One of the great joys for experienced hunters and anglers is being able to introduce a youngster to the sport for the first time.
Travis Burch, who also serves as the Kansas BASS Nation's youth director, recently got to experience that joy with one of his four kids.
He said his two oldest girls, Lillian, 17, and Hannah, 16, have never really been into fishing.
"I've got my oldest out there on the boat a few times, and it's more for her to just kind of lay out on the back of the boat and get a tan while Dad goes fishing, usually with my son or my wife or a friend," Burch said. "My second oldest (Hannah) has never really went. She went with me one time and after a couple hours she was actually bored and actually had her friend pick her up and I took her to shore. She was like 'fishing's boring,' and swore she would never do it again.
"Part of that reason is she had never caught a fish. When we were fishing it was still pretty cold, I think it was mid-April and we hadn't caught a fish yet and as soon as she got off the boat, we just lit them up that night and we were on Clinton Lake."
Hannah's reluctance to go fishing changed on March 29, as the kids suddenly had free time after Gardner Edgerton, where she attends, and the rest of the schools across the state were closed on account of the coronavirus pandemic.
"Her boyfriend (Bob Meyer) wanted to go fishing, so now she's willing to go fishing because her boyfriend wanted to go," Burch said. "I wanted to take her boyfriend fishing and I was so glad that she wanted to go so maybe she would catch her first fish.“
It was later in the evening, about 6 p.m. during the middle of spring, so they didn't have a lot of time to fish before the sun went down.
"Tied on the old tried and true Z-Man Ned Rig in bubblegum for her and in coppertreuse for her boyfriend and we went cruising a bank that I had caught fish on earlier that day when I went fishing with a buddy before they came down to our lake property," Burch said. "It wasn't probably 15 or 20 casts that I taught her how to cast an open-faced reel, one of the Kast King Speed Demon rod and reels that sponsors the Kansas BASS Nation youth program. She hooked into a white bass, she got it in. It was a decent-sized one for her first fish. And she looked at that fish after reeling it in and said 'This fish just changed my life.' Like, looked at the fish and literally said, 'You just changed my life and you don't even know.' "
Since that catch, Burch said, he's brought her out two or three more times, and she's caught multiple species of fish, sometimes on the same day. She even brought her little half-sister, Addie, out on the boat to go fishing, as well as her boyfriend again.
"Last time they came out, she asked me if I had a fishing pole to give her," Burch said. "I'm huge on giving baits and poles and stuff to kids to promote fishing as much as possible, but when your own daughter asks, 'Hey Dad, I actually like this sport and I want to get into it, can I get a fishing pole?' and then the next day she texts you that she caught a fish on her first cast, it's just like life is good, life is complete."
Other success stories
The Burches weren't the only ones taking advantage of their free time during this pandemic.
Wyatt and Eli Herkenrath and Jared Johnson pulled in an impressive 10 1/4-inch bluegill while fishing recently in a Silver Lake farm pond on a jug line.
The hefty panfish came in just under an inch shy of the state record's length, which measured 11 inches and weighed 2.31 pounds. That beast of a panfish was caught on a worm in May 1962 by Robert Jefferies, of Modoc, in a farm pond in Scott County.
The boys were trying to catch catfish, but were happily surprised with the mighty bluegill.
Another young angler, 7-year-old James Conaway, hooked into the biggest fish of his life recently during a fishing trip in northwest Shawnee County.
Conaway was fishing at a family farm pond near the Shawnee State Fishing Lake when he hooked into a hefty largemouth bass.
“Just caught it today,” said his mother, Heaven Conaway, on Wednesday. “Casted and reeled it in all by himself.”
Drake Riffey, of Pratt, also took down his first turkey on April 17 while hunting in Harper County.
The big tom was 22 pounds and had a 9-inch beard.
I'm sure many other young hunters picked up their first bird or caught their first fish this spring, as well. I'd love to see your pictures and hear your stories! Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org, and I may even run them in the paper!