There are formative experiences in a child’s life and then there is fishing. A kid’s first time landing a fish will go down in the family photo albums (now social media) as well as their memories forever. Not to mention your memories and the stories you share for the rest of your life as the proud fishing guide. Here’s how to make the best day of fishing for kids happen.
3 Rules on Teaching Kids to Fish
To be the proud fishing guide that puts smiles on faces for photo book memories when you teach a kid how to fish, is more difficult than it seems. As a Fishing Camp instructor for 5 years and the founder of the Central Park Conservancy’s Youth Fishing Program, I have had my moments of failure while teaching kid’s to fish. From these failures I took note, and formulated Tailored Tackle’s 3 Main Rules for Taking a Kid Fishing so that I can help the parents and loved-ones in a child’s life be best prepared to teach fishing.
1.) Be Prepared: Having a well thought out plan that is executed on-time is the framework for the whole experience.
2.) Be Patient: Your temperament greatly effects the emotional well being of everyone fishing.
3.) Be Selfless: Do not be selfish, this outing cannot have ANYTHING to do with you or your distractions.
This goes without saying but Safety is wrapped up into each one of the main rules. Check with your local DNR (Department of Natural Resources) about Safety Requirements. On top of any State Laws, I recommend having approved personal flotation devices on all children from boat or on shore as well as a comprehensive first-aide kit on hand.
Step 1.) Lock in a Date 1 Week in Advance
Family commitments, activities and events can often swamp an attempt at getting a kid out to fish during the busy summer months. Locking down a date and committing to it is an important first step.
Step 2.) Define the Target Species
Your plan is to get kids on fish, consistently. That means quantity over quality. If you are in Freshwater, you are in for a day filled with Panfish. If in Saltwater on Gulf to East Coast, a comparable, consistent bite should be sought after like Sea-Trout for In-Shore, or Cats and Whiting in the Surf.
Step 3.) Do Your Research
Find a smaller, manageable body of water that has plenty of the easy to target species discussed in Step 2. Visit your State’s DNR website and look up lakes in your area that have easy access: Minnesota DNR Example. Your State’s DNR website will often explain the species available, estimated abundance, regulations, as well as access points. If going by shore, do your best to find public park access with bathrooms and other activities readily available. This can help alleviate unanticipated accidents as well as providing other options if there is a slow bite. On your DNR’s website, make sure that what you are targeting is in season regardless of keeping any fish and also make sure you have the appropriate license. In many States, children under the age of 16 do not need a fishing license if the parent or guardian maintains appropriate documentation for themselves and is present. Be sure to check with your State’s rules and regulations and acquire adequate documentation.
Step 4.) Stock up on Terminal Tackle & Live Bait
This is not the time for your flawless, top-water frog skipping technique. Do your best to use live bait and purchase it ahead of time. Break out the Live Bait Hooks, Split Shot Weights, Floats, and a 12 count of Nightcrawlers. My go to when taking kids out for Panfish is a #6 Bait Holder Hook, 1/4″ piece of Nightcrawler, a 1″ Neon EZ Float for visibility, and a 3/0 Split Shot Weight separating the two. Our Beginner Fishing Kit is a good fit for this combo. For In-Shore Saltwater, use a 3″ Popping Cork with a 1.5 ft. mono/flouro leader tied to a 1/4 oz. Jig with a White 3″ Curl Tail Grub. For Surf Fishing Saltwater, tie up a 2 oz. Pyramid Sinker above a 12″ metal leader attached to a #1 Live Bait Hook threaded with Shrimp or Squid.
Step 5.) Use an Age Appropriate Fishing Rod and Reel
Make sure the fishing rod/reel combo is age and experience appropriate. A good rule of thumb for kids age 7 and under would be a Shakespeare Fishing Kit which is about 2.5 ft. in length and has a manageable button stop design to make casting easy. For ages 8-12 an Ugly Stick Jr. which has the same Spin-casting reel features of the 7 and under model, but is of larger reel size mounted to a longer 4 ft. rod. This combo gives the child the same easy to use system, but on a larger scale so it feels more age appropriate. After age 12 a basic Ugly Stick Combo in Medium size is a solid entry level combo for anyone getting started. For In-Shore or Surf Fishing Saltwater you will most likely need to teach them with adult sized combos since conditions and entry level tackle will require larger set-ups. In this case, do your best to be involved on all steps of the process but emphasize their contribution and allow them to retrieve any catch.
Fishing with Patience
Teaching kids any sport or hobby takes patience. You may not notice, but your attitude and encouragement greatly impact their experience and interest. A balance of being helpful while not overbearing is a virtue of any good teacher, but coupling this combo with patience is an absolute must when it comes to fishing. Unlike more controlled sports, fishing has hundreds of environmental variables that can alter the outcome regardless of your effort or experience. Bad weather, a slow bite, an unforeseen accident, pesky neighbors, you name it, can come into play and ruin the experience.
Teach Fishing for Kids by Example
The way in which you carry yourself and continue to make the activity enjoyable for everyone is guided by your level of patience. A good rule of thumb when the frustration arises is to remain quiet, take 5-10 seconds and step out of the current situation with your mind. Observe the current circumstances from the perspective of the child, and then respond in a way that helps them as well as includes them in the solution. Channel all frustration, anger and fear into excitement and positive encouragement. Over projecting a positive attitude will not only help the circumstance but has a weird personal effect on your own attitude. Putting on the encouragement show for your kid can often lead to lifting your own spirits and remove frustration without you even noticing.
Fishing with Selflessness
Repeat after me; This is not about me, my individual experience, or any of my distractions. This is 100% about the child/children’s experience and I will do everything in my power to make it a positive experience. Saying that out-loud can seem strange but it is powerful. You might question it however, if there is nothing in it for us adults then why bother? Look at your child’s fishing experience as an investment.
Invest in your Kid’s Experience
It is no fun to take out of your paycheck and contribute to a 401k account, but you do it so that you can responsibly provide for a lifetime of experiences with the ones you love. Doing everything in your power to create a beneficial fishing experience for your child will pay dividends in their relationship with you, the memories your form together, as well as potentially creating a fishing partner for years to come.
Be Mindful of Engagement
These are all pretty strong results from being selfless and patient, now let us look at the results from the flip side. If you spend the whole day targeting your sport species you will NOT be their hero. They are children and they are selfish. It is your job to teach them selflessness while also keeping their attention and interests in mind. Spending 5 hours targeting a trophy Musky while your child sits patiently, or impatiently, will scar their memories and prevent them from pursuing the sport on their own accord. Even if you catch a trophy, they will not have a frame of reference or a feeling of inclusion on your big catch. Chances are, they will be a little frightened and confused. This is an example of being to into the sport for yourself. You need to be to into the sport for them.
Don’t Allow Distractions
Do not allow distractions like work to come into play or any fishing prep for a later date you think you are getting away with. You may not realize it because you are distracted, but your distractions throw the attention off and enable frustrating situations to arise that could have been avoided. The distraction turning into chaos becomes cyclical, it feeds on itself, and it often ends with everyone being upset. Channel all your energy into making this a good experience for everyone that is present.
Fishing for kids requires you to be prepared, patient and selfless.