A guide for taking kids trout fishing
The only thing better than the steady wriggle of a trout on light spinning tackle is youthful squeals of delight adding joy and enthusiasm to the experience.
The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission’s popular mentored youth trout days will once again provide opportunities to do just that in stocked trout waters a week ahead of the regional and statewide trout season openers. This year’s youth days are slated for March 28 in the southeast and April 11 statewide.
As per regulations, youth under the age of 16 may fish with properly licensed adult mentors by registering for the free but mandatory mentored youth permit or by purchasing a voluntary youth fishing license — which costs $2.90 but unlocks additional federal funding for the Commission’s youth programs. Both can be obtained online at GoneFishingPA.com or in person at any license-issuing agent.
Adult mentors must possess a valid fishing license and trout stamp to accompany their youth anglers, and mentors are allowed to fish on mentored youth trout days too, but they must practice catch and release. All mentors should put emphasis on helping the youth and stay in close proximity for supervision. Youth anglers may harvest up to two trout (combined species) with a minimum size of 7inches. Other Commonwealth Inland Regulations apply.
As for tools of the trade, a short ultra-light rod, rigged with fresh 4-pound test and a loose drag ought to do the trick for wet-eared youngsters eager to crank on a reel.
And while a variety of lures, bait, and techniques will catch trout, a few old stand-bys seem to perform better than others.
For older, more experienced youth, or those lacking patience, a simple inline spinner is one of the most effective trout lures out there because it mimics baitfish, triggering a trout’s natural predatory drive. Spinners are highly versatile, they come in a variety of sizes, shapes and colors, and they keep kids active. They are especially good early in the season when the water is high and fish are eager to chase and feed.
Affix a snap-swivel to the end of the line for quick spinner swapping and to avoid putting a twist in the line. In pools, simply cast, allow the spinner to sink a bit and reel the spinner back on the slowest retrieve possible while still allowing the blade to spin. This can be easily taught, but it’s wise to use cheap spinners first, as you’re sure to lose a few to the bottom during the learning curve.
In flowing runs, cast upstream and reel slightly faster than the current with rod tip low and facing downstream to keep the blade running. This will often prompt fish finning low in the water column to strike. If they are holding high, simply reverse directions, and your lure will work higher since it is fighting against the current rather than sinking along with it. This is a bit more complex but very effective.
For intermediate youth, a jig can be great for prompting a strike in water clear enough to spot fish lying in the bottom or below a logjam where vertical access is readily available.
The plan of attack is simple. Use a pair of polarized glasses to spot likely holding locations. Drop a weighted jig head with a plastic grub, such as a Trout Magnet, several rod lengths ahead of the fish and let it sink.
As the jig ticks along the bottom toward the fish, high stick the rod to bounce the jig vertically off the bottom several feet in front of the trout’s face, while keeping it just beyond reach.
This repeated up-and-down motion seems to induce aggressive feeding from trout. Once fish catch on to your game though, it may require a few color changes to keep their interest before strikes fizzle out.
For the youngest beginners, live bait and dough baits can’t be beat — especially if planning to keep your catch. Powerbait and live morsels, such as earthworms, mealworms and butter worms, are extremely desirable to trout. However, due to the fish’s susceptibility of swallowing the hook before anglers can react in time for a quality hook-set, it is advisable to avoid these baits if your primary goal for the day is to throw fish back.
But if your kiddos want to contribute to an evening fish fry, scented Powerbait and live bait offerings can be easily float-drifted, or weighted to fish the bottom, depending on where trout are holding.
To float-drift, simply attach a split-shot or two a few inches above a size 8-to-12 hook baited with a worm, grub or artificial dough of choice, and add a small bobber the distance of the desired depth up the line from the split-shot. In most scenarios, 12-to-24-inches is sufficient for a good float without compromising casting ability.
Cast far enough upstream for the bait to sink, let it drift past the holding cover, and set the hook when you see the bobber dip under the water’s surface. If fishing bottom, do the same thing but without the bobber, only this time feel the line or watch the rod tip for a bump indicative of a strike.
It also doesn’t hurt to slowly “crawl” the bait back upstream at the end of a drift either. That’s a task even little hands can manage. Just be sure to loosen the drag and be ready for a determined fight and plenty of giggles when a trout takes the bait!