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PINE BLUFF, Ark. – Fishing can be a great hobby for youth, as it allows them to spend meaningful time with friends or family members outdoors, says Scott Jones, Extension specialist at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. When teaching children or youth how to fish, Arkansans can remember to emphasize a few basic fishing techniques to make the new hobby more productive and enjoyable for their pupils.

Jones said an experienced friend or family member is an invaluable resource for someone learning how to cast a fishing rod.

“Casting has very little to do with strength, but a lot to do with mechanics and timing,” he said. “Even young children can cast properly-weighted lures a long distance with spin-cast gear once they learn the right mechanics and timing.”

When learning how to cast, beginners often try too hard, Jones said. To cast an appropriate distance using a spin-cast combo, beginners should simply focus on acquiring the right movement – a smooth rotation of the wrist and forearm – as well as the proper timing to release the line.

“Similar to teaching a child to throw a baseball or ride a bicycle, teaching a child to cast a fishing rod can make for a fun and memorable bonding opportunity,” he said.

Jones said setting the hook in the fish is also about mechanics and timing. While the steps required for a good hook-set are simple, the sudden excitement of a bite often makes young anglers react before thinking.

Anglers detect their first bite either by seeing their float go under the surface of the water or by feeling a tug at the end of their line. They should react by reeling in slack line while pointing their rod towards the lure. If an angler tries to set the hook with too much slack in the line, much of the rod movement will only move the slack line rather than the hook, and the fish may get away.

“Once you have gathered most or all of the slack line, continue reeling as you swing the rod up to a 90-degree angle above your head to drive the hook into the fish,” Jones said.

Jones said very few situations require a swift, “home-run” hook-set. In many cases, being too forceful results in broken line, bent hooks and lost fish.

After the hook has been properly set, the angler should continue to reel the fish in towards the shore or boat. Slack should not be allowed to form in the line, because this may allow the fish to shake loose.

If fishing from a boat, the angler should catch the fish with a rubber-coated mesh net to protect the fish’s slime coat.

After catching a fish in a public fishery, the angler should determine if the fish meets the length limit regulations set for that location. These regulations can be found online at www.agfc.com or in the latest annual Arkansas Fishing Guidebook.

“If the fish is long enough, you can choose to keep or release it,” Jones said. “You are allowed to continue keeping fish that meet the length regulation until you reach the creel limit – the number of fish of a certain species you can keep in one day. After that point, all the additional fish you catch of that species must be released immediately. On the other hand, you can release a fish already in your possession back into the water in order to keep the new fish.”

Jones said these regulations are designed to protect the fishery so that everyone, including future generations, can enjoy it and benefit from its resources.

“When fishing in a private pond or lake, whether you can keep the fish you catch depends on the guidelines set by the property owner,” he said. “There are no state harvest regulations that extend to private property, so check with the owners before you begin fishing.”

Being caught and handled causes great stress to fish, especially during the summer, Jones said.

“While there are conservation and humane aspects to caring for a catch, there is also a food-quality aspect,” he said. “Studies have shown that higher stress before processing can reduce the quality and shelf-life of fish fillets. Other studies have shown that higher stress during handling reduces well-being and survival after release. Therefore, regardless of whether you plan to keep or release your catch, it’s best to reduce potential stress on fish as much as reasonably possible.”

Jones recommends the following tips to reduce stress on fish:

• Land the fish as quickly as possible so it does not become exhausted.

• Wet your hands before touching the fish to minimize slime coat removal.

• Do not allow the fish to touch carpet, metal or clothing to prevent massive slime coat removal.

• If you plan to release the fish and the hook is completely swallowed or embedded in the tongue or base of the gills, cut the line close to the eye of the hook and release the fish as soon as possible. The fish’s chance of survival with the hook left in is often higher than it would be after having removed the hook. Return the fish to the water as quickly as possible.

• Use an aerated container to keep fish alive until you are ready to process them.

• Use ice or frozen bottles of water to cool your fish-holding containers during the summer.

• Process your fish as quickly as possible and wash the fillets thoroughly with clean water before freezing them for storage or refrigerating them for quick use.

“After a few fishing excursions, children and youth will start to get the hang of their new hobby,” Jones said. “Much of the joy of fishing at a young age comes from the process of learning how to fish.”