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Jim Gronaw: The day two kids went fishing | OUTDOORS COMMENTARY

A couple weeks ago, two kids went fishing in a small pond somewhere in the depths of Carroll County’s fertile fields and wooded forests. It was a pleasant day as the constant breeze kept those biting deer flies at bay and offered cool relief from partial sun.

They watched bobbers with great intensity and set the hooks promptly whenever those plastic orbs disappeared from the surface. Fighting bluegills, cutting tight circles of power for their size, made these two kids squeal with joy and laughter.


Later, they would actually up their game and managed to catch a couple good-sized bass that jumped and thrashed.

One of the kids was five-year old Ryan Nelson, a rookie bluegiller with a natural talent for setting hooks and picking out just the right worm for the job, er, fish.


The other kid was 68-years old…a burnt-out bluegiller for sure who basically never grew up. He’d been doing this thing for a while but often relied on the power and persuasion of the common earthworm for success.

You see, in the bluegill world some kids never grow up.

The fish were cooperative and the weather cool, as bluegills, pumpkinseed sunfish and the occasional largemouth bass gobbled up those worms and bent those ultra-light rods nearly double. Before long, young Ryan was retrieving the spinning outfit perfectly and timing his hooksets just right to play out those rotund fish and calm them down with the classic, two-hand “fish-grip” maneuver.

He quickly and willingly took on the immediate role of “worm man” and dug deep in the plastic container for just the right bait for the fish. As luck would have it, we were in the middle of the spawn and fish were more than eager to pounce on our tidbits as they drifted over the spawning beds.

I have said this before, but it bears repeating…when I was five years old, I caught my first bluegill.

It was on a cane pole and on a hook that was probably way too big, but it somehow worked. From that day forth, things have never been quite the same.

Heralded as “the fish we all grew up on” many anglers somehow view bluegills and sunfish as small fry, kid’s stuff or just too insignificant to pursue once they found out about “greater game”. Fish such as bass, trout, walleye, stripers and even catfish and carp tend to get higher ratings in the fishing fraternity than mere “sunnies”.

So be it, I’m cool with it.


And, yeah, I get it. As social media platforms continue to hype and heave the rewards of big-time tournament bass fishing or travel to exotic locations for the “real” gamefish, long-time panfish freaks throughout the nation continue to reap the benefits of willing panfish species that include delicious fish frys and untold thousands of hours of pure joy and excitement. Pick your poison.

Meanwhile, back at the pond, Ryan is just killin’ ‘em with the proper worm choice thing and squeals and squirnin’ galore. It brought me back to the original roots and reasons as to why I started fishing in the first place… and why I never stopped.

You see, panfishing is one of the few sports where every member of the family is at equal with each other and all can have a measure of success and satisfaction. Kids can catch a great big bluegill or crappie just as easily as an adult can.

The deep-south tradition of tossing crickets and beetle-spins in tannic, tidal flows is a time-honored event where mom, dad, grandparents and the kids all pile in the boat and go down the river for fun and fillets. Believe me, it’s on You Tube aplenty. And if it looks like fun, it’s because it is. I’d recommend leaving your ego, if you have one, at home.

After a bit Ryan engulfed a snack bar and mumbled something about trying the other side of the pond for, that’s right…bass.

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Kids, they just don’t know! However, the bluegill action was slowing down, so we made the move.


Good call on Ryan’s part. Although I had to make the cast for him with heavier gear, we managed to hook up on two nice bass on a buzz-bait, both of which he played like a champ.

He had caught on bass earlier in the day that was 15 inches on a bobber and worm while bluegill fishing. However, one of the buzz-bait bass was a fine 16.5 inches and was an immediate “personal best” for the young angler. Smiles all around and dimples dimpling, Ryan hoisted the fine fish for a series of, yes, “hero” shots and pics to show his mom, dad and grandpa.

And the cool thing about it was he had no problem at all releasing the fish back to the water.

Later, Ryan would hook, and lose, a much larger bass that shook the bait free on a big leap. After a broad look of disappointment, I assured him that in the days, weeks and even years of fishing to come he would get plenty of chances to redeem such an event.

A life-lesson learned at a very tender age, he took it in stride, nodding affirmatively. “Yeah”, he said, “Maybe I’ll get a bigger one next time”.

Yes indeed, next time. Let’s all make sure that “next time” isn’t too far away or that we’re all not too busy to make that happen. Yup, two kids went fishing the other week, one was 5 and the other was 68.