KIDS AND FISHING
By Ken Poor
Children love to fish, but a successful fishing trip with a child requires plenty of thought and preparation plus an abundance of patience. Children have a short attention span, typically about fifteen minutes per task, and they need action to hold their interest. Given the choice of catching one or two big fish or a bunch of little ones – every time kids will go for the small fish and lots of action.
Plan your first few fishing trips with a child for periods when they are going to catch good numbers of fish and be physically comfortable doing it. Bluegill, perch and crappie are plentiful in most lakes, especially during the spring and early summer, this also provides a great time and way to teach children the basics of fishing.
All day fishing trips are too much for a youngster, keep the trip at or less than four hours and if the weather is less than perfect cut the trip short accordingly. Don’t expect children to fish at the same skill level or intensity level as an adult or enjoy the experience for the same reasons that an adult would. If you take a child on a typical adult fishing trip, chances are they will not want to go again. If you really want to know what a child expects from their fishing trip, enjoy doing on a fishing trip, or if they are ready to go home – there is a simple way to find out – ask them.
At times when you are fishing with a child the fish just won’t be biting and when the action is slow don’t try to tough it out. Go to your back-up plan. If they are old enough, teach them how to drive the boat. If that’s not a practical plan, try looking for and identifying different types of water birds on the lake or show them how to read a fish locator. Spend some time teaching them to tie knots and give them a reward if they do a good job. Most importantly, when the fish are not biting do not stay focused on catching fish.
Easily the most fun thing that I have shared with a child is the wild and wiggly things that live under the rocks in the
shallow water around the edge of a lake. Worms, crabs, frogs, crayfish, minnows, leeches, a variety of shellfish and insects are all hiding under the rocks waiting to be discovered. Roll up your pants legs and wade right in – it is
absolutely amazing what lives under the rocks in a lake and the pleasure that children get from finding them.
Casting can be a hazard when fishing with a child and the dangers of sharp hooks should be explained to them in a very serious manner before the trip starts and
then with constant reminders during the trip. Show them how much room they need around them to handle and cast a rod safely. Both children and adults should always wear a hat and sunglasses for eye protection when fishing. Make sure your child wears a life vest at all times when they are in a boat or around the water.
Normally, it is a good idea to start a child out using a small slip-float (bobber) and live bait. They understand that when a bobber goes underwater that a fish has their bait. Use a short light-action spinning rod – that fits their little hands – and spool the reel with 8-pound test line. Keep in mind we are fishing for panfish. A child’s fishing rod should be about the same length as the child is tall.
Show them how to rig a slip-float and adjust it for depth. Children that are six or older can understand how to rig and use a slip-float. Most adults have the bad habit of helping children too much. Show them how – help them – but encourage them to bait their own hook, cast, and to reel in the fish they catch. Teach them about catch, photograph and release (CPR) and never criticize their ability.
Taking pictures of various activities related to a fishing trip will in time become the memories of a child’s life. Do not limit pictures to grip and grin, take pictures that define the trip such as the child with the lake sign in the picture as well as pictures of before (preparing), during and after the trip.
Building interest in the trip before it starts is important and can be a lot of fun. Spend a few minutes with the child rummaging around in your tackle box. Children love this stuff. Make it a light question and answer session. If they are old enough to cast lures let them pick out one or two to use on the trip.
Younger children can help decide what kinds of drinks and snacks to bring or pick a spot on the lake to fish. By encouraging children to participate in planning the trip not only will you build anticipation for the trip, you will also be spending quality time with the child.