Fishing is one of the best things you can do with your Cub Scout pack, Scouts BSA unit, Venturing crew or Sea Scout ship.
It gets kids away from their screens. It gets them outdoors. And it gives them opportunities for advancement.
At the same time, it doesn’t have to cost tons of money, require multiple nights in the wilderness or involve carrying around a bunch of gear.
But what if you — the unit leader — don’t know a thing about fishing?
We’re here to tell you: It doesn’t matter.
Fishing is easy. With just a few basic pieces of information, a relatively inexperienced Scout leader can guide their Scouts to hours of fishing fun.
“Literally anyone can do it,” says Amanda Jarrett, an assistant Arrow of Light den leader for Pack 601 in Leon Valley, Texas.
First, Jarrett and her den leader husband had their Cub Scouts play a game with toy rod and reels, as well as plastic casting targets shaped like fish. That way, the kids could learn the basics of casting in their homes or front yards.
Then they invited all the families in their den to go fishing for real at their local Scout camp.
“With $4.75 poles, a $3 box of worms and a $2 pack of hooks,” Jarrett says, “we had kids out there fishing for more than an hour.”
Knowing Where to Cast
It’s one of the most common mistakes that a beginner angler — young or old — can make.
You stand on the pier, cast your bait as far as you can toward the center of the pond, slowly reel it back in and … you don’t catch a fish.
The reason? Most fish aren’t “roamers.” They don’t just swim around in open water. There’s a much better chance of catching a fish near the pier than way out in the open water.
“The rule of thumb is that fish live by something,” says Tom Redington, a professional fisherman who runs a guide service in Royse City, Texas. “That’s rule No. 1: Make sure we’re casting a bait towards something.”
Fish love the shade under boat docks and fishing piers or near a lot of vegetation. In a stream, they like to hang out in an eddy behind a rock.
This is important, because everything changes when a kid catches their first fish.
“They just want something pulling on the line — some positive feedback,” Redington says. “You don’t have to make a long cast. You don’t need a $300 rod and reel. Just drop the line a few inches in the water, and a lot of times the fish will come.”
Another common problem for beginners is the use of a hook that’s too big. We’re not going for a prize-winning bass at this point. We just want to get a fish on the line to generate some excitement. That means smaller fish are OK — and a smaller hook will greatly increase the chances of catching one.
Use live bait, and make sure the bait isn’t hanging too far off the hook. We want to catch the fish, not feed the fish.
“Bluegill and crappie are the most aggressive fish and the easiest to catch,” Redington says. “They have a really small mouth, though. Even with a moderate-sized hook, they can’t get it in their mouth. You’re better off with a really small hook.”
A quick, easy and fun way to learn more about fishing is to take a BSA Certified Angling Instructor course. Jarrett took one and went from a know-nothing to a knows-at-least-a-few-things angler in just a weekend.
Onda Maughan, an assistant Scoutmaster with Troop 28 in Colleyville, Texas, took one, too.
“I didn’t know how to fish,” Maughan says. “I knew you threw a line in the water, and that’s about it.”
She’s now perfectly comfortable taking her grandson — a current Troop 28 member — and his fellow Scouts fishing at state parks, local Scout camps or any old local fishing hole.
Maybe they’ll work on their Fishing merit badge. Or maybe they won’t. Sometimes, it’s OK to go fishing just for fun.
“It’s time outdoors,” Maughan says. “It doesn’t require a ton of preparation. It’s more just like a ‘let’s go’ kind of thing.”
What You Need to Know
Think you can’t take your Scouts fishing? Think again. Here are the five basics you need to know.
1. HOW TO CAST. A spincast or closed-face reel is a great choice for beginners, because it makes casting really easy. To use a spincasting reel, simply push in the button and hold it. Once you let go of the button, the line will come out. See our how-to video at go.scoutingmagazine.org/cast
2. WHERE TO CAST. Most fish don’t roam around in the middle of a lake, pond or stream. Instead, they hang out near something, such as a dock, a group of rocks or, in many cases, the platform you’re standing on while you’re fishing.
3. HOW TO BAIT YOUR HOOK. Think of the hook as your foot and the worm as a sock. Or, if that grosses you out, don’t think about it at all. Just do it. Practice with gummy worms on paper clips. Then you can eat your mistakes.
4. HOW TO HANDLE YOUR FISH. Some Scouts will prefer not to remove a fish permanently from the water. But a fish won’t survive unless you release it properly. Before touching a fish, make sure your hands are already wet, and don’t leave the fish out of the water longer than you can hold your breath. go.scoutingmagazine.org/handlefish
5. KEEP IT SAFE. Dehydration and sunburn can be issues anytime you’re outdoors, so lather on the sunscreen and drink plenty of water. Getting hooked on fishing is great, but getting literally hooked by a fishhook is not. Make sure Scouts look around every time they cast and keep plenty of space between anglers.
Become a Certified Angling Instructor
Ready to take the next step in fishing? Consider signing up for a BSA Certified Angling Instructor course.
A Certified Angling Instructor is a BSA volunteer interested in teaching Scouts how to enjoy the sports of fishing and fly fishing. No prior fishing experience is required.
CAIs will have the opportunity to learn fundamental fishing and fly-fishing skills, and in turn learn how to best teach Scouts those skills.
Courses are offered across the country and generally take one weekend.
To find a course near you, visit bsacai.org