Learning to fish is easy, right? Take one fishing pole, one worm and just add water.
But there's a little more to it than that, especially when the angler-to-be is a youngster.
With school, sports teams and computer play competing for ever-shrinking free time -- and parents experiencing the same time crunch -- fewer children are experiencing what was once considered a rite of passage: catching a wiggling bluegill.
Still, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources says that with an estimated 216,000 anglers between the ages of 6 and 15, there's plenty of life left in the sport.
A fishing trip doesn't have to be a major production worthy of Steven Spielberg. Just a tiny bit of planning can make for an enjoyable outing, one that will be remembered for years.
Youngsters under the age of 16 don't need a fishing license, and this year, the state has designated June 3 and 10 and July 4 as days when anyone can fish for free.
Don't scrimp with a SpongeBob or Scooby-Doo rod and reel. Spend about $30 for a combo set built around that old indestructible rod, the Ugly Stick made by Shakespeare. Be sure to buy a bag of small hooks (size 8 or 10) and some bobbers, and dig your own worms or, better yet, buy a dozen night crawlers.
Next, choose a location with a known track record. In Maryland, those places include Piney Run Park in Carroll County, Centennial Lake in Howard County and Loch Raven Reservoir in Baltimore County.
Old-timers like to grump that"the sport is called fishing, not catching," as a way of warning that not every outing will result in a full creel of fish.
But those three fishing holes are as close to a guarantee as nature offers.
As Kevin McComas at the Loch Raven Fishing Center says, only half-joking, "They just about jump in the boat."
Pull out a map and let the child help plan the trip. Pack snacks, drinks, sunscreen and something to occupy the child if the fish aren't biting.
One way to swing the odds in your favor is chatting with someone like McComas, who knows where the fish are and what they are eating. Each of the three fishing holes mentioned above has either a staff person or longtime fishermen nearby willing to offer advice.
For your sanity and that of your young angler, keep lessons short and simple. Get the line in the water quickly and then talk about the process.
"Try to be realistic about what a child can and can't tolerate," says Jim Gronaw, the fishing expert at Piney Run. "Some kids can't sit and wait for a nibble while others can't wait to be on the water."
If you're the designated teacher, don't plan on fishing. "It's not your day to fish," says Gronaw. "Teaching is a full-time job."
Piney Run has a number of piers from which to fish. A short cast from Bud's Wharf are underwater brush piles that attract fish such as bluegills and crappie. The lake's record striped bass -- nearly 30 pounds -- was caught from Bud's.
At Loch Raven, have McComas direct you to the back of one of the coves for some terrific white-perch fishing.
"They're hard to miss. People just love them," he says.
Experts say that the best fishing trip is the one that ends with the child wanting more.
"When the kid is ready to go on to something else, do it," says state fisheries biologist Angel Bolinger. "Just have fun."
What makes Loch Raven, Centennial and Piney Run perfect for beginners are the other things available. All three have rental boats and canoes. Piney Run has a nature center and small concession stand. Centennial has a general store with snacks. And right down the road from Loch Raven on Cromwell Bridge Road is Sanders' Corner, a restaurant with good sandwiches and homemade soups. (Just don't leave your car in the lot and go fishing unless you want it towed.)
Any primer on fishing would be incomplete without mentioning the Chesapeake Bay. Boats, bristling with fishing rods, seem to blossom like flowers on warm summer weekends.
If you don't own a boat or have a friend with one, consider booking a trip on a "head" boat, so named because the captain charges each passenger, unlike with a charter boat, where you rent the whole boat.
Even without a boat, fishing possibilities are endless. Today Anne Arundel County is scheduled to open a 300-foot fishing pier at Downs Park in Pasadena.
The $400,000 pier will provide anglers with plenty of opportunities to catch white perch and maybe some smaller striped bass.
Farther down the bay, there are fishing piers at Matapeake State Park on Kent Island, the Choptank River in Cambridge, the Route 450 Naval Academy Bridge in Annapolis and the Point Lookout State Park in St. Mary's County.
One final thing: Bring a camera to document the day. In addition to tucking the photos in an album, attach one to an application for a free "My First Fish" certificate from the state Department of Natural Resources. Applications can be downloaded from the agency's Web site: www.dnr. state.md.us.
Three good fishing spots
Loch Raven Reservoir, Baltimore County. Beltway Exit 27 to Dulaney Valley Road. Twenty-four hundred acres. Fishing center hours: 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Boat rentals, bathrooms, picnic area. Information: 410-887-7692.
Centennial Lake, Howard County. On Route 108, just off Route 29. Fifty acres. Hours: dawn to dusk. Boat rentals, picnic areas, bathrooms. Information: 410-313-4700.
Piney Run Park, Carroll County. Just west of Eldersburg, off Liberty Road. Three hundred acres. Hours: 6 a.m. to sunset, with exception of night-fishing tournaments. Boat rentals, nature center, bathrooms, picnic area. Entry fee. Information: 410-795-3274.
Fishing events for kids
Piney Run is holding the Governor's Youth Fishing Derby from 6 a.m. to noon June 3. The entry fee is $3, and there's a prize for the biggest fish caught. Information: 410-795-6474.
That same day, Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Cambridge is having a youth fishing derby that includes workshops, a free lunch and a grab bag. Information: 410-228-2677.
Patuxent Research Refuge in Laurel is opening Cash Lake and Lake Reddington to youngsters from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. June 10. Information: 301-497-5766.
"Hooked on Fishing, Not on Drugs," is a free, five-day program run by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. Classes fill up quickly, but there are still openings at Patapsco Valley State Park (Avalon area) on the border of Howard and Baltimore counties and Greenbrier State Park in Washington County. Sessions are 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. and noon to 3 p.m. Applications can be downloaded from the DNR Web site's link: www.dnr.state.md.us/education/hofnod.html. Information: 410-260-8721.