The Lure of Family Fishing
In Kentucky fishing is a rite of passage. Summer is the time to dig some worms, pack up the kids and grandparents, and head out to any of several public or private pay lakes
When is the best time to go fishing? "When they're bitin'," says 12-year-old Zac McElfresh of Lewisburg.
That's why Zac would pass up EVERYTHING to sit at the water's edge, rod and reel in hand, waiting for the fish to bite.
In fact, Zac's entire family--dad Steve, mom Emily, sister Becca, 13, and brother Cody, 10--not only love the sport for the thrill of reeling in the big catch, they look forward to the family time it provides.
Steve says, "We spend time together watching the kids catch fish. They get so excited, and it's fun to see them scream and carry on."
"It's quiet and relaxed," adds Emily. "We don't think of it as a sport as much as we think of it as a vacation."
Steve and Emily encourage their children to go fishing, rather than spend their free time absorbed in the latest electronics. "Anything that gets my kids away from a video game or TV is important to me," says Emily.
The kids don't seem to mind.
Cody says fishing with his family is "fun."
Becca agrees, "Sometimes we get to laughing so loud, we scare away the fish."
Fishing is a longstanding tradition in Emily's family. Her parents, Wade and Rita Crafton, also of Lewisburg, often took Emily camping and fishing as a child, and they still go on many of the fishing trips.
"Family fishing is usually very laid-back--no hurry, no pressure," says Wade. "It provides quality time, without distractions, to enjoy talking and bonding with our children and grandchildren."
Rita believes fishing is a sport in which all family members can easily participate. "Everyone can fish. It's not like baseball--or other sports--where everyone may not be able to play ball," she says.
While most families have demanding schedules, fishing doesn't require a great deal of planning. "Grab a cooler with some drinks and sandwiches, and fishing poles and bait," says Rita. "Put on some sunscreen, and head to a fishing hole, and enjoy the day." Emily's sister and brother-in-law, Beth and Casey Craig of Elkton, and their daughter, Ava, also join in the fun. For Beth, fishing means catching up with her family. She says fishing provides "the time for conversation that we miss on a day-to-day basis--just hearing what is going on with each other."
Ava, age 2, is learning at a young age what fishing is all about. She just got her first rod and reel. "So Casey is working on her cast," Beth says.
Kentucky has more miles of navigable waterways than any state, other than Alaska. With this abundance of waterways, fishing is a sport readily available to families statewide.
Two of the McElfresh family's favorite fishing holes are the banks and spillway of Lake Malone in Dunmor. No matter where they fish, while they're waiting to catch "the big one," the family simply appreciates being outdoors.
Emily says, "Spending time together enjoying God's creation is catch enough for our family, and oft-times, our only catch."
It's particularly important to Wade to teach his grandchildren to preserve nature, ensuring fishing will be a sport to be enjoyed by generations yet to come. He says, "Always make sure you take away all your trash, as well as pick up at least some of the trash others discarded.
"It is also very important that we know and adhere to all size and creel limits set by state officials," Wade continues. "These limits are set to help each lake maintain a healthy population of fish for everyone to enjoy."
According to Dave Baker, editor of Kentucky Afield, 242 species of fish make Kentucky waterways their home.
Although the McElfresh family typically fishes for bluegill, bass, crappie, catfish, and perch, sometimes they reel in a surprise.
One such surprise came on an annual spring fishing trip to Honker Lake at Land Between The Lakes. Wade says he thought he probably had a channel cat on a jig. He let Becca reel it in.
"She was very shocked it was a paddlefish that weighed 3 or 4 pounds," Wade says. "It was the first one either of my grandchildren had ever seen."
Becca remembers that day, with a slightly different twist. "I caught a spoonbill (paddlefish) with Papaw's new fishing rod, and the fish was about to pull me in."
Zac adds, "The funniest part was my grandpa yelling, while holding her on the back of the shirt, 'Don't you lose my brand-new pole!'"
Becca says, "I still make fun of him for that."
Tim and Becky Smiley of Glasgow also make time to take their three children, Noah, 10, and twins, Jonah and Jacob, 7, fishing.
Becky says, "It's something we can all participate in as a family and can have fun while doing it."
Tim believes it's important to pass this skill down to their children. "It's a sport that they can enjoy for the rest of their lives," he says.
He learned to fish as a child, as well. "Basically I've been fishing since I was old enough to carry a fishing pole. My dad took me when I was a child, like his dad took him. When you live in rural Kentucky, it's mandatory, I think," Tim says, laughing.
While fishing with young children often poses a challenge, Becky says she's discovered the key to fishing with little ones is, "Patience, patience, patience."
Tim agrees, "You have to have patience when fishing with kids because you never know what is going to happen while you're out there, especially with three boys.
"I usually don't get a chance to put my pole in the water because I'm too busy tending to the kids' and my wife's poles," he adds.
Tim also finds himself "baiting the hooks for the younger ones every five seconds." His advice? "Teach them to bait their own hook."
This advice isn't lost on Noah. He says, "You need to learn how to put your own bait on your hook because your mommy and daddy will get tired of doing it for you every time."
Luckily with three small kids, the Smileys don't have far to travel for fishing fun. "We have a creek right behind our house, so that has become our favorite place to fish," Becky says.
Jonah remembers a day at the creek with his dad and brothers. He says, "I was the only one who caught a fish that day, and it was the biggest fish, ever."
However, brother Jacob doesn't remember the day as fondly. "I don't like it when everyone catches a fish before I do," he says.
Fishing is a sport of skill, but it's also a sport of luck--luck that you've cast your line where fish are in the vicinity and luck that they'll nibble at your bait, instead of the person's standing next to you.
How can you improve the odds for every family member to make a catch, while eliminating sibling squabbles of who caught the most fish? It's easy--visit a stocked pay lake.
Leanna Farmer, co-owner of The Big Cat Pay Lake in Campbellsville, says, "There are definitely fish in there. It's stocked regularly."
In addition to increasing the odds of catching fish, Farmer says pay lakes provide "clean banks and a safe atmosphere."
The Big Cat even has a play area for children. "Kids can play on the playground without parents worrying where they're at," she adds.
Another bonus of pay lake fishing for many families is that no fishing license is required, as long as the lake buys a Kentucky pay lake license. Farmer explains, "Most pay lakes buy licenses, so that people don't have to." But you should always check.
Most pay lakes also provide conveniences--a big appeal to families. Kim Hilton, owner of the recently opened Kentucky Hilton Head Pay Lake and Retreat Center in Lebanon Junction, says they offer a full functional kitchen and concession stand, restrooms, and availability of bait, tackle, cabins, campsites, and showers.
Hilton says, "With fishing, you're side by side. You may work together to get a fish in, or someone may be teaching how to bait the hook. There's just a whole lot of interaction," she says.
In addition to pay lakes, family fishing may soon be accessible in a town or city near you. According to Dane Balsman, Urban Fisheries biologist with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR), the department initiated Fishing in Neighborhoods (FINS) in 2006. FINS began with only five urban lakes. However, in 2010, Balsman says, "The program will include a total of 29 lakes scattered throughout the state."
Like pay lakes, the participating FINS lakes are stocked as well. "The lakes are stocked up to four times annually with harvestable-sized channel catfish and at least twice in the cool months with rainbow trout," Balsman says.
"Our goals," Balsman explains, "are to increase angler use of these ponds, recruit and retain anglers, and provide an enjoyable fishing experience for people close to where they live."
For any family considering fishing as a family sport, Emily offers some advice. "We should take time to make treasured family memories. Fishing and exploring is one way to do that," she says.
Zac has some advice of his own when it comes to family fishing: "It is fun! And your family should start fishing together."
FISHING LICENSE FEES FOR KENTUCKY RESIDENTS
$20 Annual fishing license
$7 One-day license
$36 Husband & wife joint annual permit
$5 Seniors & disabled hunt/fish combo
Free Youth under 16
Everyone can enjoy a day of free fishing the first Saturday and Sunday of June. Possession and size limits still apply.
For more information, e-mail the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources at firstname.lastname@example.org
, call (800) 858-1549, or go online at www.fw.ky.gov.
KENTUCKY PAY LAKES
Bowling Green K.O.A. Pay Lake
1960 Three Springs Road
Bowling Green * (270) 843-1919
Cedar Hills Archery and Pay Lake
2668 Cornishville Road
Harrodsburg * (859) 366-4441
4705 Iron Works Road, Route 15, Winchester * (859) 744-0627
Diamond Lake Resort
7301 Hobbs Road
Owensboro * (270) 229-4900
Kentucky Hilton Head Pay Lake and Retreat Center
575 Highway 434
Lebanon Junction * (502) 833-0831
Sputter Creek Pay Lake
654 Pierce Road
Nancy * (606) 871-0074
The Big Cat Pay Lake
8521 Liberty Road
Campbellsville * (270) 789-3848
Tim's Pay Lake
139 Pay Lake Road
London * (606) 878-1305
Additional information on pay lakes across the state can be found online at www.kentuckypaylakes.com.
KEYWORD EXCLUSIVE: MORE FAMILY FISHING
For more about the Fishing in Neighborhoods (FINS) lakes, as well as more about the Kentucky Hilton Head Pay Lake and Retreat Center in Lebanon Junction, go to family fishing.