Fishing Youth

"Let’s go ‘bishing’": Stockers a great target for kids

Girl on a dock with fish on end of line
Don't want to put your brownie on a wet, fish slime-covered dock when fighting a fish? Cate Burtis just put her treat in her mouth.

Pond stocked.

That was the subject line of a recent email to members of the Roanoke Valley Izaak Walton League of America chapter.

A few years ago, the budget fatter than normal after Covid-caused cancellations of events like our annual picnic, our chapter’s leaders decided to spend some of the extra money on trout for the 5-acre pond on the property.

It was such a smashing success that even when life returned pretty much to normal, we’re still spending money on trout during the colder months and our members and guests are still flocking to the pond.

A few days after the most recent stocking I headed out there with my neighbor Steve and his kids — almost 7-year-old Cate and 4-year-old David. 

The morning was a bit chilly, so the pond wasn’t busy. A middle school-aged girl stood on a dock, casting a spinner. Her grandpa watched. That was it.

“How are you doing?” I asked.

“She’s crushing them,” said the proud grandpa. “We already have three in the cooler.”

Cate smiled broadly as the young teen hooked another fat rainbow on her gold-bladed Joe’s Fly, a popular spinner/fly combo in this area.

“Let’s go bishing,” said David, who is still working on the “F” sound.

We had spinners but we also had a portable grill and some hot dogs that Steve and I planned to grill for a picnic. (See below for tips for fishing with youngsters.) So, we wanted a more passive way of fishing, at least until we had eaten.

In addition to nightcrawlers we’d picked up on our way to the pond, I had one jar of Berkley PowerBait. It was at least 15 years old, a relic from a long-ago story I’d written about fishing for stockers. Fortunately (or maybe unfortunately?) the half-life of PowerBait is probably 200 years if the lid is tight. The stuff was as good as new.

 Berkley PowerBait for stockers
For stocked trout, it’s tough to beat the effectiveness of Berkley PowerBait.

The moldable bait from Berkley has to be the most popular trout bait, and for good reason. While I grew up using worms, Velveeta, corn kernels and salmon eggs on stocked trout, I have to admit the effectiveness of PowerBait is hard to beat. 

We set up on another dock, baiting up with PowerBait and casting in several directions. The rigs were simple, just a size 8 circle hook about a foot below a split shot. PowerBait floats so the offering stays just off the bottom. I added a float about 3 feet above one of the baits, just for a little variety and because I always love watching a bobber plunge.

The baits out, we watched and waited. After 10 minutes of nothing I figured it was safe to start the grill. The hot dogs had just started sizzling when I heard Cate yell.

“Mark!” she screamed. “I think we have a fish.”

She fought the trout like a champ, but the hook pulled before we could net it. 

“That was a big one,” she said, only slightly disappointed.

A few minutes later we had a double hookup. 

Girl and man untangle fishing line son dock
Cate Burtis and her dad deal with the results of an exciting double hookup.

David’s interest in “bishing” had waned and he was busy building a fort for his monster trucks on shore. Cate, however, was all in. She reeled in one and I reeled in the other. Steve was the net man. The scene was somewhat chaotic. The lines crossed. Steve missed one of the fish on his first stab but we eventually got both trout on the dock, where they flopped while Cate giggled.

We finally got a break for lunch, but it was interrupted when I noticed that the bobber was gone.

“Cate, I think we’ve got another one,” I yelled.

She came running.

“What do I do with this?” she asked, holding a half-munched brownie in one hand.

The dock was wet and covered in fish slime so that was not an option. I was taking pictures, so I wasn’t going to hold it.

“I don’t know,” I said. “Figure something out.”

Girl with fish in Paw Patrol lunchbox
No cooler? No problem. Little brother David’s Paw Patrol lunchbox will do.

She shoved the sweet treat into her mouth, grabbed the rod and started reeling.

Steve was hustling over from the grill, the net in one hand and a chili dog in the other. He stuffed the chili dog in his mouth and scooped up the trout. 

Like daughter, like father. 

“We’re catching a lot,” Cate said, proudly.

Soon, even she was ready for something else. She grabbed her own “fish net” — actually a butterfly net — and she and David took off on a quest to net newts. Casting spinners, Steve and I had a bit more action before the sun came out and the trout turned off.

We piled into the truck just 90 minutes or so after the entire adventure started.

“What was your favorite part?” Steve asked Cate.

“Probably the brownie,” Cate answered. “But catching fish was fun, too.”


Tips for fishing with kids

Boy has trout in  his net
Charlie Albanese loves stocker fishing on the Connetquot River. (Courtesy Joe Albanese)
  • Keep it simple. Spincast reels are the way to go for kids (or, frankly, adults) who are just learning. Beyond that, stick to the old hook, line and sinker. Circle hooks are great because they are less likely to hook fish deep.
  • Don’t plan to fish much yourself. Novice anglers, especially young ones, will need a lot of guidance. It’s hard to focus on helping them and fishing yourself, so make the former the priority.
  • Take food. Just like PowerBait is good at attracting trout, the promise of tasty snacks and drinks is great at luring kids out on a fishing adventure and enjoying the treats will help keep them happy once they’re out there. 
  • Don’t worry about distractions. Kids usually like to have something to do other than just waiting for a fish to bite. Let them goof around as much as possible.
  • Keep it short: A friend used to take his 5-year-old on all-day driftboat steelhead floats. Can you believe that the kid grew up to have no interest in fishing? Head home while you’re still having some fun so that’s their lasting impression.