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Jim Gronaw: Passing the baton to young fishermen and anglers | OUTDOORS COMMENTARY

“Hey Paw, can we go fishing tomorrow?”

That question was posed by 16-year-old McKenna Spenner to her grandfather, Jim Reeves, recently after a cold but successful day of fishing at a local pond. She was up visiting for the Thanksgiving holiday and Reeves knew his granddaughter wanted to get out and do some fishing, despite the late season and colder weather.

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It was, truly, a family tradition where Reeves had taken all of his children and grandchildren fishing, trapping and hunting throughout Carroll County and much of central Maryland over the past three decades.

“We’ll have to see how the weather and the Thanksgiving meals play out,” he told her.

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Encouraging words, but no promises.

They had just spent the afternoon at a local pond catching big bluegills on ultralight tackle. You know the gig … light rods, sensitive bobbers and small worms on a tiny jig head to coax as many willing panfish as possible. Stuff that most of us grew up on, and stuff that many of us still enjoy.

McKenna is no stranger to a spinning rod and had enjoyed many outings with her grandfather over the years. Trips for Marburg Lake white perch, pond bass and bluegills and surf fishing for a variety of species were part of a heritage of family fishing adventures.

On the day they fished, cold and overcast skies had developed and conditions did not seem ideal. However, Jim and McKenna shared a couple of precious and memorable hours along the banks of an aging farm pond, watching bobbers dip and travel as nine-inch class bluegills couldn’t resist the tipping efforts of tiny garden worms on the smallest of lures.

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It was a scene that has been played out thousands of times throughout the nation as young anglers eagerly await the submersion of brightly colored floats in anticipation of hard-fighting panfish — or even a bass — that might come by, give a sniff, and engulf the tiny morsel.

Is there any form of the sport of fishing that is more “pure” and rewarding, than that?

Maybe so, but I am inclined to side with these two that simple “bobber watching” stirs the very soul of the angler, young or old.

Sure, it would be nice to land a big winter bass on a blade bait or find some slab crappies near a fallen log somewhere. But for that close-to-home, two-hour getaway it is hard to beat co-operative panfish, a guiding grandparent, and an enthusiastic student of the sport like McKenna.

After an unsuccessful effort to catch a few largemouth bass, Jim and McKenna set up for panfish and were immediately into the fish. Although Jim and I had caught bluegills here on previous summertime ventures, we did not encounter the size and weight of these hefty panfish that they caught on that late November day.

Numerous 9-inch fish came to hand and McKenna had no issues with using her long nails to her advantage to unhook fish and put on bait and grab the fish. Almost like having a built-in hook disgorger!

McKenna Spenner holds up a bluegill caught at a Carroll County farm pond. (photo courtesy of Jim Reeves)
McKenna Spenner holds up a bluegill caught at a Carroll County farm pond. (photo courtesy of Jim Reeves)

And, like many places in central Maryland, you may have to “watch your step” where cattle and Canada geese are found. That’s just part of the game and neither found that to be a problem. I’ve taken many adults fishing who just couldn’t deal with those issues. A good pair of boots can go a long way in combating these challenges.

One of the concerns with taking young anglers fishing is that patience and guidance go hand-n-hand. The instructor, usually the adult, has to realize that this fishing opportunity is for the guest, or usually the younger fisherman. It can be easy to get discouraged, especially in the cold, when fish don’t co-operate or you’re thirsty or hungry.

Willing panfish species like bluegills and sunfish can make the day go fast and there’s always a chance for a big bass or catfish to come coasting by and take the bait, even in the cold.

Each year the Maryland DNR publishes a list of many statewide children’s fishing events that are sponsored by local outdoors clubs, citizens organizations and other groups where fish species like trout, channel catfish and aggressive hybrid sunfish are stocked in community ponds and lakes with the intent of providing a banner day of fishing for the young anglers.

Often, however, some very talented young fishers show up and are just as proficient, if not more so, in fishing than those who are trying to teach. Let’s face it, we can all learn from anglers of all ages and there have been many times I have had to ask a youngster for advice.

Some anglers just can’t bring themselves to seek help and information from young people, or anyone for that matter. Don’t be that guy.

So the coolest thing to learn from the Jim and McKenna trip is this: if you have a daughter, son, grandchild, niece or nephew, or a neighbors child who wants to be outdoors whether it’s fishing, hunting, boating, hiking, bird watching or whatever…give them the time they deserve to learn, enjoy and respect each sport.

Be patient, show them and teach them the best you know how and don’t force anything on them as some people just aren’t geared for the outdoors.

It’s beautiful out there and remember that a tackle box is a better holiday gift than an Xbox.

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