Picking the right lake to fish can be a task that even on a good day can be tough if you know how to fish. Now, if your learning to fish and learning how to take a kid fishing, it can seem daunting. Add not knowing who to ask, makes picking a lake, with fish that are biting and knowing what to use, feel impossible. I will never forget the first time my dad took me ice fishing. He did what most parents do when their 7 year old son hounds them to take them fishing, even though they have no idea what to do. He borrowed grandpa’s old chipping bar and we went to the place he knew best. Yep, the lake we went swimming at all the time. He took me to the spot he remembered me catching fish all summer and we started to chip. After an eternity of chipping on this cold late winter day, we hit the sand bar I fished on all summer. Needless to say, not a single fish was caught that day. I am pretty sure dad was more frustrated than me, in hind sight, because even though he didn’t fish, he liked being successful as much as the other guy. To top it off, he didn’t know who to ask or where to look for the right information. Real-time, good information is vital to catching fish and having a good trip. Knowing where to get good information can be as hard as finding a 4mm bead in your living room carpet. 

First, you have web forums that are full of partial information. You get lakes, depths, color and sometimes some specific lures. As a rule you need to realize these forums are always leaving something out. They are like a puzzle missing two or three pieces. Don’t be afraid to ask questions on these forums; just realize you are getting pieces to the puzzle. Be upfront about your ability level and that you are looking for a place to take kids fishing. It may take a few tries, but typically somebody will chime in with some ideas that generally help out. 

The second place you can look for good information is with your state’s fisheries professionals. Some of my favorite fishing trips with groups of kids were a result of chatting with the local fisheries biologist about some low pressure hot spots. Look on your state’s fisheries website for outreach and fishing days. These are great opportunities to learn and meet the people that are glad to help you catch fish (You’re going to hear this a lot in this article). Make sure you take the time to say thank you. One of the best ways is to send a picture of your successful day. It’s always uplifting for them to hear and see that you caught fish with their help.

Professional anglers are another over-looked option. It is their profession to be out on the water and staying in touch with the fish. They also have a responsibility to share information and teach others how to fish. Any respectable pro will help you out the best that they can. The best bet is to look for the ones in the area you are looking to fish. Remember one thing however, when getting information from anyone, but more so with the pro’s, be honest about your questions and don’t misuse the information. An example of this is when we helped a guy with information he claimed was to take some new anglers fishing, only to find out he was fishing a tournament. So make sure you use the information that they give you for the purpose that you asked about. The one exception to asking a pro is guides. If they offer information it’s ok to take it but I would stay away from asking guides for ethical reasons. Their livelihood is made on taking people out fishing and teaching them how to catch fish. So if you want to go that route, hire them for the day. You will learn more about how to catch fish with a good guide in a day than you may in years on your own. So if you can afford it, it’s worth it. Again, don’t forget to say thanks when the information that you get from a pro is helpful. Every pro needs to provide their employers with reports showing that they are doing their job. So help them out with a picture and a thank you note after your successful trip.

Your local bait shop is another great place for information. When I am talking about local bait shops, I am talking about the ones run by fishermen and not just a gas station with some tackle. They know what, where and why the fish are biting. My son Peter and I stopped in for bait at one of our favorite shops the other day and left an hour later with some great information for a tough bite that we were experiencing. Like guides, you need to help out your local bait shops. When ever possible, buy what you can from them. It’s what it takes to keep them in business. There is a lot cheap stuff at box stores and online but none of it comes with the valuable information that your local bait shop can give. At the end of the day, whenever possible, stop back at the bait shop and share how your day went. The key to a good local bait shop is the relationship that anglers and owners have and the sharing of information. And again, don’t forget to say thank you!

Finally, friends and family. Make sure you ask around with the people that you know. They may not have the insight you need, but most everyone knows someone who knows how to fish. The year after my first ice fishing experience, my dad asked around and his uncle invited us to go to a small perch lake some of the locals knew about. I got to experience three hours of one-fish-after-another. It may not have been a good thing for dad, because that was the day I got hooked on ice fishing. But it was a day we will never forget because it was a positive outdoor experience. That day happened because of dad asking around until someone helped out. So don’t give up if you don’t find the information on the first couple tries. 

There are some of you reading this article because you have no idea where to go fishing yourselves, much less take out someone else to catch fish. Some of you are getting the hang of fishing but aren’t confident taking others out. Finally, some of you have a hard time not catching fish wherever and whenever you go. Now that you have read this article, get to know each other.  There are a lot of people out there who want to learn to fish and are looking for someone to teach them how to fish. If you’re that person don’t be afraid to ask until you find help. If you know how to fish don’t wait to make them ask. Find them and help them out. It will leave ripples for generations to come.

Original Published in Midwest Outdoors September 2018

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