An annual angling opportunity for non-fishing adults presents itself this month across most Great Lakes waters. If you’re reading this column it likely means that you’re an angler, and the occasion presents a teachable moment. Celebrated nationally the first full week of June, National Fishing & Boating Week is June 2-10 this year, and as a way of participating, most states offer what are called “Free Fishing Days” during the week-long event. Seven of the eight Great Lakes states offer Free Fishing Days some time in June or July, with Wisconsin and Indiana’s held on the opening weekend, June 2 and 3*.
On those days, resident adults who otherwise would be required to purchase a license to legally fish are exempt from having to do so. The participating states’ agencies temporarily waive the permit process to allow non-angling adults to test the waters – and the sport – for a day or two without having to gamble the price of a license. The hope is that people will try fishing, enjoy themselves, become hooked on the sport and join the ranks of annual license-buying anglers to help protect our waters for the future of boating and fishing.
What this permit-free holiday presents to those of us who recognize the many benefits of wetting a line is a chance to lure non-fishing friends and family members aboard our boats and offer the option of angling as an activity with no ‘strings’ attached in the form of license fees.
The real catch comes with those adults you have invited to fish in the past and played the “I don’t want to pay for a license” card. Let them float that excuse past you this month before calling their bluff, and welcome them aboard during one of your state’s ‘free’ days!
When doing so, consider these seven tips for making that first fishing experience a pleasant one for the adult newbie:
1) Tell your adult fishing guest(s) that you will only give fishing a try for a while as part of the boating trip, that you hope they will join in and give the activity a sporting chance, and that you are willing to end the lesson at any point in the process. By designating fishing as only a side activity during the outing, they won’t feel they have let you down and ruin the day if they decide they don’t enjoy it.
2) Let your guest know exactly what will take place on your fishing outing, from how long the boat ride is to the fishing grounds to what water and weather conditions to expect and suggest how to dress for the event with comfortable clothing and proper light-soled footwear.
3) Let them know that if they wish, you will tackle as much of the ‘dirty’ work of rigging hooks and bait, casting, landing and releasing the catch as they desire.
4) Share your own history of how you started fishing and why you enjoy it. Inquire about any fishing experiences they may have had. Any negative examples may give you an idea of what to avoid repeating during your outing.
5) Instead of heading offshore for salmon, trout or walleye, unless you know the bite is on and success is all but guaranteed, target fish species like panfish and places in protected waters where you know your guest will be comfortable and have the best chance of catching something. Size doesn’t matter. Action does.
6) Give the novice angler adult-size, good-quality tackle to use and offer hands-on instruction of how to operate the reel and how to release and retrieve the line, and base any casting attempts on their ability to handle the rig.
7) Finally, make sure you fish too, using the same type tackle, technique and bait. Demonstrate to your guests that you enjoy catching bluegills or catfish or crappies the same as you hope they will.
And if they don’t, don’t push the point. Put the tackle away and enjoy the rest of the day enjoying our Great Lakes from a pure boating perspective, knowing you did your best to expose someone new to one of our favorite pastimes.
Captain Lee highlights Captain Lance Valentine
Captain Lance Valentine of Michigan teaches adults to fish 12 months a year. Most of the lessons are offered firsthand aboard his well-appointed Polar Kraft guide boat, during the open water walleye fishing season. The balance are taught at winter boat and sport shows across the Great Lakes, where he is popular for leading his Walleye 101 series of instructional fishing seminars. Valentine is one of the most successful charter guides on the lakes, where his trips are often booked a year or more in advance. One of the reasons for Valentine’s popularity is his willingness to patiently teach his clients his techniques, whether it be vertical jigging in the Detroit River in the spring or trolling for open water walleye in the summer and fall. When I fished with Lance last June, the other factor I noticed was how safety-minded the captain is; he goes overboard to discuss basic boating safety with every client before they leave the dock and his boat is outfitted with the latest in safety gear, which is all clearly labeled and available to his clients in the event of an on-water emergency – even if that takes Lance out of the picture. My wife Maria and I received a clinic from Valentine that day, and it made me appreciate how enjoyable it is to fish with a guide who teaches what he preaches. Reach Lance to talk about a fishing trip and see his instructional videos at www.walleye101.com.