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Youngsters can catch some inexpensive fun

Some parents could consider it a nightmare.

Hooks stuck in tiny fingers, slimy bait stains on expensive Garanimal outfits, and miles of monofilament line to get tangled in.

But getting young people started in fishing is far from a hassle. It's easy and inexpensive, and the only thing you have to worry about is your child growing up to be a fishing fanatic like Larry Mastry.

As a boy growing up in south St. Petersburg, Mastry spent a lot of time fishing. He practiced his passion from sea walls, oyster beds and boats, and he eventually turned it into a livelihood.

"I kind of grew up in a sportfishing family," said the proprietor of Mastry's Bait and Tackle. "I was very much into it.

"We didn't live on the water, but I definitely made thousands of trips down bay. We spent our summers snatching mullet. The mullet would school up on top of the water and come right down the sea wall near Tropical Shores. We called it heading."

From his crowded shop on Fourth Street South in St. Petersburg, Mastry is constantly answering questions from parents who want to take their children fishing. The key, he says, is keeping the child's interest.

"You're only going to hold their attention for so long," Mastry said. "A 4-year-old would just as soon play with the minnows in the bait well.

"I suggest using small hooks and just catch anything. There's a tendency to use too large a hook and too big a bait. People go overboard. Catching pinfish is great. We do some (children's) tournaments, and we'll chum up the pinfish. The kids love it."

Rather than spending a lot of money on an expensive spinning or bait-casting outfit, Mastry suggests starting your child with a cane pole.

"It's easy and very inexpensive," he said. "A whopping $5 for the whole setup. All you need is about a 10-foot cane pole, some 10-pound test about the same length as the pole, a colorful float, a split shot (sinker), a regular old 6 or 8 Carlisle hook and a little piece of shrimp.

"It's a basic way of fishing, but it's very productive. Make sure you use a float. Everybody likes to watch a cork."

When your child masters the art of cane-poling, it's time to trade up.

"When they get older, say 5 or 6, then they're better off with a spinning outfit," Mastry said.

Once you're rigged up, choosing a spot is as easy as finding some water.

"Just about anywhere you go, you can catch something with a piece of shrimp and a cane pole," Mastry said. "I send people down to the (St. Petersburg) municipal pier. It's a great area to start. There's a lot of area to fish. The Fort De Soto piers are good also."

With hooks flying, the potential for injury is always around. For that reason, Mastry emphasizes being safe.

"I always stress safety," he said. "No. 1 is making sure that the child understands a hook is sharp and can hurt you. Always look behind you before you cast. And second, when you're walking with it, keep the rod tip up so you don't poke anybody."