Remember, at heart, it’s child’s play

Remember, at heart, it’s child’s play


Mike Roberts

Getting a child started on fishing is one of the most interesting experiences in life. Most of the time it will be fun for both you and the child, but I do have to admit that at times it can be frustrating.

In my time in the outdoors I have seen just about every scenario that can take place while teaching a kid how to fish. Fishing can be fun and relaxing if you let it be, especially when it comes to tutoring youngsters into the fun of fishing. And let’s face it, fishing is supposed to be fun.

To begin with: Keep it simple!

That was one of the first things I learned while teaching my own kids and a host of neighborhood kids how to enjoy fishing. There is nothing that will turn a kid off from fishing than a trip that does not provide fishing action of some kind.

As adults, we often get turned on to a specific species of fish and then target that species for the majority of our fishing trips, including taking a youngster out to show him what “fun” we are having while fishing.

Fortunately, I grew up in a family that was not species-oriented when it came to fishing. We fished for food, and a trip to a body of water to catch a stringer of bluegills or yellow perch for a fish fry was not at all uncommon.

Fishing for bluegills and other types of sunfish does not require any type of hi-tech fishing equipment and, if you are in a spot that harbors a healthy population of bluegills and yellow perch or even bullheads, you are in the right spot to get a kid hooked on fishing.

Sunfish are very cooperative when it comes to taking a baited hook. Baits like worms or nightcrawlers are dynamite when it comes to catching them.

And the nice part about child just starting fishing is that the excitement comes from catching any fish, including undersized sunfish that can be returned to the water to grow a bit before becoming the staple of a fish fry.

Believe me when I tell you, this comes from personal experience. One time I took our kids, Michael, Keith, George and Kyle, down to the Meriden Rod & Gun Club trout pond. I figured that catching a couple of trout might spike their fishing interests and I knew that the pond had a nice population of trout. As it turned out, it was our son Keith who would become the fisherman of the family. While the other kids knew how to fish, it was not No. 1 on their list of things to do.

I had a couple of baited lines in the water and the action was a bit slow and the kids started to wander away in search of a little more “action.” After a while I saw them laying on their bellies on a wall at the club pond and they were doing their own style of fishing, led by Keith. They had found a length of discarded fishing line in a trash barrel alongside the pond with an old hook still on it. They then turned over a couple of rocks until they found a small garden worm to bait the hook and they were now focusing their attention to catching some small bluegills that also inhabited the pond. And they were having a ball hooking and landing these little sunfish with their homemade fishing equipment and then returning them to the water.

I had found the secret to introducing kids to the fun of fishing: fish that provided action like the tiny sunfish that were there for them to pursue. Being kids, they did not need to have a trout or largemouth bass to provide the action. As far as they were concerned, any fish would do just so they provided some fun to catch.

Probably the most important ingredient to teaching a child how to enjoy fishing is patience on the part of the instructor (meaning you). To a child just starting to learn about fishing, any fish caught by them is a trophy. You only have to be at one of the area children’s fishing derbies to observe this as a child proudly walks up to the judging table with an undersized fish to be checked in and then returned to the water to be caught another day.

Years ago, as a young father with four sons, I was lucky enough to be “taught” by them on how to have fun while fishing. I was divorced and had remarried to my darlin’ Edna and we made our home in South Meriden. I would get the kids on a weekend and many time a fishing trip was involved. Back then, Broad Brook reservoir was open by permit before some uncaring slobs littered the shoreline resulting in the closing of the fishing there.

If the neighborhood kids knew there was a fishing trip coming up they would show up with their fishing rods and I would take them all to Broad Brook. The kids had a ball and they really kept me on my toes as I shepherded them for the morning.

The most memorable incident on one of those trips was when I heard the cry, “Mr. Roberts, Larry has a fishing hook stuck up his nose!”

One can only imagine the thoughts that ran through my mind as I raced over to help Larry (no need for a last name). It seems that Larry was fishing with a bobber and when the bobber went under water signaling a bite, he yanked the rod so hard the hook came flying out of the water and found its way up his nose.

Now what are the odds of that happening?

I had Larry lay down on the ground and, luckily, the hook had not penetrated the skin and I was able to slide it out from his nose without injury. (Doc Roberts, that’s me.)

And kids being kids, the incident did nothing to put a damper on our fishing. They went back to catching the ingredients of another fish fry.

So, we know that when getting a kid hooked on fishing it should be simple (no adult pressure to do better), fish for a species that is easy to catch like bluegills (praise their efforts), yet we are missing one other ingredient: food!

Just like an army, kids travel with a need for some kind of snack to keep them going. When I used to take a bunch of kids (ours and the neighbors) I always carried extra snacks and sweet drinks just in case. If the action slows and their attention begins to wane, a snack break usually gets them through till the fish start to bite again.

That being said, why not get your kids hooked on fishing? We now have Mirror Lake at Hubbard Park right here in Meriden that offers easy access to fishermen of all ages and physical disabilities. Yes, I know at one time Mirror Lake was a children-only place to fish, but amidst our changing times that have put the lives of unattended children in danger (parents are now even afraid to leave their children unattended on their own driveways waiting for a school bus to pick them up) Mirror Lake lost its appeal as a children-only fishing spot.

The City of Meriden and its councilors showed their wisdom in now opening Mirror Lake to fishing for everyone, meaning that parents and guardians can now spend quality time fishing Mirror Lake together. The Connecticut DEEP Inland Fisheries has also stepped up fishing opportunities for the citizenry by stocking the lake with trout and catfish (that should be stocked this week).

Kids have needs while growing up. Not all of them are cut out to be baseball, football or basketball players and they ,too, need an outlet. So why not introduce them to the fun of fishing? One only needs to look at the annual Carl D’Addario/City of Meriden/Meriden Rod & Gun Children’s Fishing Derby recently held at Mirror Lake to see that there is definitely a need for some fishing in the lives of many children who do not excel in other sports.


Last Sunday, The Meriden Lions Club Park, located on the Quinnipiac River just above historic Red Bridge, was the scene of the 1st Annual Jack Fontanella Children’s Fishing Derby and the kids in attendance had a blast!

For years ,Meriden Lions Club member Jack Fontanella chaired the kid’s fishing derby and his fellow Lion Club members thought it only fitting to name the following children’s fishing derbies after Jack.

While the river was running a tad high due to a recent heavy rain, the fishing was a bit iffy, especially when it came to catching cooperative trout.

However, some of the children entered in the 1st Jack Fontanella Children’s Fishing Contest caught some yellow perch, a bluegill and the surprise catch of the fishing derby: an eel. That attracted a whole lot of attention from both the parents and kids in attendance.

Top prize winners were, among the girls, Giana Sperry (11-inch perch), Sydney Leach (6-inch bluegill) and Jada Ijeh (10-inch perch, 9-inch sunfish. Among the boys in the contest, Dominic Izzo landed a 20-inch eel, Samuel Diaz a 9-inch perch and T.J. Dorfler a 7-inch perch.

All of the kids were given a raffle ticket and, when their number was called, they all won some fishing equipment.

The weather was beautiful for the kids. The annual QRWA Canoe & Kayak Race headed up by QRWA president and fellow Meriden Lion member Dan Pelletier is always great. A Car Show and the world famous Meriden Lions Club Duck Race topped off a great day on the Quinnipiac River.

It was a wonderful way to showcase the whole area, including all of the hard work and money put into the resurrection of the QRWA Headquarters, the Meriden Lions Park, Red Bridge and the fabulous Meriden Linear Trails including the Q-Gorge and the Hanover Pond Trail.

That’s it for now. See ya’ and God Bless America and watch over our troops wherever they may be.

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