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June 21, 2011

Instructor offers lessons learned from 40,000 students

HORICON - Mark Baldock was 3 years old when he started fishing. His parents put a rod in his hand when they went to a cabin on a lake for vacation. "I caught a yellow perch, and I was hooked!" Baldock recalls.

Now he gets other people hooked on fishing. Baldock has taught nearly 40,000 kids about fish and fishing during his eight years working for Wisconsin's fisheries management program.

As the Department of Natural Resources urban fishing coordinator in 2005 and 2006, Baldock worked with school and scout groups, conducted kids fishing clinics and events, and ran DNR's fishing activities at the Wisconsin State Fair and the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Sportshow. Now a fisheries technician-advanced at DNR's Horicon office, Baldock still takes several school groups fishing each year, helps out with fishing events at the MacKenzie Environmental Education Center near Poynette, and serves as fishing camp director for the Wisconsin Outdoor Youth Expo, which brings 3,500 fourth and fifth graders from all over the state for two days of outdoor experiences.

Baldock makes the time to take his niece out fishing, and passes on his tips here for helping make kids' first fishing trip a success.

Fishing, Family, Fun

By Mark Baldock

Fishing with your kids is a great way for a family to come together and to connect with themselves and with the natural world around them. Bluegill are the most caught species in the state of Wisconsin, so if you are looking for as close to a sure thing as you can get, hedge your bets on these readily feeding fish the next time you go out.

Mark Baldock
Mark Baldock takes his niece Lexi fishing to pass on his love for the sport.

When fishing with kids, the most important thing to remember is to keep it simple. You don't have to have the most advanced tackle and electronics to fish for bluegill. Just an old rod and some bait.

Rods, tackle, bait

Ultralight rods are perfect for kids to fish with. The rods are usually shorter, and when the kids get a fish on the hook, it will make it feel like a trophy every time! Use a bobber, small hook, and a BB sized sinker for your tackle. The bobber should be relatively small so that it doesn't spook the fish. A bobber is great because it gives a visual indication of a bite that kids can see and get excited about. Many foam bobbers also have weighted bottoms so that even your little one can cast it a country mile.

For the hooks, a small size 8 or 10 octopus hook is perfect for bluegill. They are small enough for a bluegill to take it, but not so small that they will swallow it every time.

Bluegill will hit a variety of baits, so that is the easy part. They will gobble up garden worms, nightcrawlers, small minnows, grubs, or leeches. Try collecting some worms from your driveway after a rainstorm for a free sample! If you don't want to use live bait, they will also hit any number of artificial lures. Flies, mini-mites, and plastics such as Berkley power bait works just as well on bluegill.

Where to fish

Get a line on good places to take kids fishing by checking the "Take Me Fishing" page of the DNR website.

Once you're at your spot, where to find the fish? Just check the shoreline area. Bluegills spawn in the shallows from late May through August. Just cast near weed lines and docks, and you'll be sure to catch some.

More essentials to bring along

Also, make sure to bring your patience. Kids are going to foul up their line at some point, or get caught on weeds or a dock. We have all done that, even as grown-ups, so laugh it off. Make sure to bring a pair of pliers, because kids' attention span can be limited, and they may miss the bite, allowing the bluegill to swallow it. If it is too far down, just cut the line, tie on a new hook, and give them encouragement.

Don't be afraid to mix it up as well. If the fish aren't biting well, point out birds or turtles to keep them interested and provide a lasting memory. Once they get one in the boat, give them the opportunity to look at the fish. Have a bucket on board that you can fill with water and let the kid get the chance for hands-on experience with it. Show them how to properly hold a fish, so that the spiny rays of the fins don't poke them. Ask them to tell you why the fish is shaped that way or what its color pattern means -- you'll be surprised what they come up with!

Lastly, make sure to have plenty of water, juice, and snacks on board. Bring sunscreen and a towel in case it gets hot and they want to take a dip in the lake. Have some rags to clean hands after they touch fish or the bait. Let them pick one spot on the lake to try and fish. They might find the secret hotspot! If it looks like you are having fun, they will have fun. Good luck and enjoy!

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Mark Baldock (920) 387-7868

Last Revised: Tuesday, June 21, 2011

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