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Learn to fish: supplement your diet and have fun outdoors: local angling spots can deliver valuable protein to your table and memorable tales about the ones that didn't get away.

Fishing may seem mysterious or complicated, unless you grew up with relatives who enjoy this timeless activity. I learned how to fish while standing alongside my mom at our family's pond. She taught me how to tie a fishing knot, and I can still see the smile that spread across her face whenever I came home with a stringer full of fish draped over my shoulders. I've been hooked ever since. Fishing can supplement your diet and provide hours of fun. Plus, it's an easy and inexpensive hobby to take up.

Getting Started

Some of the best fishing waters are farm ponds, many of which go untouched all year simply because the landowners don't care to fish them, and no one else dares to ask. Depending on your state's rules and regulations, you may need a fishing license even when fishing on private property. Check with your state department of natural resources and adhere to the laws set forth by the state in which you're fishing.

Start by seeking permission from pond owners. Knock on their doors, shake their hands, explain that you'll be completely respectful, and ask approval, just like in the old days. One simple tactic that may improve your chances for gaining pond access is to offer a portion of your catch to the landowners. Who knows--after you knock on their doors a few times with fresh fillets, they may think of a few more ponds for you to try.

Throughout most of the United States, farm ponds most likely contain bass, bluegill, catfish, or crappie. These species usually stay balanced within a pond, maintaining healthy populations for years. I include crappie because it's widely regarded as a delicious fish, even though it's generally not as easy to stock and maintain as the others.

Choosing the Right Equipment

Learning how to fish is actually quite easy, and fishing is a great reason to spend time outdoors. The most basic fishing equipment is low-cost--all you need is a hook on the end of a line, a worm or minnow to bait the hook, a sinker to pull the baited hook down into the water, and, ideally, a bobber to float on the surface that will indicate when a fish is nibbling.

Fishing poles. To fish in farm ponds, you won't even really need a store-bought pole. Go for simplicity and tie your hook, line, and sinker onto the end of a bamboo pole or even a thin sapling. You can add a reel to hold the line, mounted on a rod so you can cast your bait out greater distances with more control. Modern, ready-to-use, spin-cast rod-and-reel combinations can cost as little as $20 to $30, and they offer push-button ease of operation.

Fishing line. With regard to selecting the appropriate poundage for your line, 10-pound line is typical for bass fishing (meaning 10 pounds is the weight at which the line will break), and 4- or 6-pound line is typical for crappie. When farm pond fishing, don't feel obligated to use entirely different setups for fishing multiple species. I've caught many crappies on 10-pound line. But if you're fishing a farm pond with 4-pound line and crappie in mind, and manage to hook a big catfish instead, then you'll have to be on your game to bring it in without breaking the line.

Drag. The proper drag will provide the right amount of resistance to exhaust the fish but prevent it from breaking your line. Most reels will have some sort of knob that adjusts the drag's weight setting. A good rule of thumb is to set your drag (measured in pounds) to 20 to 25 percent of the weight rating of your fishing line. For example, if I'm using 10-pound fishing line, I set my drag from 2 to 2Vi pounds. To set the drag, tie a fishing scale to your line, and then have a helper hold the scale in place while you pull up and bend the rod. When the line starts to strip off the reel (you'll hear a clicking sound and notice line coming off of the reel), the weight reading on the scale will show the drag's current setting.

Fishing for Bass

Largemouth and smallmouth bass aren't picky eaters--their diet includes insects, other fish, frogs, snakes, mice, and sometimes ducklings. You can use live bait or any of the many artificial lures available--spinners, spoons, rooster tails, rattle traps, you name it. I've caught all of the common Midwest farm pond fish--bass, bluegill, crappie, and catfish--on the old, trusty rooster tail. To land the fish, let them fight the line for a while before you try to lift them out of the water.

Simply hauling the fish up out of the water can lead to lines breaking and fish escaping when the hook pulls out. To prevent breakoffs, thoroughly play the fish out until you can simply reel it in while applying minimal pull and then let the fish swim or float right to you.

Allow fish at least one "run," if not more, before they wear down. Stop reeling and allow the drag mechanism to play out line, and then, when the run is over, continue with the retrieve.

Fishing for Bluegill and Crappie

Bluegill and crappie seldom weigh more than 2 or 3 pounds. A simple cane pole will work brilliantly for fishing shallows and any submerged brush piles. All you'll have to do is thread a worm or minnow onto your hook and adjust your bobber to hold the hook at the depth you want. If you don't want to thread a worm onto a hook, then use an artificial lure. For bluegill, even pieces of bread will work. Swing the pole to cast the bobber and hook out into the water, and then settle back. Next comes the fun part: When you see the bobber bob or begin moving sideways, gently and smoothly lift the pole's tip to set the hook into the fish that has taken the bait. Be attentive, because both bluegill and crappie strike bait lightly and are adept at robbing you blind. If you don't seem to be getting any nibbles, check your hook every so often to be sure the fish haven't stolen your bait.

How to Fish for Catfish

You can use almost anything to bait a catfish--even hot dogs or chicken livers on special treble hooks. Use sinkers (the amount of weight needed will vary based on depth and current conditions) and let your chicken livers, baitfish, or what have you sit on the bottom. Then, sit back and wait. When catfish hit, they usually run. You can use a multitude of bells and other strike indicators, but the best method is to hold the pole and be ready. You'll also want to make sure your drag is set appropriately.

If you have a boat or riverbank access, one method for catching catfish is to set out limb lines with live bait, such as bluegill (if it's legal in your state and area). To do this, make a dozen or more poles by adding short lengths of line with sinkers and hooks to any flexible 4- to 5-foot-long branches (young willows work well). Then, set those lines out into a riverbank or to an anchor in the current. Check the lines every few hours and pull in fish from any of the poles that are bobbing. Re-bait everything and then head home or run errands until it's time to check your lines again. This is a perfect method for those who don't enjoy sitting around and waiting to find out whether the fish are biting.

Of all the lures at your disposal, your most valuable tool will be patience. If you hit an off day, take a hike around the pond, identify some new plants, or watch a family of muskrats at work. Sooner or later, you're sure to catch a stringer full of delicious fish that will taste better than anything you can bring home from the store.

After you've learned the basics, you can move beyond fishing in farm ponds and tackle other methods of fishing. Fly fishing, for example, is a blast and can challenge your knowledge of fish and insects in ways you can't imagine, but it can be an expensive endeavor. In regions where fly fishing is popular, you could try it first with rented tackle, spend 30 minutes getting the unique casting technique down, and see whether it's something you want to pursue.

On my first fly fishing trip on the Arkansas River near Salida, Colorado, I fished for a good 30 minutes before I got the timing down, but I was hooked for life after I managed to catch a couple of wild rainbow trout during a two-day fishing excursion.

Caleb D. Regan is the Editor-in-Chief of Grit magazine. He grew up fishing farm ponds and lakes throughout the southeast Kansas countryside, frequently catching a limit of crappie with his brothers and family.
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Author:Regan, Caleb D.
Publication:Mother Earth News
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2016
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