By Larry Dablemont
Special to The Globe
With the beginning of school so close at hand, it is a good time to take youngsters fishing.
And maybe mid-summer isn’t the best time to go after bass and crappie with a kid who is 10 years old, but it is a great time to fish the shallows on a local lake for green sunfish, bluegill and long-ear sunfish. In July and August, these three species of sunfish, which us grizzled old Ozark outdoorsmen knew as ‘perch’ when we were youngsters, are so darned easy to catch that anyone can do it.
I am talking about kids who haven’t fished much, mostly under 12 or 13 years of age. At that age a lot of small fish caught in a hurry is better than a couple of bigger ones it takes an hour to tempt and hook from deep water in the hot sun. And it is so much better for kids to learn to fish in two or three feet of water than 20 feet of water.
There can be an ulterior motive for catching sunfish with your kids. You can keep those sunfish alive and use them to bait a trotline in the evening. Really good-sized flathead catfish are seldom caught on anything but live bait. Live bait is eagerly taken by blue catfish and channel catfish, so why use dead shad or other baits this time of year. Kids love to catch bait for you.
If you have a boat, you can ease slowly along the banks of any of our reservoirs and let the kids cast toward the bank. Rocky banks that ease off slowly into deep water are the ones that hold the most sunfish. The scrappiest of the bunch are the green sunfish, or black perch as they are commonly and locally known. They may get seven or eight inches long and with larger bluegill, you can make a pretty good fish fry out of them. Don’t try to filet them. Scale them with a spoon or a scaler, and then cut off the head and remove the entrails.
Then use a sharp knife to cut down alongside the dorsal fin on both sides about an inch or so and just strip it out. Cut off pectoral fins and the tail, dip the fish in eggs and coat it with seasoned flour and deep-fry it in a big skillet, where you can do four or five at once. Let the fried sunfish cool a little, then take a very sharp thin-bladed filet knife and cut the backbone and rib bones out just by gently lifting the meat off on both sides. Check those little pre-fried filets for bones, and you’ll have a pretty good mouthful of meat off both sides.
I don’t recommend trying to do that with long-ear sunfish, as they are fairly small and too skinny. Only one out of a hundred long-ears in this day and time are large enough to actually eat. Bigger green sunfish are caught often, and they will be fairly close to the bank, sometimes under overhanging green buttonbushes you see along the bank. Bigger bluegills will be out a little deeper. You’ll catch a bunch of small bluegill close to the bank, and out in three or four feet of water, even deeper at times, you may hook some that are eight or 10 inches long.
At any rate, you are going to have a lot more trotline-bait sunfish than eating sunfish. In a couple of hours of fishing, which is about the limit for most younger kids, you will also come across one or two bass, maybe up to a pound. They just show up, and give a kid a really big thrill. When he has been fighting fish that are only four or five inches long, and suddenly he hooks into a big snarling 12-inch largemouth, he gets excited. Once when my little grandson Alex was about 5, I took him fishing and he caught and landed a two-pound bass without any help at all from Grandpa. Years later at the age of 8, he still remembers that fish.
Use the little push-button reels with six-pound line, or light spinning reels with four- to six-pound line. It is best to spend some time out away from the bank practicing the casting before you move in close. A youngster can’t catch fish until he learns something about casting a 1-16th ounce jig and hook toward the bank without hitting it.
Now you take that small jig and you put a half of a worm on it; the youngster casts it to the bank and a green sunfish jumps all over it. You know what’s wrong with this scenario? Grandpa, or Dad, has to put on a new worm about every couple of casts. So Grandpa, or Dad, learns to use little plastic twister grubs and now he learns that about every dozen or so casts he has to scoot it back down on the hook, or replace it because something jerked the tail off of it.
That’s why you read this column, to get valuable advice on how to do things better and be more efficient as hunters and fishermen. Therefore, my advice is, “don’t mess with worms or plastic grubs”. Go to a fly-fishing shop, or a fishing tackle store and tell them you want some special bottles of Uncle Josh pork-rind, not the big thick pork dark-colored chunks and trailers bass fishermen use, but the little white strips which fly-fishermen have found so valuable.
I wrote about those little white pork-rind strips not long ago, and several people contacted me to say they couldn’t find them. But fly-fishing shops usually have them, and any tackle shop can get them.
My Uncle Norten, who loved to trotline for big catfish into the fall, caught all his bait out of Pomme de Terre lake the last few years of his life by putting a small half inch strip of that thin white pork rind on a hook and paddling slowly along the bank, dipping it here and there with a long fly-rod.
Once, the two of us caught 100 sunfish for a pair of trotlines in about 30 minutes. A half dozen were big pan-sized black perch like we once caught out of the Big Piney. And that is something to remember if you have kids so small they just aren’t ready to learn to cast. If you give them a long pole like a fly-rod, and tie on about four feet of line, you can ease them along the bank of a pond or lake or even a small creek, and they can haul in sunfish until they are tickled pink, or until the sun turns them pink if you haven’t used sunscreen.
So now you know everything you need to know to take small children out and give them a great few hours of fishing. If you don’t have a boat, just find a clean bank somewhere along a pond or lake, and in most cases there are hundreds of sunfish waiting in a small length of water which you can wade or walk.