Studies show that most people who are fishing on a regular basis today were first introduced to the sport by the time they reached age 12, and the majority of youngsters are taught how to fish by an adult family member. As a professional educator, angler and—most important—dad, who conducts kids fishing clinics at sport shows across the nation, I have developed a list of ten tips to keep in mind when you have the opportunity to introduce a child—of any age—to angling.
Docks and fishing piers are great places to introduce kids to fishing, where they aren’t confined to a boat and casting isn’t required because the fish can be found literally underfoot.
Start the fishing lesson at home, even days prior to the trip, by visiting a local tackle store with the child, allowing the youngster to be a part of the entire process of selecting tackle and asking around about a good place to go fishing. A visit to the local library to check out books on fishing is a good way to begin the process as well.
Practice casting, knot tying and bobber-setting at home or at the local park, where errant casts can’t catch in overhead trees or stream-side brush and knots and bobbers can be figured out away from the excitement of catching a fish.
Keep the child’s fishing equipment simple. A cane pole is a great first fishing rod, especially for younger anglers. Simple spin-casting tackle, such as the special youth models now offered by several tackle manufacturers, are good choices as well. Allow the child to have his or her own tackle box, in which to store hooks, bobbers and sinkers.
Consider trading in your fishing tackle for a camera for the day. By leaving your tackle at home, you are more likely to stay involved in the child’s activities—and less tempted to get caught up in the catching yourself in the event the fishing gets fast! With a camera, you can record the day’s activities, including that most momentous of events: a child’s first fish.
Select a place to fish from shore that offers an abundance of easily caught panfish, such as bluegill, crappie or perch. Docks or piers are excellent places to start, because they are clear of trees and other obstacles that snag casts, and provide cover below the water for fish. Open shoreline areas along ponds, lakes and slow-moving streams can be good too. Boats can be used, but keep in mind that kids need “elbow room” when fishing, and often feel con-fined when having to stay aboard a boat for any length of time.
Use live bait. Nothing catches panfish more consistently that live bait such as worms, nightcrawlers, crickets or minnows, and a primary goal of these first fishing trips is to catch fish in order to maintain a child’s interest in the activity. Live bait is also interesting for the child to touch and play with, which he or she should be allowed to do when the fishing gets slow or the youngster simply wants to do something else for a while.
Use a bobber. Nothing is as fascinating to a child as a bobber dancing on the surface, especially when the child knows what’s causing it! The bobber also provides some casting weight, allows the child to see as well as feel strikes, and keeps the bait up off the bottom in front of the fish and away from underwater snags.
Take plenty of snacks and drinks, differ-ent kinds of bait for variety, and make sure you’ve got raingear, jackets to match the weather, and insect repellant and sunscreen if needed. You want the child to be as comfortable as possible during the fishing session.
Keep the first sessions short. When the child says it’s time to go home—go! You want these first trips to be remembered as something fun, and when the fun ends for a child, it’s time to end the fishing trip, no matter how well the fish are biting or how early in the trip it might be.
Talk to the child during the fishing trip. Talk about anything, remembering that these are important times for youngsters, who value their time with you (whether they show it or not) and are perfect times to share feelings about anything under the sun. You can discuss angling topics like conservation, fishing tactics, what makes a bobber work or social subjects like what it takes to do well in school or what should be done when the child is confronted with the opportunity to experiment with drugs or alcohol.
Kids’ Common Fishing Questions
(And answers to get YOU off the hook!)
You’ll be amazed at the topics of conversation that pop up on a fishing trip with a child as you ponder your bobber, sit out a rain shower, or break for a peanut-butter sandwich. The questions that arise can take you by surprise; others you can count on like clockwork. Here’s a “cheat sheet” of common kid’s questions and their answers that you can study or keep on hand for the initial angling trip.
Q: “How do fish breathe?”
A: Instead of lungs, fish have gills that take oxygen from the water the same way our lungs take oxygen from the air.
Q: “Do fish sleep?”
A: Some fish do sleep, most just rest; you just can’t tell when fish are doing either because they don’t have eye-lids.
Q: “Where do fish come from?”
A: Most fish come from eggs that hatch in the spring. They don’t look very much like grown fish for the first few weeks, and may be so small that it’s hard to see them. Many fish eat baby fish for food, so fish lay thousands or even millions of eggs at once so that at least a few of the fish have a chance to survive and grow up.
Q: “How does a fish keep warm?”
A: Fish are “cold blooded” creatures, whose body and blood temperature changes with the temperature of the water they are in. People are “warm blooded,” and our bodies stay at one temperature all the time no matter what the temperature is around us. That’s why we have to wear coats and hats to keep warm in the winter, and fish do not.
Q: “How do fish keep from sinking to the bottom?”
A: Most fish have a balloon-like sac called a swim bladder in their bodies. The gases in the bladder keep the body from sink-ing. Some fish, like sharks, don’t have a swim bladder and must swim all the time to keep from sinking.
Q: “How old do fish get?”
A: Some minnow-type fish live only a couple of years. Catfish and carp may live 20 to 40 years. More common fish like bass and sunfish usually live about six to eight years.
Q: “How big do fish get?”
A: Some saltwater fish, like Great White sharks, can weight thousands of pounds and have been caught by rod and reel. In fresh water, the largest fish are sturgeon, which can weigh over a thousand pounds. Catfish can weigh over one hundred pounds, and a one-pound sunfish is a trophy!