More often than not, these first trips involve cane poles, bobbers and a mess of bream rather than metalflake boats, $15-dollar lures and just a smattering of bites.
A child who watches a red-and-white bobber jiggling and sink for the first time turns to his parent or grandparent with a gleam in his eyes and immediately forges a bond with that person that the child will remember forever.
Even if these little anglers go on to be seduced by the glam fishing world, they'll always enjoy telling the story of their first fish, and they will fondly remember the fishing hero who helped them reel it in.
Take my 3-year-old son Matthew for instance. His first fishing trip was to Caney Lake in April of 2005. The chinquapin had been on the beds thick the weekend before, and I convinced Capal, his grandfather on his mother's side, to tag along for the ride.
The chinquapin weren't kind that day. A little cool snap pushed them deeper, and it became more like work as I searched in vain for a few bites. I'm not sure if I was trying to find some fish so Matthew could catch one, or if I was trying to find them to impress Capal with my obviously well-cultivated fishing skills.
Looking back, I'd have to say it was the latter because Capal said something that has been played over and over in my mind ever since.
"It's not about me," he said. "It's about that boy. I don't care if I get a bite. Just make sure he has fun."
Matthew's first trip with Capal turned out to be his last. Capal passed away only one month later.
I'll never forget that my son caught his first bream with his grandfather's help. A year later, Matthew recalls that Capal helped him catch that chinquapin. It's my job to make sure time doesn't erase that memory.
I'll also never forget the advice my father-in-law gave me that day. It's not about us. It's about them. And April is a great month to introduce "them" to bream fishing. Chinquapin and bluegill are moving into shallow water all across North Louisiana this month to spawn. There's no better time to see that gleam in your child's eyes and become immortalized in his or her mind as a fishing hero.
Here are a few sure bream bets.
Caney was once the undisputed heavyweight champion of Louisiana bass lakes. Now, it is the king of the chinquapin lakes. The big redears grow to mammoth sizes. Two-pound fish don't even garner a second glance.
Caney guide Eddie Halbrook religiously keeps a fishing log, and a close examination of it reveals that the chinquapin have moved up the second week of April every year for the past five years.
"These fish have been in deep water around the mussel beds most of the winter," he said. "When the water starts warming, they move up the creek channels, then turn off to their spawning areas. I've found that they return to the same areas over and over again.
"You can actually start catching them a little early if you fish the 12-foot water out by the channel. From there, they move up to about 8 feet, then in to 3 feet where they spawn.
"Once the chinquapins move in to spawn, they stay until they complete their business. It generally takes a two-week period for them to move in, spawn and get out. That's why it's so important to be there when they move up. If you wait too long, you'll miss out."
Halbrook pointed out a few places where eager anglers could find some chinquapin beds. He said any of the creeks on the north side of the lake are good, but specifically identified Smith Branch, Boggy and Clear Branch.
"Those three are best because there are more dollar pads in those creeks than any of the others," said Halbrook. "Even though those three are best for me, you can go to the backs of any of those creeks on the north side and catch some fish.
"I tend to stay away from the south side during the spawn because there aren't as many dollar pads over there. The key to finding good beds is a mixture of pads and stick-ups."
Halbrook said he knows 22 areas around the lake where he can find big chinquapin on the beds. However, if you don't have his experience, you'll have to do a little work to locate them. One of the oldest, and some say most exact, ways to find them is by using your nose.
"You can smell bedding chinquapin," Halbrook said. "They smell like fresh-cut grass to me. When I'm looking for new beds, I'll actually idle upwind and sniff them out like a bloodhound."
Of course, the other way to find them is to fish around a while until you catch a few. If you get in a bed of big ones, you'll know it quick enough. These chinquapin are aggressive, and they aren't going to let a bait sit there very long without eating it. In fact, Halbrook says that if you get in a good bed, you'll start off catching the big ones right from the start.
"I like to use cold worms for the chinquapin," he said. "You'll do best if you put a really big gob of worms on. And I recommend using a long-shanked hook because the fish will swallow the hook pretty far, and a long shank gives you something to grab to get the hook out."
Big bluegills command the top spot at Cheniere Lake, a small cypress/tupelo gum brake in West Monroe. The bream fishing at Cheniere has improved exponentially over the past couple of years thanks to the effects of an annual drawdown.
As Mike Wood, District 2 fisheries biologist, explained, "The drawdown has facilitated a reduction of organic material on the shoreline. This has allowed the bluegill to spawn in areas where they couldn't spawn before. Bluegill won't spawn on organic substrate — muck, in other words. That muck will suffocate the eggs. They seek out areas like sand or gravel, anything that is inorganic. Of course, if they can't find that, they will substitute logs and stumps."
The regular Cheniere bream anglers, Wood included, will tell you that it's a lot easier to find a bed fishing the shoreline now than it was just a few short years ago. The beds aren't easy to see because of the slight brownish tint of the water due to the tannins and wood products in the swampy water. A lot of times, the only indication of a bed is the little wakes created by moving bluegill.
"They seldom spawn much deeper than 4 feet," Wood said. "Three feet or less has been the best zone for me. In some cases, it may be clear enough to see the beds, but most of the time it's just a little movement in the water that gives them away.
"One of the best things to do to find a bed is to pay your dues and dabble crickets up and down the banks until you find them. Once you do find a bed, you've established that spot and can rely on it for many years to come."
Wood explained that there aren't any really super areas of the lake that stand out. The lower end near the spillway is the best area because of its more prominent inorganic substrate. In fact, Wood said you could almost eliminate the entire north end of the lake because the bottom is still fairly soft, thus making it more difficult for bluegill to find a suitable bedding area.
A unique feature of Cheniere is the numerous tupelo gums in the lake that get loaded up every year with tupelo worms in April. There are so many worms that they get almost all the leaves off the trees.
The bluegills have figured out that it doesn't take much effort to get full when worms are falling from the sky. Wood recommended fan casting a small Beetle Spin below the trees anytime you can hear the fish smacking the worms.
D'Arbonne perch-jerkers have seen an improvement in the bream fishing thanks to a little extra effort by the LDWF.
"For the past three years," said Wood, "we have made gravel beds around the piers at the state park. They have been a tremendous boon for kids catching fish that might not have caught as much otherwise.
"We're planning on doing the same thing around a proposed fishing development around the Highway 33 bridge. The lake commission wants to use that old roadbed that runs beside Highway 33 as a shoreline angling opportunity, and we're going to focus on those types of opportunities so mom and dad without a boat can take their kids to catch a bunch of bream."
The best places to find chinquapin and bluegill on D'Arbonne is in protected pockets that have a reasonable amount of habitat in the form of points, ridges and rolling, underwater hills. The prime areas are the brush points that stick out in the water.
"There's a good, healthy mix of chinquapin and bluegill in D'Arbonne," Wood said. "There aren't many true monsters like there are at Caney, but you'll come across a giant every now and then.
"The only thing that can hurt the spring bream fishing is an influx of runoff from a heavy rain. Any strong current will keep them from spawning up the creeks. That's why I'd recommend fishing the main lake after a heavy rain. Current is a non-factor down there."
Wood reported that Poverty Point bream are flourishing in the new impoundment. It hasn't gotten a monster bream reputation yet, but Wood said catching giant bream is only a matter of time.
"We've got a normal population of small, medium and large bream," he said. "The giants will show up over time. The big bream take a little time to develop. They're certainly not small due to Poverty Point being a new lake. The great thing is that you can catch a mix of chinquapin and bluegill with some crappie and catfish thrown in for good measure."
Wood explained that the bream spawn would begin in April and run through June. The key to finding good areas is to locate protected coves.
"You've got to remember that Poverty Point is an open lake," Wood said. "A 1-foot wave is as deep as it is tall. That means that bream will have trouble nesting in the shallow, wind-blown areas.
"There are some good, protected pockets around the marina on the north end of the lake, and there are some over on the east side of the lake around the old protection levees. They like to get around the old, remaining stick-ups in these places."
Wood suggested anglers follow an old-school tradition when fishing for bream at Poverty Point. He said bubbles rising to the surface mean that a fish has touched the bottom. A bunch of bubbles rising could mean the presence of a bunch of bream.
"It's something the old-timers insist is true," Wood said. "And I've seen it myself on Poverty Point. I've dropped a cricket right where I just saw a bubble and caught a bream."
Crickets work best if you're targeting bream only. Using worms will catch bream with a few catfish thrown in the mix, and a Beetle Spin is extremely productive on Poverty Point because it will catch a lot of bream with crappie and yellow bass as lagniappe.
Lake St. John
As most other bream lakes in North Louisiana, Lake St. John draws an automatic comparison to Caney. Like District 4 biologist Dave Hickman said, "We catch a lot of nice-size bream at St. John, but they're not as big as they are at Caney."
St. John has some good bream habitat and excellent spawning areas on either end of the lake. It also has a good bass population to keep the bream population in check.
"You normally can't see the beds on the ends of the lakes because we usually have a pretty good plankton bloom by April," Hickman said. "Most of the beds are in 2 to 4 feet of water, so just knowing you're in the right depth on the ends should give you a little confidence you're in the right spot."
Hickman said some locals have enhanced the areas around their piers by putting out boxes of gravel to give the bream a hard substrate to spawn on within easy casting distance.
"I don't know that a whole lot of people are doing it," he said, "but I've done it. I can tell you first hand that the bream will flock to them."
Hickman also pointed out that fly-fishing for bream is popular at St. John. Try popping bugs and wet flies like a Woolly Booger. You can also go down a bank with a Beetle Spin and catch a good mess of bream in April.
If you're tired of your child idolizing the latest pop culture icon, take him or her bream fishing this month. You'll make memories that last a lifetime.
The only problem is we don't know how long our lifetime is going to be, so make plans for a bream fishing trip to one of these North Louisiana lakes today. I recommend taking a camera.
To book a bream trip with Eddie Halbrook, call 318-259-4454.