When teaching a child or teen how to fish, it is critically important that they catch a fish on their first trip out, says Scott Jones, Extension specialist at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.

It can sometimes be difficult to convince children to go fishing again if their first attempt was uncomfortable or unsuccessful.

“Considering the high stakes involved in introducing a child to the joy of fishing, the best place for a beginner to learn how to fish is a well-stocked private pond,” he said. “Ponds are great for beginners because they are likely to get more bites in a short period of time.”

Try fishing derbies, lakes, rivers

Parents can also take their children to a fishing derby to teach them how to fish. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission Family and Community Fishing Program hosts fishing derbies throughout the state year-round.

“At a fishing derby, the pond where the event is hosted is stocked with fish just prior to the derby, so there are plenty fish to catch,” Jones said. “There is often music and other fun activities geared toward youth.”

Because fishing derbies are most commonly held at public ponds, a fishing license is required for all participants 16 years old and older.

Jones said lakes and rivers can also be good places to take a beginner fishing. An experienced adult should always be on-hand to ensure the safety of everyone fishing and to help children catch fish quickly and often.

During their first fishing trips, Arkansas youth can start to get familiar with the state’s different sportfish. The most common sportfish species in Arkansas are: sunfish, including bluegill, green sunfish and redear sunfish; catfish, including channel catfish, blue catfish, flathead catfish and black and yellow bullhead catfish; black bass, including largemouth and spotted bass; and crappie, including white and black crappie.

Knowing a little about the particular habits of each sportfish species will aid young anglers in catching them, Jones said.

“Sunfish species are visual predators that can be caught close to the bank of a lake, river or stream near cover,” he said. “They are best caught with live worms, crickets or small artificial lures that resemble insects.”

Black bass are also visual predators and can be caught using live minnows or shad, or artificial lures resembling baitfish, small sunfish, worms, crawfish or frogs. Likewise, crappie can be caught using live minnows or artificial lures that resemble small minnows.

Fishing techniques

As opposed to the visual predators, catfish rely on smell and taste to find their food. They can be caught using various stink bait formulas, livers or other smelly and oily lures.

Fishing techniques that work well on shallow lakes and reservoirs are also likely to work in ponds, Jones said. However, when fishing rivers, the water’s current can have a major impact on where fish position themselves.

During periods of slow or no current, fish in a river relate to cover similar to fish in ponds and lakes. Cover such as fallen timber, lily pads or stumps provides a place for fish to hide and ambush prey. During periods of moderate to high current, however, fish often take refuge in the eddies formed directly behind pieces of cover.

“Sometimes fish will position themselves directly up-current of the cover when they are actively feeding, but this takes more energy because they have to resist the current to maintain their position,” he said. “In eddies, the fish don’t have to swim as much so they can conserve their energy. Targeting eddies during periods of high current can be highly effective.”

Jones said UAPB encourages young Arkansans to try fishing because it is a hobby that anyone can enjoy regardless of their age, gender, background, race or athletic ability.

“Fishing is a hobby that not only builds an appreciation for the outdoors and natural resources, but also provides a venue where its participants can decompress and disconnect from the increasingly fast-paced society we live in,” he said. “Knowing where to fish and what to fish for can help Arkansas youth start pursuing a relaxing and fulfilling pastime.”

The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff offers all of its Extension and Research programs and services without discrimination.

— Will Hehemann is a writer/editor with the UAPB School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences.