No, I’m not going to go all Harry Chapin on you. Sappy isn’t really my thing. I’m more about realism and problem-solving. So, here’s the problem, as several people have outlined it to me:
You’re a parent (or grandparent) and you want to take the kids fishing. But you don’t have a boat, nor do you have the disposable income for things like charter fishing trips. How can you show a child a fun time on the water?
Heard you, loud and clear. Let’s see what we can do about it, without breaking the bank. For this exercise, we’ll be focusing on panfish — bluegills, small snapper, pinfish and the like. Yeah, they’re little, but there are lots of them. And trust me, it’s a hoot for the kids.
First thing you’ll need is some fishing tackle. It doesn’t have to be top-of-the-line. You can get an inexpensive spinning rod combo for about 20 bucks. You’ll need some line for it (if it’s not already spooled), a pack of splitshot sinkers, a couple small bobbers and some little hooks (I like the long-shanked cricket hooks, about a size 10).
Kids 15 and younger don’t need a license to fish, but if you’re planning to fish with them, you’ll probably need one (unless you’re 65 or older). Saltwater shore fishing licenses are free, but you still have to have it. There is no shore license for freshwater fishing, so you’ll need to get a regular license to do that ($17.50 for an annual license).
Now you need some bait. If you’re going to a freshwater spot, the bait will be different. You can get red wigglers or minnows at the bait shop, crickets at the pet store, or use a few slices of bread. If you’re saltwater fishing, all you need is a bag of frozen shrimp or squid.
Before I get to the “where,” let’s look at the “how.” You have one basic technique for saltwater fishing: Tie on the hook, attach a splitshot sinker a couple inches above it, attach the bobber about a foot above that. Then cut a tiny piece — about the size of your pinkie nail — of shrimp or squid and slip it onto the hook. Drop it next to a piling or seawall and keep a sharp eye on that bobber.
In fresh water, this same technique works well with the live baits (except that you don’t cut them up). If you’re using bread, peel off the crusts and toss small pieces into the water to get the fish interested. Then tear the rest of the bread slice into pieces (about a dozen, usually) and roll each piece into a tight ball. Fish as above.
OK, the hard part: Where are you going to go? We’ll start with saltwater spots, and we’ll start north and move along the coast.
The Albee Road Bridge is best known for snook, but there are loads of little fish around the pilings and the base of the bridge. Ditto the Venice jetties, where you can sometimes watch fish dart out from the rocks to eat your bait. And don’t forget the Venice Municipal Pier, which doesn’t require a fishing license (the city of Venice has already paid).
The bridge on Manasota Beach Road will produce some little snappers, and the boat ramp piers are usually stacked with hungry nibblers. There are also small piers at Chadwick Park (Englewood Beach) and Blind Pass Beach Park (Middle Beach). Both piers are on Lemon Bay, not the Gulf. And then the Ainger Pier on Beach Road is a great spot with fish from tiny to monster (although you’re focusing on tiny).
It’s a long walk out to the Placida Pier. If you don’t want to go so far, the much smaller Coral Creek Pier (just across the street) also holds lots of little fish.
Then it’s up to El Jobean. To stick with little fish, you don’t need to go far on this pier. As long as the pilings are in the water, they’ve got little fish around them. You can also fish the seawall, but it’s kind of a pain to get to. Your call.
In Port Charlotte, you’ve got piers at Port Charlotte Beach, Bayshore Live Oak Park (two of them, actually) and then the pier/walkway complex at Live Oak Point Park under the north end of the U.S. 41 bridge. All of them are over shallow water, and all of them have lots of small fish.
The Laishley and Gilchrist piers in Punta Gorda also hold lots of kid-size fish. Again, you can stay pretty close to shore and still find the little nibblers you’re after.
Ponce de Leon Park offers two piers and some cool things to explore. You’ll notice many fishermen here cast into the middle of the channel. Most of the fish are under your feet, though.
If you want to go freshwater fishing, almost every canal and retention pond holds fish. The tricky bit is access, since many areas are off limits. I like the retention ponds along Kings Highway and the Cocoplum Waterway along Hillsborough Blvd. The ponds at the C.M. Webb WMA in south Punta Gorda are also great. Anywhere you find a culvert, bridge or spillway is a likely spot.
Remember your goal here: The kids are going to have fun and you’re going to make some great memories for them. This isn’t about catching big fish, or really even catching lots of fish. It’s about you spending time with them doing something fun. The fish are just a bonus.
And don’t forget the photos. Capturing these moments is important because it allows you to share them, and also makes them easier to remember for you and the kids.
There are a million excuses: I don’t have the time. It costs too much money. I don’t know where to go. It’s time for you to get past those excuses and get out on the water. They don’t stay young forever, and they’ll remember what you do — or don’t do — with them.
Contact Capt. Josh Olive at 941-276-9657 or Publisher@WaterLineWeekly.com.