Recruiting New River Anglers by Jim Bedford

Recruiting New River Anglers by Jim Bedford

It is no secret today that young people are really into electronic devices for use and recreation these days. In fact, I like to say that we are in our second generation of indoor kids.

To get people back outdoors we will need to attract the parents as well as their children. I am biased but I think river fishing is a great way to expose people to the wonders of the natural world. And if they discover that they like fish, even better. 

angler fishing fish rivers stream kids adults steelhead salmon trout

When I retired from my day job almost 20 years ago I gave thought to guiding in my retirement years. I was already teaching river fishing classes at my local community college and guiding seemed like a natural extension. But, the more I thought about it the more I didn’t want the pressure of putting paying clients into fish.

I also didn’t like the idea of not fishing while I guided. In my fishing classes I fished with my students but always gave them first water unless they asked to see how I would approach the next spot. It was always a joyful moment when a student hooked and landed his or her first steelhead.

angler fishing fish rivers stream kids adults steelhead salmon trout

Now, I have also retired from teaching fishing, not because I didn’t enjoy the teaching but because of increasing administrative hassles. Utilizing my modest notoriety as an outdoor writer I still get to fish with many new people by donating a “wading trip” to my university, conservation organizations and fishing clubs to be auctioned off as a fund raiser.

This lets me give back and have lots of fun doing it.

The goal of this article is to share with you some of the things that have worked well for me when getting new anglers started in river fishing. Most of the readers of this magazine have a fair amount of experience in their chosen methods of fishing. And, you have children or other relatives and friends you would like to get started in this wonderful pastime.

Hopefully you find an idea or two below that, while it may be in need of some adapting to your favorite method, will help you get some new folks turned on to the great sport of fishing.

angler fishing fish rivers stream kids adults steelhead salmon trout

As a first step, it is important to make sure your angler is well equipped and properly dressed. If your partner for the outing has his or her own equipment make sure it is appropriate and in good working order.

Over the years I have accumulated a bunch of loaner fishing rods and reels so I am always ready to switch them out if I think their outfit won’t do the job.

Make sure they are dressed for the weather and have remembered their polarized sunglasses. Knowing how important vision is when wading small rivers I will always have an extra pair with me that will fit over regular glasses if necessary.

As you start out, emphasize that the goal of the trip is just as much or more about learning as it is about catching a fish.

angler fishing fish rivers stream kids adults steelhead salmon trout

This is especially true when I take beginners trying to catch their first steelhead.

To take some of the catching pressure off, I remind them they we are not fishing for pan fish but rather a trophy rainbow trout. Steelhead usually require some dues paying and I will remind them of that. While I will be trying real hard to make them successful, some days just don’t work out with fish landed. When such fisheries are available, it can be very helpful to fish for steelhead in a stream where trout and other fish can be caught. Fooling a nice brown or smallmouth can be a real confidence booster.

angler fishing fish rivers stream kids adults steelhead salmon trout

When tossing lures for steelhead or stream trout in small rivers casting accuracy coupled with reading the water are real keys to success. I always try to teach my new partners the underhand, pendulum cast as it is without a doubt the most accurate.

It allows the angler to follow the lure to the target and make mid air corrections if their spinner or plug is veering off target or going to overshoot the mark. Some anglers catch on right away while others have trouble. I never force anyone to switch to this cast but just dropping my lure close to the cover time after time while they are ending up in the overhanging vegetation usually gets the message across.

Reading water and figuring out where fish might lay is key for any river angler.

angler fishing fish rivers stream kids adults steelhead salmon trout

With new river fishers I always emphasize the importance of cover to the fish.

Migratory fish have recently left the ocean or large lake and will feel vulnerable in their new environment. Resident fish need to worry about birds and other predators from above so overhead cover is very important to all the fish in a river. Depth can sometimes provide this cover but something solid like a log, boulder, or overhanging vegetation is usually better.

An easy way to get this concept across is to relate that if the water is deep enough or the cover is thick enough so that you can’t see the bottom or the fish cast your lure there.

angler fishing fish rivers stream kids adults steelhead salmon trout

Fish also need shelter from the current. Often the big rock or log that provides overhead cover also blocks the current. These are key spots for fish to lie. Anadromous fish like steelhead orient to the current because they are traveling so they are always searching for places to rest near their travel lanes.

The submerged boulder is a great learning tool for an angling friend new to river fishing. I teach my partners to look for subtle disturbances in the water surface that give away the presence of a boulder. They can also feel their spinner blade tick the top of a big rock as it sweeps over it.

Noting that the boulder provides a holding spot just upstream of it as well as in the downstream slots will emphasize its importance in a moderately deep run. Of course, nothing beats the positive re-enforcement that happens when they feel their spinner blade tick the rock followed by a crushing strike of a steelhead.

angler fishing fish rivers stream kids adults steelhead salmon trout

As you move upstream with your partner make occasional suggestions on where to cast but don’t overdo it. You might mention that the submerged log across from your partner has produced steelhead in the past. Then note where to land the lure so that it can be swept across in front of the log.

When your partner does make a good cast don’t hold back on acknowledging the fact by saying nice cast. You can then say that he or she will soon make a perfect cast and light heartedly explain that a perfect cast happens when a good cast results in “fish on.”

Sooner or later you will hook a fish behind your partner.

This is no time to gloat or tease your partner about not making a good presentation. Instead, explain that with steelhead, a subtle difference in location can make or break you when the fish are not very aggressive. Also the fish may not see the offering in time to grab it. So, the second or third pass might be the angler fishing fish rivers stream kids adults steelhead salmon troutfish catcher rather than the first.


While it is important to cover lots of water when lure fishing, I have a two cast minimum rule. Never pass a good looking spot without at least two casts. The better the spot, the more presentations you should make. The first cast may evoke some interest but the steelhead wasn’t ready.

The next cast will often result in a savage strike.

Getting your lure hung up on a snag is inevitable when stream fishing.

While I preach getting near the wood or close to the bottom with lures, it is important to minimize getting hung up. Taking advantage of the fact that lures will draw fish out of the cover is important. This is easier said than done with beginners and you can expect your partner to snag up a bunch of times.

It would not be a good plan for you to keep fishing while he or she tries to free the lure. Now is the time to teach them some tricks on freeing their lure. Remind them that you are most likely going to have success by moving the lure in the opposite direction that it encountered the branch or rock. If the lure is in wadeable water you can almost always free it by reeling your rod tip down to the spinner and gently pushing it off.

angler fishing fish rivers stream kids adults steelhead salmon trout

If the lure can’t be freed and is lost let your partner use your rod while you get him or her re-rigged. Similarly if your partner gets a big tangle in their line it is time for you to stop fishing and aid them in un-snarling their outfit, teaching as you go. If it is really a mess, you can again let them keep fishing with your outfit, while you work out the tangles.

This would also be time to tell them about soaking their line, if they are using nylon monofilament, to make it more limp and manageable. You can even demonstrate on the stream by popping off the spool and submerging it for a minute or two while reminding them that this is best done at home just before you go fishing.

A big advantage of fishing with your new or less experienced angler is that they can also learn by observing what you are doing. Without preaching tell them why you cast where you did, why you let the lure sink a little bit before beginning the retrieve, why you let your lure sweep across the current, and why you gave line in fast water and retrieved in slower flows.

angler fishing fish rivers stream kids adults steelhead salmon trout

These are just examples but any time you can slip in a nugget of wisdom when they ask why you did something will help them learn the sport you love so much.

And, of course, nothing beats the positive re-enforcement that a steelhead on the end of their line provides.

Cheer them on without over instructing them on fighting the fish and have the net ready.

angler fishing fish rivers stream kids adults steelhead salmon trout

Remember that for every person you get interested in fishing some others will also get hooked because your new angler will need partners and will have friends and relatives that just need to be exposed to the fun of fishing to learn that they too have the “fishing gene”.

- written by Jim Bedford



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