The Newness of Newbies...How Fun!

The Newness of Newbies...How Fun!
Redfish are great beginner fish.
It's interesting to me that the longer we fish the more our priorities seem to change. Most of us go through a predictive cycle, some earlier than others, the progression usually beginning with evangelistic zeal that leads to displays of insatiable hunter-killer instinct, and eventually leaning toward a more laid-back and appreciative "fishing philosopher" stage.

I will always be driven to challenge and conquer the best fish available and I've been extremely fortunate to have done that to a level many never have opportunity to experience. To summarize, trying to put a fish on the wall these days is no longer a compelling priority replaced by elements I find more rewarding.

Introducing folks to the sport that has been my lifetime passion is now the source of a more driving inspiration. Newness in everything is key, and there are many days I'd much rather have an enthusiastic convert than a pessimistic, crusty old salt. However, just as in any subject, there are productive methods to teach, followed by encouragement. October is a great month to try, so here are a few tidbits I've learned that have helped me help new recruits to have a better experience. Experience is a great word. Isn't that what this is really all about?

The reality of teaching others to fish is that there are many great fishermen who make poor teachers, yet many average fishermen actually excel in the assignment. When you are teaching others to fish, you are by definition, a fishing guide. The main thing to remember is the goal you are trying to attain.

To me, the first "main thing" that must be instilled is confidence so they'll want to do it again, in a fun way, a way that encourages each trip to get better and appreciated more.

Outlining realistic expectations is a biggie. It seems that many still think it's all about playing grim reaper and that the final measurement is made in quick and easy poundage. That only lasts so long on the inspirational side. After all, if we catch the most and the biggest easily the first time out, what's left?

There are many milestones to achieve and enjoyment lies at each level of success. Let's look at what I feel are some of the more productive ways to recruit new "sportsmen". I'm going to focus on wadefishing with artificials as that's my area of expertise, but most suggestions are transferrable to other fishing methods.

A good trip starts with good gear. Not necessarily expensive, but tools matched for the job. Raw newcomers don't actually need all that much, basically just a balanced rod and reel outfit that casts well, a few simple-to-use lures, a stringer, pliers, maybe a net, and a place to carry them.

As far as rod and reel, the normal assumption is that beginners need spinning rigs because of feared backlashes, etc. That's fine, but never discount quick mastery of a baitcaster with kids. Their eye-hand coordination is such that they acquire many skills much faster than older trainees. Whichever, I've found that braided line is a huge advantage. The no-stretch aspect of braid makes it so much easier to work a lure, and especially to feel a bite. If the line is kept tight the fish will often just hook themselves. If you put them on fish with a decent spinning reel spooled with braided line and a paddletail plastic; they usually can't help but catch some.

Proper wading footwear should be given top priority. Running shoes work, sort of, but nobody likes walking with bits of shell punctuating each step. High-top neoprene booties are cheap and will provide a richer experience.

Sting-ray guards? They likely will not be struck by lightning either first trip out, but let's just go ahead and put them on, for safety's sake. However, as with any new endeavor, the learning curve can be comically steep. See attached photo you never know what you'll see.

Concerning lures, the easiest to work are, of course, paddletail type plastic baits. Kelley Wigglers, Hogie's, Norton, Texas Tackle Factory, etc., there are plenty to choose from that have built-in action. The key is to keep the line tight on the retrieve to feel the bite, another way that braid excels.

GULP! - Well yes, scented baits sure do work, and Berkley's GULP is undoubtedly the best of them, but I'd rather not have the newest of new starting off dealing with hardheads, stingrays and other non-target critters.

Unless fish are extremely aggressive and hitting anything that moves, topwaters are usually poor choices for novices. However, swimming crankbaits like a Mann's Baby 1-Minus or Heddon's Swim'n Image can bridge that gap. So can spoons, especially weedless-style in grassy places. That way they can concentrate more on fish than fouls. Another great tool is the Mansfield Mauler or similar float. Easy to work, effective, and gives the uninitiated something to focus on while waiting for it to disappear.

Critical to encourage in a new recruit, whom you hope will want to do it again, is optimism. I don't like that "patience" word that you must have "patience" to be a good fisherman to me, there's a negative connation in that. Let's use "high anticipation" instead.

Keep that cheerleading going. There is victory and accomplishment in each step and there are many steps to master. Everything from tying knots to threading plastics on straight, casting well, feeling a bite and setting a hook, fighting what you fooled, and then landing it. Even stringing a fish and using a measuring stick correctly are new skills to master. It's all part of the total experience.

One of the best teaching techniques I've learned is to find something they have already excelled in and then drawing easily-imagined parallels. I recently had some scratch golfers. I was pointing out fish while running, explaining color changes, grassbeds and sand pockets, and the whole time they just shook their heads and said they could see nothing. Hmmm.

"Look guys, if y'all can read a putt that'll break three feet from thirty feet away, you can read this water."

That evidently made sense and it wasn't long before they were pointing stuff out to me. Cool.

Same with casting. What was first ridiculously inefficient and inaccurate became pretty darn effective after I reminded them that a rod was just another shaft, same as a golf club, where stored energy is released with good timing.

"Look at that bait getting hammered over there," I said.

"Where? We don't see anything!"

"7 iron - 5 o'clock!" It helps to use what they already know plus; it's fun.

Again, October is a great starter month for several reasons. Lots of life in the water, cooler weather, less crowded, many positive aspects between the scorch of summer and the blows of winter. What we want is a fair chance at a "get bit" trip, where opportunities of hooking-up are high. Small trout should be readily available, but big October reds can be great learning fish.

Remember that everything is relative, so any bite can be a trophy-class bite to a beginner. We don't have to catch a 30-inch trout to be successful. Fishing, as in most worthy pursuits, involves some elements of work, and it should. It's the progression that's compelling, not instant easy success. Think about it guys; how many more times than once did you chase a girl that was easy? See, there's another parallel you already know.

Find a worthy candidate and you'll find great satisfaction in passing along what you've learned. Just remember that your students will mimic your habits, good or bad, so here's a chance to help shape the future of what should be a noble sport. Plus, we can learn a lot from fresh eyes and attitudes. They will see things and ask questions about stuff we never considered, and sometimes the questions are more important than the answers. There are many years, smiles and tears waiting ahead, and we can achieve them one fish at a time, especially when we share. To repeat, isn't that what this is really all about?