When you take a kid fishing, it's a tossup who will benefit most. The child will enjoy the outing, feel empowered by learning from you a pastime and means of survival, and come to understand the food chain and our place in it. Sometime during the day you may honestly have trouble blinking back a tear because you will feel so good about providing such a profound experience and thus contributing to the growth of the child. You'll both benefit greatly and equally, which makes this a very worthwhile adventure. So invite a kid or two and make plans today for a trip that will improve the quality of life for everyone involved.
Kids, a pier and simple tackle offer a good introduction to angling.
PHOTO: CAPTAIN DAVID BACON
It's easy. Along the Southern California coast, there are dozens of places to go wet a line and enjoy a few hours of fishing from a pier or harbor breakwater. If you're an old hand at this, you'll know to bring some light easy-to-use tackle such as spinning gear and pre-tied leaders. Light weights from half-ounce up to three ounces will suffice in the near-shore zone. If you're a novice angler yourself, the folks at the tackle shops can help keep things simple.
A stop by the local bait and tackle shop is always a wise idea for experienced or novice anglers alike. The shopkeeper will know what's biting, what to use, and can give you directions to the best spot. Follow that good advice. Buy some bait and whatever tackle you need. For pier, breakwater, and surf fishing, it's easiest to buy surf leaders already made up with a swivel or loop on the bottom for your weight and one or more hooks on short dropper loops above the weight. They are so simple to tie on and use that they save time, tangles, and frustration once at the hot fishing spot.
Bait is another matter. The most common baits are fresh frozen or salted anchovies. They are easy to work with, not too messy, stay on the hook fairly well and the fish seem to like them. Frozen squid is another good bait. It is extremely durable so it stays on the hook well and is difficult for the fish to steal without getting caught. Other preferred baits include mussels (which can be bought frozen or broken off of pier pilings and rocks), blood worms, and shrimp. You can also dig up sand crabs from the wet sand where the waves wash ashore. It's a lot of fun and they make great bait for surf zone fish like barred surfperch, corbina, and even bass.
Where you fish is what determines what kind of fish you catch. From a pier for example, the surf zone where the waves are breaking is where perch and corbina hunt. Just behind the breakers is where larger perch and young halibut feed actively. A California Halibut must be at least 22 inches to be legal, so a sub-legal fish is big enough to put up a good fight. Every once in awhile a legal one will come up and then you're in for a truly tasty meal. Farther out on the pier over deeper water you'll be fishing for bass, larger halibut, sand and shovelnose sharks, croakers, and mackerel. On occasion, schools of surface gamesters such as bonito and barracuda come through and really heat up the action for those casting and retrieving shiny lures.
Other fun options are available. For example, some live bait docks allow fishing for a fee and provide live bait. It's no secret that kids love fishing with live bait and it certainly helps keep them occupied. Renting a skiff and venturing forth on the water is another possibility. I would recommend this only if you already have some boating safety knowledge, fishing skills, and an understanding of where to find fish. Boats are notoriously expensive to own and maintain and insurance is high, all of which manifests itself in skiff rental fees which seem a bit high.
Teenagers will do okay on a large open party sportboat such as the half-day, ¾-day, and all-day boats that run out of the sportfishing landings. Younger kids may have trouble with the competitive environment at the rail. Some of the guys who frequent these boats aren't willing to give a kid much respect. The stern area is usually the most competitive, and the bow is where the hard-core jig slingers congregate. You can make the most of the scene by staying right with the child and fishing midway up the side of the boat. Sportfishing landings like to attract family groups and many offer lower fares for kids. Nearly every harbor along the SoCal coast has at least one sportfishing landing. Your tackle shopkeeper may have brochures and advice.
The ultimate but also most expensive option available is a private charter aboard a 6-PAK boat. The charterboat and skipper will be totally dedicated to helping children or teens learn to fish and interpret the conditions and sea life. The skipper will know what's biting, where to go, and how to rig-up. Rods, reels, and tackle are available on many of these charterboats. If the $400 to $600 charter fee is a bit higher than you're able to pay, consider calling some friends and sharing the cost.
Private chartering is my business. I own and operate WaveWalker Charters in Santa Barbara. I'm happiest when there are kids aboard who want to learn how to fish and better understand the marine environment. To be perfectly honest, I still have trouble holding back a tear when I'm helping a young child understand the sea and all of it's creatures.
Capt. David Bacon a.k.a. “Capt. WaveWalker”
WaveWalker Charters, Santa Barbara
(805)964-2046 or (805)895-3273