Reading Eagle: Roger Mallon
Catch a fish: cheap and simple
First in a three-part series of fishing tips for do-it-yourself beginning anglers.
Many people want to try fishing, but not everyone has a friend or relative to teach them how to do it.
For the next several weeks I am going to offer a series of columns entitled, “Catch a fish cheap and simple”, leading up to Pennsylvania’s two “Fish For Free Days”, May 28 and July 4, when no license is required to fish. These columns are meant to give instruction to first time, do-it-yourself anglers. Maybe you can save these columns and pass them along to someone who wants to learn.
Fishing can be as complicated and as expensive as you want, but for newcomers to the sport, I see no point in recommending expensive tackle or complicated presentations. So I’m keeping the advice ultra-simple and cheap and I will focus on catching sunfish, bluegills, crappies and catfish from lake shores.
We’ll be reviewing tackle, knots, live bait, rigs, and local fishing holes that don’t require a boat.
This week we’ll discuss the equipment you need to get you started. Recently I went to a big box discount store and priced the basic stuff needed for fishing: rods, reels, hooks, lines, sinkers, etc., and the lowest total price I came up with was $30, not including the additional cost of live bait.
If you try fishing on a “Fish For Free” Day, no license will be needed and that saves at least $23.
The basic gear required is a fishing rod and reel, line, hooks, sinkers, bobbers, pliers, a sharp knife or scissors and a stringer to take your catch home for dinner.
There are plenty of optional items to consider including a tackle box, needle-nose pliers or a hemostat for hook removal, a chair, bait bucket for minnows and a net, but I would wait to buy these items until you decide that you want want to fish again. First timers only need the basics which they can tote in a bag.
Discount tackle dealers sell startup fishing kits for around $20 which include nearly all of the basic gear you’ll need. My experience with these kits is that they tend to include fishing hooks and sinkers that are too big and line that is too heavy, which can impede your chances of catching fish. Bobbers in the kits are small, which is a good thing, and some kits include nylon stringers.
I recommend that you buy a beginner’s kit, but also buy alternative hooks, line and sinkers/splitshot.
For panfish and catfish, consider buying 4 or 6-pound test monofilament line and replace the heavier test line that is usually spooled on a kit’s fishing reel. If you catch a catty that snaps 6 pound test, you’ll be hooked on fishing.
Replacing the line is simply a matter of unspooling the original line and respooling the new line. A piece of tape will secure the new line to the reel and then fill the spool to about 1/8-inch from the top.
Also buy a pack of Eagle Claw number 8 bait-holder hooks, which are very common and a bag of Water Gremlin brand number 3/0 removable split shot or sinkers which are also widely available. These will be far more versatile than what the beginners’ kits include.
The rods in startup kits are suitable for first time anglers. They tend to have what’s called slow-medium action, and perhaps one day you’ll want to upgrade to faster action, more sensitive fishing rods, but believe me, slow-medium action fishing rods will do fine for your first time on the water.
You generally have two choices for fishing reels and both are good. Zebco offers closed-faced, spincast reels which often were the first reels many anglers used back in the day, They are easy, push-button casters. The other choice is an open-faced spinning reel which requires a wire or bail to be pushed aside and the line controlled by your finger. Spinning reels require that the reel be held below the rod, while Zebco spincast reels are held facing up.
As you consider all of this, stop by a tackle store and peruse the displays. Ask questions of other shoppers and store clerks in the department because chances are they will know a thing or two about fishing. Most anglers love to talk fishing tackle and hope you may join their ranks.
Next week we’ll look at simple and effective fishing rigs, knots and baits.
Reading Eagle: Roger Mallon
Second in a three-part series
If you can tie your shoe, you can attach a fishing hook to a fishing line. Today’s instructions for beginning anglers revolves around what’s called the terminal end of your fishing line, the place where you attach hooks, bait and splitshot or sinkers.
The knots I use most often are the double-clinch, speed, Alberto and Palomar. Dozens of fishing knots and excellent video directions can be found online; just Google “Fishing Knots”.
Because you are new to all of this, I’m recommending that you not use any fancy knots. Instead tie several simple overhand knots like the ones you use to start tying your shoes.
Thread the hook onto the end of your line and tie at least three overhand knots as tightly as you can. This should work fine for your first fishing adventure. Trim the excess line, and then attach one Water Gremlin 3/0 splitshot about 6-8 inches above the hook.
It’s probably best to use a bobber when fishing with a single hook like this. You will need to experiment how deeply you should fish, but start by placing the bobber three feet above the hook.
After baiting the hook with a worm, cast the line as far as you can, and slowly retrieve the line back to you. When the bobber dives, pull it up quickly. Fish on.
At the tackle store you will find “snelled hooks” in various sizes. Again,I recommend size 8.
Snelled hooks are short pieces of fishing line with a hook attached to one end and a loop tied on the other. I do not recommend tying snelled hooks to the end of your line. Snelled hooks muss up the appearance of a single bait presentation.
Since I recommend fishing from a lake shore your first time out, snelled hooks work well for a double-hook bank presentation.
Use an overhand knot and tie one snelled hook up the line about 18-inches. Tie a second snelled hook belo w the first hook, about 10-12 inches from the end of the line.
Then pinch three splitshots onto the very end of the line for weight.
When you use this double-hook bank presentation, the splitshots will hold your line in place, and if you rest your fishing rod on a forked stick and keep the line tight, the baits will dangle off the bottom. The rod tip will bend when a fish strikes.
Casting is something you should practice at home before heading to the lake. For Zebco or push-button spincast reels, when you press the button down you will be ready to cast and when you release the button the line will fly from the reel.
For spinning rods, you must control the flow of line with your finger after you pull the wire bail aside.
Both release methods are simple; it’s the timing and aiming you need to practice. You can do this by pinching a few splitshots onto the end of the line and practice casting outdoors without any hooks It doesn’t matter if you cast side-arm or overhand. Aim your cast by pointing your thumb on the rod handle where you want the bait to go.
The next part can get icky for newcomers. Your first time out don’t fish with live minnows, but rather only garden worms or bits of nightcrawers for catfish, trout and panfish. You’ll have to touch them in order to place them on a hook. Start with small amounts and experiment. The fish will tell you what they like and how much the want.
Next week, we’ll discuss some local fishing spots and how to clean and cook your catch.
Reading Eagle: Roger Mallon
Third and final column in a series offering advice to beginning anglers.
Pennsylvania’s “Fish For Free” days are approaching, a perfect opportunity for newcomers to fishing to give it a try.
For the past two weeks, I’ve discussed the simplest and least expensive equipment you’ll need to go fishing. All of my advice is based on fishing from at a lake. Here are my top six suggestions for good local fishing spots, and considering how heavily fished the Blue Marsh shoreline is, I am including my secret spot to fish at Blue Marsh Lake.
A top spot for panfishing is at the fishing dock at Hopewell Lake in French Creek State Park. It’s located on a path near the swimming pool. Plenty of room at the park for picnics too.
Scotts Run Lake
Also located at French Creek State Park, you can fish from the shore or from the dam at Scotts Run. Trout were stocked this spring.
Kaercher Creek Dam
Both the fishing dock and the dam offer bank fishing opportunities. Other shoreline spots are worth trying as well.
I recommend the Route 73 cove. There are several open spots around the cove where white perch are commonly caught. A good crappie hole is located on cliffs near the cove, but because it is dangerous I don’t recommend it for first timers.
The entire shore is open to fishing. Trout were heavily stocked in the spring and panfish are abundant.
Blue Marsh Lake
The shoreline of Blue Marsh Lake has heavily worn paths to bank fishing spots along Route 183, and you’ll find good holes under the Pleasant Mount and Robesonia/Old Church Road bridges. Also bank anglers frequent the the shore east of the State Hill boat launch. All of them are fished heavily and some require a bit of walking to reach.
My favorite spot is located up the lane from the Sheidy Trailhead. To reach it, head west over the Robesonia/Old Church Road bridge and continue to Sheidy Road. Continue to the Sheidy Trailhead. You may be able to drive up the path for a ways, depending on the time of year.
The path goes straight for a while, but then takes an abrupt right turn. You will notice an overgrown trail that leads straight ahead. That’s the one you want. Walk up the path a short ways, and you’ll find a sweet little hole, good for one or two anglers, where the water is deep and not heavily pressured. Across the lake you can see the Sheidy boat launch.
Keep only the bigger panfish if you want to take some home for dinner. Panfish the size of your hand is a rule of thumb, so to speak. Nine inches or longer makes for a better meal and nine-inches long is the minimum keeper size at Blue Marsh.
Before they are cooked, fish must be cleaned which can be an icky job for some people.
Panfish, crappies and trout are delicious cooked with their skin on, but panfish and crappies also must have their scales removed. This is done by using a serrated butter knife or a fish scaler and scraping the skin from the tail toward the head.
As for catfish, most folks fillet them before cooking which means deboning, skinning and cutting the fish into meal sized portions.
Fish guts are removed by inserting a knife into the fish’s anus and cutting toward the front fins. Scrape out the innards and rinse the fish thoroughly in clean water.
Most people enjoy the sweet flavor of panfish, trout and catfish. A favorite technique for cooking them is also one of the simplest. Fry them in butter and add a pinch of salt and pepper. Good for breakfast and for dinner.
The more you fish, the better angler you will become and the more sophisticated as well, adding to and upgrading your tackle and accessories. I hope these few easy lessons will introduce you to many many years of pleasure.