By JAYSON JACOBY
Of the Baker City Herald
Larry Brooks got lured by a willow stick and 10 feet of line, but nowadays you might need slightly fancier gear to hook a kid on the fun aspects of fish slime.
SpongeBob Squarepants, for instance.
Fortunately, the absorbent little yellow man is not the only cartoon character who has lent his name to one of those diminutive rod-and-reel sets designed to help beginning anglers land their first trout or crappie.
Scooby Doo signed an endorsement deal, too.
And either of their products ought to work just fine for a youngster who never has felt the surge of adrenaline when the line twitches and the rod tip bends.
But Brooks, who works at Thatcher's Ace Hardware store in Baker City, offers a couple of tips for first-time anglers who plan to take advantage of Oregon's statewide Free Fishing Weekend this Saturday and Sunday.
Kids 13 and younger never need a fishing license in Oregon, but this weekend only, neither do their adult assistants. All other rules, including size and catch limits, will be in effect and enforced. Copies of those regulations are available at the ODFW office at 2995 Hughes Lane in Baker City, at many sporting goods stores, and on the Internet at www.dfw.state.or.us. Go where there are fish
The way Brooks sees it, the most important part of a first fishing trip is not the pole or the reel or the hook or the bait.
It's the fish.
a place where they're going to catch fish,andquot; Brooks said. andquot;A kid's going to have fun as long as he's got something yanking on that line.
andquot;When I was a kid I just had that willow stick and I thought I was in pig heaven.andquot; When his willow stick was hauling in supper, that is.
Brooks picks the Highway 203 Pond as a premier place for inexperienced anglers.
It's just a few miles north of Baker City, on the east side of Interstate 84 at the Medical Springs exit (No. 298).
And the pond is so lousy with fish it's a wonder there's room for the water.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) supplements the pond's prodigious populations of bluegill, crappie and bass with hatchery-raised rainbow trout.
So far this spring ODFW has poured about 8,600 trout into the 203 Pond. And those fish are at least eight inches long, so you can keep the ones you catch (up to five per day per angler, anyway, which is the legal daily limit).
ODFW also dumped some 1- to 2-pound trout in the pond.
Other nearby fishing holes include the Haines pond just north of that town, Brownlee Reservoir (access through Richland or Huntington), Phillips Reservoir between Baker City and Sumpter, and, when the snow melts, Anthony and Grande Ronde lakes in the Elkhorn Mountains.
Although trout swim in all those waters, Brownlee is famous for its schools of crappie and Phillips is infamous for its swarms of yellow perch, a species someone illegally dumped into the reservoir about 15 years ago.
The nice thing about crappie, perch and other panfish such as bluegill is that anglers can keep as many as they want no daily limits as with trout.
You can keep every catfish you catch, too.
And in high mountain lakes, including Anthony and Grande Ronde, there are no limits (including length) on brook trout.
Pick the right pole (and reel, and bait. . .)
Regardless of which waterhole you choose, Brooks recommends the Scooby Doo/SpongeBob category of fishing rigs for the youngest anglers because the short poles are easier for short arms to maneuver.
Some of these packages even combine everything the neophyte angler needs, including line, hooks and a simple-to-cast push-button reel with a closed face that helps prevent the line from turning into a rat's nest of tangles.
And you don't want tangles, Brooks said or any other messy mishap that takes time to unwind.
andquot;Kids lose interest fast,andquot; he said.
Which is why he also recommends wee anglers (or better yet, wee anglers' parents) attach a plastic bobber to their line.
Bobbers do two things, both of them good, Brooks said.
First, when a fish gobbles the hook, the bobber plunges below the water's surface quite the exciting sight for the new angler.
Second, the bobber, if it's attached properly, helps prevent the hook from hooking things you don't want to hook the bottom of the pond, for instance.
By the time you've extricated the hook, your young angler might be more interested in drawing pictures in the pond's muddy bank than in perfecting his or her casting technique.
Bill VanDyck and Rod Martin subscribe to Brooks' andquot;keep-it-simpleandquot; approach.
VanDyck manages the sporting goods department at the Bi-Mart store in Baker City, and Martin has the same job at York's Grocery and Sporting Goods.
VanDyck recommends beginning anglers pass on the fancy lures and go with a proven combination.
andquot;With a worm and a bobber you really can't lose,andquot; VanDyck said.
No tactic is simpler just cast and then wait for the bobber to dive.
Artificial lures, with their glittering plastic bodies and flashing metal spoons, will tempt even finicky fish at certain times, but once you've cast a lure you have to reel it back in.
If the fish ignore your worm, VanDyck suggests you impale a few salmon eggs on your hook he prefers Pautzke's Balls O' Fire brand or mold on a blob of Powerbait, a Silly Putty-like bait that comes in several colors and, allegedly, flavors.
If the fish are shunning bait of any sort, Brooks suggests you tie on a fly below the bobber.
Don't try to mimic a fly angler's fancy wrist action, either just cast and wait as you would with bait, Brooks said.
andquot;A lot of times fish will strike at a fly when they're not biting on anything else,andquot; he said.
VanDyck urges anglers to buy light fishing line 6-pound test, or 8-pound at the heaviest unless they plan to hook, say, a salmon or a steelhead.
andquot;I usually fish with 4-pound line,andquot; VanDyck said.
He said that line is sufficiently strong to hold fish of more modest girth, which predominate in popular local waters such as the 203 Pond, Phillips Reservoir, the Snake River reservoirs (Brownlee, Oxbow and Hells Canyon) and Anthony and Grande Ronde lakes in the Elkhorn Mountains.
Both Brooks and VanDyck said parents can equip young anglers for about $20, and maybe even a few bucks less.
For older, but inexperienced, anglers, Brooks and VanDyck recommend a rod-and-reel combination, which generally cost less than buying the items separately.
Rod-and-reel combos designed for adults tend to be a bit more expensive than kids' tackle, but usually not much more, Brooks said.
The fishing pole in the SpongeBob kit probably is too short for teen-agers not to mention explosively embarrassing if a friend sees you holding it.
First-time fisherpeople probably don't need to fill their closets with accessories such as tackle boxes and vests and floppy hats festooned with a couple dozen flies.
But VanDyck recommends one accoutrement that many anglers might figure they can forego for any fish smaller than, say, a sturgeon.
It's not that you actually need a net to subdue a quarter-pound bluegill or trout from the 203 Pond, he said.
But a net definitely helps a little angler whose hands are neither big nor dexterous enough to grasp a flopping fish that has the approximate texture of a melting ice cube.
Besides, you can't predict when a tot might hook a lunker.
Vern Hull of Baker City said his 3-year-old granddaughter, Ashlie Hull, landed a 3-pound rainbow trout at the 203 Pond earlier this spring.
Vern Hull said he cast the worm into the pond for his granddaughter, but Ashlie, who turned four on May 4, andquot;did everything elseandquot; to bring the big trout to the bank.
Dinner, as it turned out, was on Ashlie, not on Vern and his wife, Heidi.
Ashlie's trout, Vern Hull said, andquot;fed all three of us.andquot;