -- you name it.