- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 13, 2003

CALLAWAY, Md.

When Jake Jewell turned 5, his grandfather promised to take him fishing. Five was the right age to start the boy on something he might take to with a passion — or hate with equal fervor. If the latter occurred, he’d eventually walk in his father’s footsteps and start swinging a golf club, but grandpa would do all he could to keep that from happening.

Last week Jake, a kindergartner in the St. Mary’s County school system, went fishing in 250-acre St. Mary’s Lake. His mom packed him a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich, chips, fruit juice and raisins. He was up, hair combed, looking spiffy, raring to go an hour before the man he calls Poppie arrived. It was 6:30a.m.

Poppie brought his bass boat, additional provisions should the PBJ not work out, a carton filled with lively nightcrawlers and several lightweight spinning rods, hooks, and plastic bobbers. “Are you ready?” grandpa asked, and Jake nodded happily. He held on to his spanking new life vest and soon the two headed to the lake.

Enter Rule No.1 when you take a child fishing for the first time: be sure the kid catches something. Don’t be an idiot and expect a 5-year-old to sit in a boat all day, casting artificial lures for bass that might never come along. It’s the surest way to make him or her take up golf or tennis.

Keeping that in mind, Jake — who I’m certain you’ve guessed by now is my grandson — would fish for the very prolific and certainly most obliging species in the land, the freshwater bluegill.

After a brief casting instruction session with an open-face spinning rod, Jake was ready. We chopped a thick nightcrawler into half-inch-long pieces, put one of the little morsels onto a tiny 1/16-ounce fluorescent green-and-red shad dart, pinched a thumb tip-sized float some 3 feet above the bait and off went the juicy tidbit of worm, sailing through the morning mist and landing with a loud “plop” alongside a waterlogged stump.

Honestly, that shad dart/worm combination wasn’t in the water more than three seconds before the plastic float disappeared.

“Set the hook, Jake. You have a fish on,” I fairly shouted at my little man, forgetting completely that Jake had no way of knowing what “set the hook” meant. Fortunately, the fish wouldn’t let go and Jake eventually reeled it in, smiling from ear to ear, his eyes wide with wonder. I helped swing the feisty bluegill into the boat and Jake was king of the world.

“Poppie, I caught that fish, didn’t I?” asked Jake and we’ll never know who was the prouder occupant in the boat, the handsome kindergartner or his grandfather.

Better things were to come. Ten minutes after landing his first bluegill, Jake — having learned the “set-the-hook” routine by now, saw his bobber disappear once again, and now he did all the work. He raised the rod sharply, began to reel and, amid shouts of “this one is really strong,” reeled in a 13-inch largemouth bass.

It goes to show that even simple sunfish baits sometimes attract the top of the lake’s food chain, the bass.

Jake was beside himself. He caught three additional bluegills in relatively short order, occasionally stopping his fishing to dig for a night crawler, hold it in his hand and study it the way Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, and every other youngster throughout fishing history might have. He also was fascinated with the boat’s aerated live-well tank in which his sunfish were swimming about, never realizing that they were destined to become supper later that day.

Dark clouds moved in and rains threatened, but that wasn’t the reason we called it a day. No, it was Jake who wanted to go home and show his parents and his Grammy what he’d accomplished.

Enter Rule No.2 when you take a child fishing for the first time: stop the fishing the moment the child wants to. Don’t force a beginner like Jake to stay out and keep at it if he doesn’t want to.

By the time I unbuckled Jake’s life vest, lifted him up into the front of the pickup truck and fastened the seat belt around his little body, he was smiling as only a happy angler can.

That day, after hooking bluegills and a bass, Jake Jewell became a fisherman.

How do I know? His mom tells me he can’t wait to go again and as long as there’s a breath in me, that boy will fish again — and again.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column every Sunday and Wednesday, and his Fishing Report every Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com.

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