by Sadie Marcheldon
Fishing with small children is one of life’s great joys. It’s a great way to slow down and spend some quality time with them, and the experience is replete with opportunities to learn important life lessons.
Starting early is your best bet for passing the fishing tradition on to the next generation, but it can be a challenge.
A few tips for fishing with the little ones can help you meet that challenge, avoid disaster, and ensure that you helping to create anglers for life.
Planning Makes Perfect
Your planning for this fishing trip should center entirely around your little angler. It’s not a time to hit your favorite spot just because it’s familiar.
Choose a family-friendly fishing spot in your county that you can access easily. If you’re expecting a young child to be able to hike miles through backwoods, you’re going to be disappointed. Look for parking within a stones-throw of your casting spot.
A first fishing trip is about avoiding unpleasantries as much as anything else. As such flush toilets should be high on your list.
Look for a venue that has other features to explore, be it a sandy beach, a grassy area for play, or tide pools if near the ocean. Each of these can offer a welcome break when the time comes.
Be sure to pack whatever makes sense for the venue, be it bubbles, a magnifying glass, jars for collecting bugs, sand toys, or whatever the case may be.
The duration of your outing may be the most important key to the trip’s success. The most seasoned little angler will only manage 60 or 90 minutes of fishing, and new anglers often even less than that. Know your child’s limits. Plan to wrap up your trip well before they really want to leave.
The key is to plan for a duration where the child ends the trip in good spirits, catch or no catch.
Before Your Fishing Trip
Once you’ve set the specifics of you fishing trip, preparing your little ones well ahead of go-time will spark their interest and make the whole process easier. Educational materials about fish and aquatic habitats are everywhere online and will fascinate children.
Plan some time to find videos that depict catching the kind of fish you’ll be going after. Where possible, find a video starring a child around the same age as you little one. A single good video of a relatable child catching a fish can trigger interest.
Be careful to set expectations, however. Not every fishing trip results in a catch. Let your child know that the child in the video was very lucky to catch that fish.
If you already have your fishing equipment in hand, now is a great time to have you child examine and handle your fishing rod, reek and other gear. Explain what each item does. If you’re planning to use a boat in your fishing trip, introduce them to the boat and, especially, the controls. Kids don’t have much control in their daily lives, so they love sitting at the controls.
That said, nothing will excite your child as much as seeing your lures, given that they look like bait fish or other creatures. Children are drawn to lures like magnets, but a lure’s hooks are dangerous and this is a great opportunity to learn about that risk. Under extremely close supervision, let your child touch the hooks. They will understand how sharp they are and touching them will temper their urge to touch the hooks when you’re not looking.
Safety Before All
Speaking of safety, depending on the age of your child, you’ll likely want them to wear a PFD on the trip, even if you’re planning to fish from shore. Let them wear their PFD around the house for a bit. They’ll become invested in it and will take to wearing it better for an extended outing.
Young children require extra precautions, but water safety refreshers are a good idea no matter the age of the child or their swimming proficiency. Invest in the appropriate safety equipment for their size; don’t be tempted to “size up” their safety gear to get more mileage from it.
Take Me Fishing has a wonderful collection of safety tips.
Just remember that water safety doesn’t just mean drowning prevention; many a fishing trip is spoiled on an overcast day when reflecting UV light makes for surprise sunburns. Pack hats and sunscreen accordingly.
Patience and Flexibility
Patience will help your little angler to enjoy his or her first fishing trip. Your patience. Fishing involves doing things that have no resemblance to their day-to-day lives, and the novelty can overwhelm them. Brace yourself for a torrent of questions, quite a bit of touching and physical exploration, and an all-around fountain of excitement.
That said, be just as prepared for the inevitable excitement crash. As an adult, the thought of sitting and enjoying the sunlight and fresh air is appealing, but to children it can be excruciating.
It’s a great time to better explain aspects of fishing, pointing out structure where fish might live and putting a child “in charge” of finding the next structure target.
If a child is old enough, it’s even a good time to turn over responsibility for a fish finder, if you have one. The latest portable transducers sync up with your tablet or phone, turning fish finding into somewhat of a game for them. Just be sure to turn on the fish icons, even if they aren’t the most accurate. Just believing that there are fish down there can extend a fishing trip by a half-hour.
If all that fails, it’s time to execute on one or more of the alternative activities you planned out before your trip. Bubbles or a set of sand toys will keep a child close to the beach, so you can keep fishing (to a degree). You can always bring your child back to fishing later after a stint of bird watching, exploring for insects, or whatever the venue offers.
Not all fishing trips go as planned, which is a big part of the fun of fishing trips. A first fishing trip with your little one should be no different.
Be flexible and prepare yourself for a range of outcomes, anything from a temper tantrum to a first catch. If you’re lucky, perhaps you’ll have both!
Sadie Marcheldon operates the Monster Fish Lodge with her family operate in Waldhof, Ontario, Canada. Sadie is a contributor to FishingTech.com, a site that helps anglers find the best in high-tech fishing gear.