National Fishing and Boat Week is being celebrated this year from June 3 through June 11, and South Carolina, like most other states, has set aside a time when all state residents can fish without a license. The two days are June 10-11.
While it would have seemed more sensible to offer the license-free days on a weekend when more folks would have the opportunity to sample the state's many angling opportunities, perhaps the provision of two days where many states offer only one partly offsets this questionable selection of week days.
The idea behind the program, which has now been in place for a good many years, is a simple one. It is an ideal way to introduce youngsters to a sport which knows no age barriers and few of an economic nature, and it also provides folks who have perhaps "strayed" from the angling path an opportunity to become reacquainted with the joys of fishing.
On these two days, never mind whether you are eight or 80, and whether your equipment is a cane pole and bobber rig or the latest in graphite rods and baitcasting reels, it is possible to enjoy the simple, satisfying pleasures of angling without worrying about the cost of a license.
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Indeed, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), in cooperation with private entities in the fishing business, even makes it possible for those who want to wet a line to borrow equipment. This is thanks to the fishing tackle loaner program, which is described in full detail on the DNR's website (www.dnr.sc.gov).
On a personal level, many of my fondest memories of childhood focus on fishing trips -- watching Dad cast to trout when I was only five or six years old, catching knottyheads with Grandpa Joe, checking trotlines with an old river rat named Al, and bank fishing in the with other lads.
Those were carefree moments, and as the great outdoor writer Robert Ruark once suggested, they were also a sort of insurance against getting into trouble.
Youngsters who spent every free moment fishing (or hunting) were far too busy having fun to take so much as a single step down the path to what was, in those simpler days, known as juvenile delinquency.
To a considerable degree, that remains true, and certainly if you imbue a kid with a love of fishing you have provided him with a timeless and treasured gift.
Just a few days back I talked with my six-year-old granddaughter, and I was absolutely ecstatic when she asked, in her most persuasive voice, "Pa Pooh, will you take me fishing this summer?" We've already enjoyed some wonderful times in a friend's pond, and even though the hurdles of handling worms, baiting hooks, and removing fish have yet to be conquered, I enthusiastically promised her, "Yes, we'll go fishing."
That sort of experience is part and parcel of the basic philosophy underlying the Free Fishing Days.
When it comes specifically to youth, and I think that should be a focal point for every avid fisherman, there are many ways you can go about the making of a fisherman.
All it will cost you is some time, and in return the potential rewards are immense. My suggestion would be to begin by letting your youthful understudy be an integral part of the entire process. Teach some basic knots, talk a bit about the equipment you will be using, and maybe even throw in some preliminary casting practice for good measure.
Likewise, let your young companion help in readying your bait or lures. This might involve going through a tackle box and talking a bit about the lures you will be using, or you could even undertake a bait collecting exercise together.
Digging a can of red worms, seining for minnows, collecting night crawlers under the cover of darkness after a late afternoon shower, or catching crickets or grasshoppers can turn into an adventure in and of itself.
It might also be a good idea to take along a lunch or some snacks, along with plenty of cold water or soft drinks. The idea is to make the entire experience an enjoyable, memorable one of the sort the youngster will be anxious to repeat even as he cherishes it for years to come.
When it comes to the type of fishing you should do, the quest for bream is probably the best bet for a rank beginner. Casting expertise means little. As long as the angler can get his bait into the water where bluegills or other panfish are present, the odds of getting some action are excellent.
Furthermore, bream should still be bedding in many waters, especially area lakes. If so, once the beds are located catching some fish is about as close to a sure thing as you can find in the world of sport fishing.
Dunk some worms or crickets, wait for the bobber to bounce and disappear, and set the hook. The ensuing excitement will be a joy to behold, and there are few more rewarding experiences that the shining eyes and toothy grin associated with a kid's first fish or perhaps a stringer full of bream.
That being said, it isn't necessary or even wise to place undue emphasis on catching fish. If your companion is really young, chasing tadpoles, chunking rocks, listening to frogs croak, helping paddle the boat, or maybe even baiting the hook (never mind my granddaughter's aversion) can be quite exciting.
The idea is to deal with short attention spans while always being alert to boredom. Keep it fun!
To make the day complete, if you do have some luck, clean and cook your catch. Bream make delicious eating, and the lessons in sporting ethics to be learned are meaningful ones.
Whether you take your own children, a neighborhood kid, a grandchild, or any youngster, the action is a noble one.
One of my enduring debts of gratitude to my parents revolves around the way they encouraged my stumbling, bumbling first attempts at fishing, and I now realize that Dad's patience rivaled that of the Biblical Job.
Their quiet guidance has stood me in good stead for over a half century, and every time I take to the water, I pause and reflect on the unending joys of what the sport's patron saint, Izaak Walton, described as being "So pleasant that it will prove to be, like virtue, a reward to itself." Give a youngster a chance to reap those rewards.