Fish and Game’s free fishing trailer gives beginners a boost

Learning anything new can be a challenge, and fishing is no different. A beginner has to figure out where to go, what to use, what tackle to use and how to catch something that doesn’t want to be caught.

“The unknowns can get overwhelming,” said Jamie Carpenter, Idaho Fish and Game’s aquatic educator.

F&G has solved most of that with its free fishing trailer, which travels to local fishing spots in Southwest Idaho and provides all a person needs for a day of fishing. The name is literal — it’s free.

All a budding angler has to do is show up and sign up, and Carpenter and her crew will loan them a rod, tackle, bait and show them the basics of fishing. A fishing license is not required as long as people sign up at the trailer.

“We try to keep it really simple, and we supply everything,” she said.

The stocking truck usually stops by shortly before the event, so there are trout to be caught, as well as other species, depending on the location.

The trailer is in its fourth season of making the rounds to ponds and other bodies of water in the Treasure Valley and nearby communities.

Carpenter said they’ve seen steady growth in people using it, but it’s rare that there aren’t enough rods for people who want to fish to use.

She’s seen anyone from 3-year-olds to a 66-year-old woman catch their first fish, and the reaction is about the same from all of them.

There’s something universally exciting about feeling a fish on the end of a fishing rod, and it’s one everybody should experience at least once.

While the hobby of fishing has traditionally been passed down through families and friends, some people don’t know anyone who fishes or is willing to show them the ropes, which is why Fish and Game has stepped in to help out.

“That’s what I love about this program. It’s an opportunity to show people something I love,” Carpenter said.

The program is geared toward kids, but all ages are welcome and should take advantage of it.

Shelley Henrikson of Boise recently took her 3-year-old son, Andrew Thomas, on his first fishing trip.

“My dad was visiting from Seattle, and he always wanted to take his grandson fishing,” she said. “It worked out perfect because the trailer was here. It’s such a great resource.”

Fishing is an activity that all ages enjoy, and it dovetails with many other activities in Idaho. People love to congregate near water, whether to camp, picnic, swim, or just hang out, and nearly all waters in Idaho have fish in them.

Fishing is also a lifetime sport. You can learn the basics in a morning, but most anglers remain challenged by fishing for most of their lives because there’s always another way to fish, another species to pursue and another body of water that requires a different set of skills or presents a different set of challenges.

F&G will start beginners out with the most basic setup: a push-button reel with a bobber, weight and bait.

The bobber is fun, especially for kids, because it’s visual. A young angler can tell when a fish is biting because the bobber bounces up and down in the water until a fish takes the bait and submerges the bobber. That’s often followed by squeals of delight as a young angler feels the electric pulse of a fish writhing on the end of the line.

If a bobber and bait don’t entice the fish, you might take off the bobber and let the bait sink to the bottom (with a marshmallow to float it above the weeds). Then it’s a matter of watching the rod tip to see when a fish takes the bait.

Those are the gateways to countless other ways of fishing, which people can learn over time.

Carpenter said the trailer isn’t a one-time offer. She’s had people return several times to keep learning, and that’s OK with her. But ultimately, F&G’s goal is for people to use loaner gear to learn the basics and get comfortable so they can buy their own gear (and a fishing license) and find their own adventures in fishing.

What to bring: A good attitude and a little patience. On busy days, there may be lots of people there to borrow gear, so it may take a little while to get started. Remember kids will be around water, so it never hurts to have an extra set of clothes handy. It’s also good to have drinks and snacks for them.

If people have their own fishing gear but don’t know how to use it, they can bring it and F&G folks will teach them how to rig and bait it.

Cleaning and preparing fish: F&G staffers will teach you to clean the fish you catch. Since you will be fishing with bait, catch-and-release fishing might not be an option because the fish often swallow the hook. Plan to bring a small cooler or similar container to carry fish home. Keep it cool and damp.

Fish always tastes best cooked fresh, so when you get them home, cook it right away. It’s easy to cook a trout. Put a generous puddle of oil and butter in a frying pan, heat it to medium, roll the trout in flour and fry it a few minutes per side until the meat is white and flaky. Squirt a little lemon juice on it and serve.

If you’re feeding it to kids, grab the tail and carefully separate the backbone and rib bones from the meat. Be careful for small bones that might get left behind.