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Fishing - A new season offers optimism, opportunities

Make a commitment to pick up the kids after school and introduce a new generation to fishing

Make a commitment to pick up the kids after school and introduce a new generation to fishing

With another spring rolling over the Northeast it’s time to renew our life afloat, time to get the boat out of hibernation and catch some of the thousands of small stripers now on the move along the coast.

This year, consider taking a few kids along for a chance to experience a silvery fish tugging at the end of a light rod. A lot of the schoolie fishing at this time is up in bays, rivers and salt ponds — sheltered waters ideal to introduce newcomers to the sport of fishing. And, with lots of smaller bass around, the chances for fast action are better than average.

The same small rods used to take a youngster out for trout fishing on Opening Day will often work wonders catching small striped bass. Only, instead of a 12-inch hatchery rainbow, kids can hook wild, 14- to 30-inch stripers that will pull like the dickens.

Most of the fishing will be casting into and around shoreline structures like a rocky point or maybe where some little stream empties into a back bay. A bend in a tidal river is always a good place to start looking or up inside a small cove.

I have access to one of the latter spots not far from my home in coastal Rhode Island, where both shore and boat anglers fish alongside a quiet cemetery, catching stripers out of north winds. A lee shore can be a godsend until our weather settles into summer calms.

Lures for schoolie casting can be as simple as a 1/8- to 1/2-ounce white bucktail available in most tackle shops, or any one of a dozen brands of small plastic lures sold in the same shop.

Each area of coast seems to have its favorite killer and a favorite color. Buy a few of each and experiment by using one kind on one rod, a different on another, then switch over when the fish show a preference. The same tackle shop owner or clerk can also offer advice on the best places to start casting.

Consider the crew

If, however, a bright day turns cold and blustery without much happening — even after tucking in on the lee side of an island or shoreline — it’s time to pull the plug and bring the kids home. Never let the day go cold and stale, a sure way to turn young kids off to the sport. Fishing must compete with video and computer games back home. If it doesn’t, don’t expect volunteers to crew the casting platform next Saturday morning.

If your schedule and theirs will allow it, consider picking them up after school for an evening along the tidal river or bay. You might find great action as the sun goes down, not far from a dock or boat ramp, catching a dozen or more small bass in the process. Livening up their school week with a late-afternoon fishing trip might just make you a hero.

Make a point of showing kids how to gently release the small bass, preaching conservation as well as a good time. If one of your charges catches a legal striper, there is nothing wrong with popping that in the fish box for dinner (not to mention letting young angler show his or her catch off to mom). And, be ready for competition — if one catches a keeper, the other may be asking to stay a bit longer until he or she catches one the same size.

Plenty of spring trips get in on days when the schoolies hit with abandon, anglers on the spot getting two to four dozen in a day. With that in mind, consider bringing a camera to take photos of the young ones holding up the small rod that is just their size, smiling broadly with their 18-inch prize.

Be sure to take extra clothes, for the weather along the shore will be colder than 30 miles inland even on a warm, spring day. Hooded, lined windbreakers are a good choice as is some type of footwear that prevents cold feet while fishing atop water that might only be in the 50s.

Strategy and options

Our targets here are small striped bass, but we might also throw in a word about winter flounder. These great-tasting flatfish inhabit much the same waters as striped bass in the spring so you might be able to offer a combo trip or a chance to catch a flounder if the striper bite falters at midday.

A tackle shop staffer can sell rigs, sinkers and box of worms, and point out the right location. The NianticRiver, for instance, in eastern Connecticut offers both striper casting and flounders, the season for the latter running April and May.

Remember our fickle spring winds. If the rocky point along the outside of the river is too cold and raw one day, consider fishing for flounder before calling the trip finished. If the flounder aren’t biting, have a lunch at the ready, always thinking about keeping the day “moving” for your young charges.

Another idea might be to borrow a page from tournament fishermen and pre-fish an area, finding out where the fish are so when the kids arrive next day, you know just where to head rather than burning time scouting for the hotspot that seems to change day to day as fish forage for food along the river or bay.

Success will only attract future volunteers when it’s time to look for fluke, bluefish or maybe even a night trip for larger striped bass when they arrive in our waters around midmonth.

As the days lengthen and the boat covers come off, think about that first charge of school stripers — and maybe inviting some of the neighborhood kids along for the first fishing trip of the season.

Tim Coleman has been fishing New England waters for more than 30 years. He was managing editor of The Fisherman magazine’s New England edition until 2001, and is now a freelance writer based in Rhode Island.