Pick a warm day, and take your youngster to a dock on a pond or a lake for sunfish. Beginnings are a delicate thing, and no one likes to get skunked, especially kids.
It’s nice to know what you’re catching and sunfishes are an amazingly diverse group. All are members of the large Centrachidae family, which includes freshwater basses, crappies, bluegill, pumpkinseed, and others. In all, there are 27 species and all are native to North America. The classic group of sunfishes, a.k.a. panfishes, are all included on the Sunfishes of North America wall poster.
Any light-weight fishing pole will do with a small reel and some 2- to 4-pound test line. You don’t even really need a reel. This might be the time to use that old cane pole in the garage or to cut a branch from a willow and make one yourself.
The Hook and Knot
Use a number 6 hook, tied on the line using a clinch knot:
A simple one-inch adjustable bobber will do the trick. Place the bobber 18 inches above the hook.
Earthworms (cut in small portions) are the traditional bait. You can also use live crickets (easy to catch in the cool of the morning), bits of soft pet food, small balls of white bread, mealworms, or even uncooked bacon. Sunnies will bite at just about anything.
Toss the baited hook and bobber toward the shore or near the protective cover of the dock. Let it splash down and wait three seconds (counting it out with your child). Reel or pull the bobber back toward you, 12 inches, and let it sit. Keep an eye on it. It won’t take long for the nibbling to begin. When the bobber goes under, give a slight tug to set the hook, and then slowly reel it in. Don’t yank too hard, lest your child be unceremoniously introduced to a flying fish! If the bobber is just bobbing and not going under, try a smaller bit of bait.
Before you get home, be sure to work out your story together. How big was the fish? How many did you catch? Fish stories are an integral part of the experience, and while we don’t advocate fibbing, a little hyperbole won’t hurt.