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Help me catch a fish in Wisconsin
August 6, 2012 9:35 AM   Subscribe

Please tell me the minimum set of things I need to buy if I want to catch a fish in a reservoir in Wisconsin?

I'm going camping next weekend at Governor Thompson State Park and I'd like to try to fish while I'm there. I know which end of the rod I'm supposed to hold onto, but that's pretty much it, so I need help with preparation. I will have a canoe, but I also have a dog who hates canoes, so I expect to be mostly fishing from shore or standing around in the water. The park's website tells me that "The most popular fish seem to be blue gills, crappies, northern, and even some bass," so I guess I want to fish for those, or whichever of those is the tastiest.

1. What is the complete list of items I need to bring with me? (So far I have a fishing license, beer, and a can-do attitude.) 1b. If I go to Cabellas or somewhere similar, will they have a beginner's kit? If so, will it actually be complete or do some parts of it generally suck and need to be instantly augmented?

2. I needs worms, right? Or lures? both?

3. My understanding is that early morning is the best time for fishing. What about place? Is there some amount of water movement or foliage or rocks or something else I should look for?

4. The method is basically get the hook-end of the line into some bit of water that might have a fish and leave it there until you get bored or something starts tugging on the line, right? Then reel it in and pull the hook out of its mouth?

5. Say I catch a fish. How big does it have to be to be worth trying to eat?

6. What is the most humane way to kill the theoretical fish I catch (fast, I assume, but more specifically?)

7. Once dead, I need to get the guts out. In my imagination, I just slit the length of the belly and everything falls out, or maybe I have to run my finger through there. Am I imagining this right or am I going to end up with a mangled fish and pants covered in fish blood?

8. Can my dog safely eat the guts or do I need to keep her away from them? Other fish-dog interface suggestions?

9. Supposing I manage to catch a fish and remove the inedible parts, do you have preparation suggestions? Note that I will be bringing plenty of food and will not be relying on my fishing skills for survival here.

10. What are some things I should look up on the internet and take note of before leaving (I assume some kind of knot-tying or something would be useful)?

(past questions seem to be pretty trout-specific and I think there are no trout in this body of water and I'd need a special sticker to catch them even if there were, also questions about gutting and cooking seem to mostly not be addressed, but if I've missed a great thread, please point it out to me!)
posted by juliapangolin to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (13 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
Yes, you can get a beginner's kit at WalMart or Cabella's, but honestly... I fish and I cannot imagine fishing for the first time without someone to show you the ropes. Is there nobody you can take with you? Maybe even put an ad on craigslist that you are looking for a fishing buddy?
posted by Wordwoman at 9:50 AM on August 6, 2012


Fishing from shore you're most likely to catch bluegill, crappie and bass. It's conceivable that you might catch a pike (northern) but less likely.

You'll need a rod and reel -- probably a spin-casting reel which has a release button on the reel. You'll need some bait and hooks, and/or lures. If you will use bait, get snelled hooks so you don't have to tie so many knots. Also for bait, get a few small bobbers. Get some small snap swivels to make changing hooks and lures easier. Bring a pair of needlenose pliers for squeezing split shot sinkers onto the line and for safely extracting hooks from caught fish, and also a pair of nail clippers for cutting line. Bring and extra spool of line in case you have an irreconcilable tangle. Bring some sort of container to carry everything in, with some way to keep hooky things from getting tangled with each other. You can probably do without a landing net, but they are nice to have. Bring a first-aid kit including disinfectant for when you stick yourself with a hook or a dorsal fin spine. Bring waterproof sunscreen and a hat. (on preview, Wordwoman is right; if at all possible, bring an experienced friend).

Practice tying knots (look them up) and casting before you leave on your trip. The next day, practice again. Get the worst of the frustration over with.

Bluegill are small, aggressive fish that live in shallow water close to shore. They are easy to catch with worms (on snelled hooks, weighted down with a split shot or two, suspended a couple of feet below a bobber).

Bass and northern pike are predators and are generally looking for small bluegill to eat. A moving lure works better than a stationary bait. Ask at the store for lure suggestions. I don't have enough experience fishing for crappie to offer much advice, but I can tell you that their mouths are very delicate so they have to be brought in very carefully.

I don't love any of the methods I've used for killing fish. Usually I put a knife through their skulls where I judge the brain to be but, never having had a knife put through my skull, I can't promise that it's especially humane.

You've got the basic idea on cleaning a fish. The alimentary canal is connected to the outside world at both ends, of course, and must be cut free. If you intend to cook fish with the skin on then you need to remove the scales, either with a knife or a purpose-made scaler. If you will fillet it instead then you can leave the scales alone and cut both skin and scales off together after cutting the fillet off of the fish. That said, cleaning fish is a skill of its own; you will make a mess of it the first few times you try it.
posted by jon1270 at 10:05 AM on August 6, 2012


What is the most humane way to kill the theoretical fish I catch (fast, I assume, but more specifically?)

Preferably, you should fillet/clean the fish while they're still alive. That's how my Dad taught me.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:10 AM on August 6, 2012


I tend to keep a large knife near me (like a K-bar) and just swing them out of the water onto the dock and then cut their head off immediately. I'm not sure if it minimizes suffering, but I would think it would.

Also, don't worry about the size - even small fish are good in stew.
posted by corb at 10:10 AM on August 6, 2012


One thing you'll want to practice is casting. It's not particularly difficult but timing the release of the line at just the right time is going to be important for not getting hung up in limbs or in someone else's earlobe. They make little plastic weights, but you can put any lightweight bit on the end of the line to approximate the tackle you'll be using and try casting in the backyard - try to put the bait into a hula hoop out in the grass someplace.

Worms and crickets are common live bait and will be sold pretty much anywhere close to the water - gas stations and so on. If you've got a compost heap, you can dig for your own worms. We used to get nightcrawlers after dark in the yard, too.
posted by jquinby at 10:13 AM on August 6, 2012


If you really want to go minimal, get yourself a cane pole with a fixed length of line, a hook and a bobber. Nice simple sitting-on-the-shore fishing.

Oh, and worms. Redworms are best for smaller fish like bluegill or perch. Crappie will bite on either redworms or nightcrawlers. You probably don't want to angle for anything larger with a cane pole.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:18 AM on August 6, 2012


8. Can my dog safely eat the guts or do I need to keep her away from them? Other fish-dog interface suggestions?

Mostly, she can eat the guts.

However, like with most things in the outdoors - parasites and disease are concerns. The risk is small, and you'll have to determine your comfort level with it.

I don't think there is anything real exotic - just more of the Giardia types of stuff. You can cook the entrails to remove much of the risk.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 10:29 AM on August 6, 2012


1. What is the complete list of items I need to bring with me? (So far I have a fishing license, beer, and a can-do attitude.) 1b. If I go to Cabellas or somewhere similar, will they have a beginner's kit? If so, will it actually be complete or do some parts of it generally suck and need to be instantly augmented?

Get a pole of about 5-6 feet with a reel. It will probably come with line. You can also get an "ultralight" which gives better play.
Bring a pair of pliers to get hooks out.
Get some gloves. If this is your first time fishing, and you're doing it alone, you're going to have a hard time holding onto the fish, and they have spines that you have to hold down. I find that football receiver's gloves are great for this. They also keep the sun off your hands.
You need hooks. The size of the hook determines the allowable size of the fish that you can catch.
Get a stringer or bucket to hold your catch.
Get a bobber.
Sporting goods stores may have kits with a lot of this stuff.
Also get a filet knife.
A nail-clipper with a lanyard tied around your neck is invaluable for cutting line.
Bring a regulations guide so you know if you can keep what you catch. Bring a tape measure for the same reason.

2. I needs worms, right? Or lures? both?

Technically you can do everything you want with nightcrawlers and a jig. These can be found often in local gas stations, bait shops, or sporting goods stores.
Alternatively, you can use lures like spoons, hardbaits, spinnerbaits, crankbaits, and top-water baits. Personally, I recommend all of them. Top-water baits like a Heddon Super Spook will help you catch bass. Spoons and cranks will help catch walleye, northern, perch, and others.

3. My understanding is that early morning is the best time for fishing. What about place? Is there some amount of water movement or foliage or rocks or something else I should look for?

Have your line in the water before sun-up. You'll catch most bigger fish just before sunrise. Panfish like crappie will bite any time of the day. Eat lunch, have a beer, and take a nap in the middle of the day. Go back out in the evening and fish until dark.
Walleye fishermen like to refer to something called "walleye chop" to describe the best water conditions for catching walleye. It's just a nice choppy texture on the lake surface.
"Cabbage" is another term for foliage near shore that fish like to hang out in. Ideally, you would be in a boat and cast along the edge of the weeds, but if you're casting from shore, you might be able to cast across the weed line.

4. The method is basically get the hook-end of the line into some bit of water that might have a fish and leave it there until you get bored or something starts tugging on the line, right? Then reel it in and pull the hook out of its mouth?

Yes and no.

5. Say I catch a fish. How big does it have to be to be worth trying to eat?

Generally, for panfish like crappie, sunfish and bluegill, the rule of thumb is that it will have to be bigger than your hand to get a good filet out of it. Regulations should determine the size of anything else you'll want to keep.

6. What is the most humane way to kill the theoretical fish I catch (fast, I assume, but more specifically?)

I wouldn't worry too much about this part. If you want to be humane to the fish, worry more about being efficient with your releases than with the fish you're going to eat. Honestly, the best thing you can do is making sure that the fish you intend to cook are the ones that die, and not the ones you intend to release. The biggest problem I see with newbies is that they keep the fish out of water for too long, or fiddle around with getting the hook out, or don't set the hook properly and end up hooking the fish down in the gullet.

7. Once dead, I need to get the guts out. In my imagination, I just slit the length of the belly and everything falls out, or maybe I have to run my finger through there. Am I imagining this right or am I going to end up with a mangled fish and pants covered in fish blood?

You should watch a few YouTube videos explaining this, because I'm not going to be able to type it out.

8. Can my dog safely eat the guts or do I need to keep her away from them? Other fish-dog interface suggestions?

I don't recommend it. The bones are very spiny, and if she gets one caught in her throat it could be a trip to the vet.

9. Supposing I manage to catch a fish and remove the inedible parts, do you have preparation suggestions? Note that I will be bringing plenty of food and will not be relying on my fishing skills for survival here.

Shore Lunch fish batter. It's available everywhere in 'Sconnie. You'll need eggs and peanut oil. Batter the fish and fry it in oil in a pan. The instructions are on the back of the box. Cajun style is my favorite flavor.

10. What are some things I should look up on the internet and take note of before leaving (I assume some kind of knot-tying or something would be useful)?

Learn to tie a Palomar knot. It's the only one you need to know and it's dead-simple.

I'm from the Twin Cities and I've been fishing in Minnesota, Wisconsin, the Dakotas, and Canada since childhood (almost 30 yrs), as well as doing deep-sea fishing in California and Costa Rica. As a matter of fact, I just got back from salmon fishing at Lake Michigan in Algoma, WI. I'd love to offer more advice right now, but I'm on my lunch break. PM me and I'll help you out as best I can!
posted by Demogorgon at 10:37 AM on August 6, 2012


One thing about fish guts - be really careful that your dog doesn't get into other, less careful fishermen's leavings. If she eats improperly disposed-of fish guts that someone else left out in the sun over the hot awful weekend, she could get incredibly, horrifyingly, all-night-on-an-IV-in-the-vet's-office sick.
posted by elizardbits at 10:38 AM on August 6, 2012


Weird, you're going to be about a mile from my parent's cottage. I don't fish much, so I'll let others handle the specifics, but if you forget anything, they sell lots of fishing supplies in the Piggly Wiggly in Crivitz. Get snacks while you're there, that will be pretty much your last option.
posted by desjardins at 11:27 AM on August 6, 2012


Oh, I see you're from Madison, so you might be going through Antigo instead, which has a Fleet Farm. That's going to be cheaper than Cabela's. Again, snacks! It's such a long drive if you've forgotten anything.
posted by desjardins at 11:29 AM on August 6, 2012


You might want to look at fishing reports here to find out what fish are biting on what tackle/bait, when and where.
posted by kamikazegopher at 3:54 PM on August 6, 2012



1. What is the complete list of items I need to bring with me? (So far I have a fishing license, beer, and a can-do attitude.) 1b. If I go to Cabellas or somewhere similar, will they have a beginner's kit? If so, will it actually be complete or do some parts of it generally suck and need to be instantly augmented?


Don't let yourself get too overwhelmed with the all gear available. The type of fishing you've described is a simple process and requires little more than patience; to bag one of those slippery things all you really need is line, a hook, and some form of bait.

To make things a bit easier, you'll probably want to add a rod, a pocket knife, a towel, and a pair of pliers to the list.

A rod around five feet long will be a pleasure to cast and easy to store after your trip to the reservoir. Buy one that already has line, and don't spend much more than $20. Though they're designed to be easier to use, I'd pass on a (closed) spin cast reel and go for a (open) spinning reel. There is a slight learning curve with using an open reel, but I find they're more fun to use and much more easily serviced. It's a nice skill to learn and ultimately not much more challenging than the alternative.

The pliers are going to make the process of extracting the hook from the jaws of a cute little fish mouth much much easier. Don't forget your pliers. Catching fish without pliers is a bummer. At a sporting goods store you'll find a variety of them made for the task, but most any needle nosed pliers would work. Longer ones are better as sometimes the fish will really chow down and you'll need to reach into the depths of its belly to free the hook. You'll be glad you have them, and the fish will totally slap the water's surface in thanks to you as it swims off to fight again someday.

As a beginner, another thing to consider is a "fish grip". When I started fishing, I found it a bit nerve-wracking to actually deal with the slimy beast on the end of my line. They'll flop and squirm and make weird gurgling noises to remind you that they're stressed out and want to get this over with. You'll hesitate, not know exactly how to grab the thing, and your dog will start laughing at you for being flustered. The fish will see your tentative movement and start rolling its eyes. The fish grip simplifies the process of dehooking–-it locks onto the lip of the fish, eliminating the need to grab it with your hands. Humane fishing is all about getting your new acquaintance off the hook quickly, without any unnecessary trauma and, like the pliers, these will help you accomplish that. The neon plastic grips are great and should cost about $10.

Oh, and being summer, you'd also want a cooler to keep your catch in. The best cooler would be one you could use as a seat.


2. I needs worms, right? Or lures? both?


I'd pick up a few lures and see what happens. Less ick factor, and a more active fishing experience. Satisfying fishing as a beginning is all about lessening the ick factor, unless you're into ick, or not easily ick'd out. Looking at the fishing reports for the reservoir, I'd recommend a basic bass lure around 2.75" long. Rapala makes one called a shad rap that would do everything you want and will be available at Cabelas in 20 different colors and patterns. Cast it toward visible structures in the water (logs, rocks... avoid reeds and grasses), along the banks of the reservoir, and underneath hanging branches, then simply reel in. You can move your rod up and down or side to side a bit to induce some action in the lure and make it look like you know what you're doing. Along with bass, you'll catch perch with this piece of plastic, which may be the best eating fish you'll find in that body of water.

When buying a lure, don't stress too hard about color. Everyone has their favorites, but if I've learned anything from fishing, its that lures are designed to catch fisherman just as they are designed to catch fish. Do get more than one, as it is inevitable that you'll catch a snag at some point and need to cut your losses.

6. What is the most humane way to kill the theoretical fish I catch (fast, I assume, but more specifically?)

I'd recommend using a priest or similar blunt object to whack it square on the head. For small fish you can simply put your index finger inside the mouth, then bend the head back to break the spinal cord. If you want to get your knife involved, cut the gills once you have killed or stunned your catch. This will allow the fish to bleed out making preparation easier and help to stave off spoilage. Some argue that bleeding immediately will improve the taste of the catch, but it generally isn't necessary for smaller fish.

8. Can my dog safely eat the guts or do I need to keep her away from them? Other fish-dog interface suggestions?


I think this is totally cool in moderation, but I would avoid providing the stomach or intestines to her. There is risk of tapeworm, along with a few other parasites (many of which are visible if you're paying attention). There's a lot of debate about whether dogs eating raw fish is awesome or awful, so have a read and make an informed decision. To be safe you could always save the guts and freeze them for a week to try and kill off the nasties. Also keep in mind too much raw fish can lead to thiamine deficiency in dogs, though I can only hope you catch enough for that to be a concern.

Good luck!
posted by oollipo at 3:35 AM on August 7, 2012


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