In the Northeast, the porgy fishery comes to mind right away. Porgies are around in good numbers from spring through late fall, bite well, are good on the table and will fill the bill nicely. You start the trip by buying ready-made porgy rigs at a local shop, along with frozen squid or clams. Fresh-shucked clams are better, but you might not have time to get them.
Most any rocky hump or bump holds porgies, and the fellow at the shop can fill you in on where to go. The artificial reefs off New Jersey, Montauk (N.Y.) Point, Southwest Reef off Westbrook, Conn., and the rocky areas from Point Judith, R.I., to Buzzards Bay, Mass., offer porgies galore. I should also mention that Nantucket Sound, especially in the springtime, has good numbers of porgies.
Most skippers will anchor up on a promising spot, cut the squid or clams into small pieces, thread them onto the hooks of the rigs, snap on a light bank sinker and drop the rig to bottom. Some captains might cut some bait into very small pieces and toss it over in a running tide to start a bite; others just hope they picked the right spot. It usually doesn’t take long for rods to start bending, the scrappy silver fish fighting well to the delight of the kids, especially wee little ones. Porgies on light spinning rods are easy to handle.
You don’t need the finest boat in the fleet to go porgy fishing. Dave Motherway, of Stonington, Conn., takes his grandkids, including highliner Griffin, out in his venerable but seaworthy Brockway work skiff. It’s a short ride from his dock beside his home on Quiambaug Cove to places such as White Rock in nearby Fishers Island Sound. His “charter” for the day loves scup, a nickname for porgies, and comes back every summer to enjoy fishing, boating and all that goes with it.
We use the same technique in the Florida Keys when winter visitors show up at my friends’ houses, yours truly often along as mate and for help with anchoring. We use the very same porgy rigs (called “chicken rigs” in the Keys) with small hooks baited with pieces of fresh bonito and dropped to the bottom in 80 to 120 feet. And, like fishing up north, we often chum with smaller pieces of cut-up fresh or old bait of some type, dropping those over the side.
It usually doesn’t take long to get a bite going from small snappers, southern porgies, all manner of other bottom dwellers, such as triggerfish, and also small sharks. Sharks may be a nuisance to experienced anglers, but to a youngster who doesn’t do much fishing, a 24-inch reef shark is high drama, playing it up to the boat, the unseen leviathan pulling mightily. A picture of the catch gets sent with the cell phone, often resulting in a return call full of praise from a very pleased grandmother.
Evening is a great time for Southern fishing, the kids enjoying a sunset they’ll never see while in traffic on the way home from the hockey rink up north — along with a nice cooler of small snapper for a fish fry the next day. Sometimes the adults let the kids run the boat on the way home, giving them a lesson in using the plotter, compass or land range to get back to the dock.
If we get in early, tarpon in a lot of the Keys’ canals come around the cleaning table, eating scraps like trained carp in a pond. It’s often very easy to hook one of the smaller tarpon on a piece of fish skin and hand the rod to a kid, who gets to enjoy several leaps. A 10-pound tarpon cartwheeling in front of an 8-year-old is big stuff, the action often front-row for the folks who live along that section of the canal. After a couple of minutes the fish gives up, comes up for pictures and gets released. If Grandma liked the shark picture, she’ll want a blowup for the family album of No. 1 grandson with that “huge” silvery fish he caught on winter break in Florida.
If your charges — north or south — get a bit green, take them in, no questions asked. If the weather turns a little sour, a cool wind comes up or the tide turns against an afternoon breeze, making sitting at anchor uncomfortable, it’s time to head to the dock. On the way home, see if they want to stop at McDonald’s. Or maybe they just want to lie down in the guestroom for a nap to be ready for dinner out with the family, a Keys tradition for winter visitors.
Many restaurants along Route 1 from Key Largo to Key West will cook your snapper catch to order, adding to the trip’s pleasure. A snapshot of smiling faces at a table for eight makes another great cell phone picture, with the text: “Fishing good, kids great, weather in the 70s.”
Keep a few simple rules in mind when fishing with kids. Watch the weather and select a fish that usually bites well. Mix those ingredients with kids who like things to happen fast so you keep their attention on high, and you will bring your charges back to the dock satisfied and wanting to know when they can go again.
This article originally appeared in the March 2012 issue.