Someone somewhere once said, “To catch a fish, you must think like a fish.” When it comes to fishing with kids, however, you must think like a kid.
When it comes to introducing kids to fishing, considering a few simple ground rules can make all the difference. The prospect of taking kids fishing may sound daunting, but in reality nothing can be further from the truth.
Fishing At Its Most Essential
Were you to walk into one of the mega tackle shops of the world and behold the many millions of gadgets and gizmos, you might think that fishing has to be super complicated and expensive. Fishing certainly can be, but it also doesn’t have to be.
Humans have been fishing for thousands and thousands of years. For most of this time, it didn’t require any apps or space age carbon fibers.
On its most basic level, fishing is nothing more than the fine art of tricking a creature that lives in water into eating something with a hook in it so that you can reel it in. Fishing relies on the most simple and fundamental of biological urges—the need for fish to eat.
Understanding this tenet will help shed much of the mystery that can shroud its practice. Sure, as it develops the passion for fishing can turn philosophical (ever watched “A River Runs Through It”?). It can also develop into an obsession– just look at my life choices.
When it comes to introducing your kids to the activity, however, fishing has a more practical definition. From this perspective, fishing is not some super complicated and expensive pastime. It is rather just a great way to spend quality time together outside.
Fishing also has a number of educational and quality of life benefits for children. For more on that, read “Why Fishing is Good For Kids.”
Ground Rules for Introducing Kids to Fishing
Someone somewhere once said, “To catch a fish, you must think like a fish.” Who knows if this is true… who knows what fish think?
When it comes to fishing with kids, there is a related tenet that we believe to be very true. In order to get a kid to enjoy something, you must think like a kid.
Fishing Dad Joke: What did the fish say when it swam into a concrete wall?
What do kids like? Adventure, playing around, getting dirty, messing with stuff, eating snacks, seeing cool things, and throwing things at each other. When properly packaged, a fishing trip is the perfect vehicle to deliver all of these things and more.
After all, there are enough times in a kid’s life when he or she has to sit still and pay attention. Fishing should not be another such occasion—it should be fun.
1. What you do or do not catch is not important.
I know, I know, this goes against everything that any red blooded, self-respecting angler’s view of the world. Stressing about how many fish you catch—or worrying whether you land every fish that you hook- runs contrary to your goal.
There is plenty of time to be consumed with goals that involve catching fish when you are out with your buddies. In fact, if you are successful in your introduction of kids to fishing there will be plenty of time to worry about that as the kids (and their interest in the sport) grow.
At the introductory stage, you can do quite a bit more harm by catching fish while being preoccupied about fishing success than you can by not catching anything but having a good time. A kid’s fishing experience should be about them and the fun they’re having.
2. Life (And Fishing With Kids) is About the Journey
The fast pace of the modern world leaves many of us adult types rushing between appointments. In our race to cram everything into our busy schedules, we sometimes forget to enjoy the lead up.
One of the most enjoyable parts of getting kids into fishing is the build up to the trip. Children really enjoy being part of the planning. More than that, by making the trip sound like fun you can actually influence their chances of enjoying it.
Psychologists call a similar phenomenon in the workplace and classroom the Pygmalion Effect. Their tenet, which has been proven across a number of settings, is that high expectations from a teacher or boss lead to higher performance by the worker or student in a given area.
The expectation of success by a teacher/employer imparts confidence and heightened ability in the task at hand. Similarly, if parents talk about how exciting and fun the fishing trip with the kids will be, the children are more likely interpret their experiences positively— regardless of how many fish you catch.
Kids love adventure, so talk it up. Making a fishing trip sound exciting beats the pants off of rushing around and whining about all the other things you could be doing.
Who knows, you might even enjoy the trip that much more yourself. Just ask Pygmalion.
3. Fishing is Only PART of the Adventure
When it comes to helping your kids enjoy fishing and the outdoors, there is quite a bit on the line. Consider the following benefits:
- I once overheard a Boy Scout leader talking with his buddy at an airport. He said that while his wife would never let him spend $2,000 on a fishing trip for himself, if it is “for the kids,” she has no problem with it.
He was a smart dude. I don’t remember where we were flying, but I won’t forget his insight.
- At some point in your life– unless you kick the bucket early— you may become too old to take yourself fishing. At that point you will need someone to bring you.
Your elderly self’s ticket to fishing is likely to be the same kid that you introduce to fishing today (or his or her kid).
- A friend of mine is a captain from Charleston, South Carolina. One day in a fishing tournament in Costa Rica– while riding in the tower looking for sailfish and marlin, we got to talking about kids.
He told me how much it meant to him that his 13 year old daughter loved to turkey hunt and fish with him. At a time when many kids want nothing to do with their parents, his daughter would sometimes turn down social invitations to spend time with him on the water or in the woods.
Bonding with a kid while fishing or hunting creates an avenue for quality time together that can last for decades. In fact, it can transcend generations.
Considering all that is on the line when it comes to introducing kids to fishing, it makes sense to control all of the variables that you can. Even under the best of circumstances you can’t guarantee that the fish will cooperate.
What you can control, however, are all of the other aspects of the experience. My little girls get fired up about fishing. Why?
Maybe it’s the half gallon of limeade that we make and bring on our serious trips. It could also be that the bait shop where we buy shiners is next to a sub shop and a donut place.
Here’s a pretty good limeade recipe to get you started.
They’ve also figured out that fishing usually means jumping around and throwing worms or mud at their old man.
4. Find a Place that is Safe and Provides Room to Run Around
If you’re fishing from shore, find a place where kids can run around a bit without getting hurt. You might avoid jetties or rocky shore lines with the little ones.
You might also want to make sure that you are not fishing 10 feet away from speeding cars. If you’re headed to a public park, be sure that the area is not being used as a bum nest or hobo camp.
This sounds like a joke… until it doesn’t.
We used to take the girls fishing to a park with a small, mostly enclosed pier (they couldn’t fall through the railings). You could count on catching a bass on about every other shiner.
Most importantly, however, after a cursory check to make sure there were no stray hooks laying about, the kids were free to run about and do whatever they wanted between disappearing bobbers.
Farm ponds are great. So is fishing from the surf at the beach—especially on a calm day.
If you take the kids on the boat, pick a day without much wind and when the sea is calm. Fishing is great, but bringing an ice chest full of interesting snacks and drinks can go a long way as well.
5. For a Kid, Any Fish Is Exciting
Okay Capt. Ahab, while it may take a 12 pound largemouth or an 800 pound blue marlin to get your heart pumping, kids are excited to catch most anything. One common mistake it is to be too worried about everything being perfect.
Little kids even think it’s awesome to dip up tiny minnows with a dip net. If you’re fishing on a boat, you might be better served to catch a pile of “less desirable” fish than to target one or two of your normal targets.
While you’re fishing offshore, this might mean catching the kids a bunch of bonito—something that most seasoned adult fishermen would try to avoid.