By Darl Black
Follow this wisdom when taking children fishing and you’ll introduce them to a lifelong love for the activity.
Growing up in the late ’50s and early ’60s, it seemed that every kid fished to some degree – from occasionally to several times a week. Back in those days, fishin’ talk was the universal ice-breaker when any 10 year-olds first met. My intense interest kept me on solid footing during my teen years, as well as providing a lifelong activity which my Dad and I were able to enjoy together until he was in his 80s.
When kids are given a proper introduction to the art and science of angling by an early age, the chances are excellent that they will return to the sport as adults – even if fishing participation somewhat wanes during their teenage years.
Following a two-decade decline in fishing license sales, a 2012 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service study showed a solid upturn for adult participation in angling. However, the numbers for 6 to 15 year-olds were less than robust.
Technology is often blamed as the primary reason young people are no longer as interested in fishing. I’m old school, so it’s hard to understand how energetic kids – particularly preteens – would choose to stay inside and be glued to a TV or computer screen rather than get outdoors and take part in a truly hands-on activity.
The objective is simple: get children fishing before their teens, nourish that interest, and then let it blossom naturally.
Based on numerous discussions with parents and grandparents about kids and fishing, I’ve compiled their advice on what adult anglers can do in order to help steer more kids towards fishing.
1. DO NOT “make” a child go fishing. Did you like it when your parents told you that you had do something? I never did either. So, instead of insisting they have to go, talk to them about fishing. Explain to them why you like it, and suggest they might like to try it too. Also, be sure to do this in advance of an actual planned outing – and not the night before.
2. DO NOT take children fishing with beat-up or barely functioning gear. On one hand, you do not want to buy a pricey fishing outfit for your child until you can better judge their interest in angling. On the other hand, you don’t want to hand a youngster a reel that doesn’t crank smoothly, has line that is old and crinkly, or a rod with a missing guide. A reel and rod someone else rejected because it functions poorly is the sure way to stifle a burgeoning angler. If you are fishing with children that are 5 to 7 years-old, Shakespeare offers a number of ‘novelty’ spin-cast or spinning outfits. For slightly older kids who do not want to be seen with a cartoon character fishing combo, the company offers inexpensive beginner combos.
3. DO NOT take kids “cold” to the water. Build the kid’s anticipation and always instill confidence several days before that first outing. Do this by showing them that casting is perhaps the most important skill for a beginner. Following a careful how-to demonstration, have the youngster practice in the backyard. Rather than random casting, set up a target to help the child understand why accuracy is needed.
4. DO NOT limit the initial fishing experiences to lures only. It’s vital that a first-timer actually catches a few fish. The species doesn’t matter. To accomplish this, turn to live bait. Without a doubt, the best catch-anything-that-swims live bait is a nightcrawler – whole for most species or cut into one-inch pieces for small panfish.
5. DO NOT buy live bait. Show your child how to gather their own bait. This is another great teaching moment. In many areas of the country, nightcrawlers can be picked from lawns at night following a rainy day. Gathering live bait such as minnows, chubs or hellgrammites is a bit more involved, so save that for later. However, the whole arena of bait gathering can be an extremely fun and educational way to prepare for taking children fishing.
6. DO NOT plan an entire day of just fishing for the first outing. Although a six- or seven-hour day may be the norm for you, do not expect a youngster – even the most enthused child – to tolerate those long hours. Generally, the initial outing should be limited to one hour for a 5 to 7 year-old, maybe two to three hours for an 8 to 10 year-old – and that’s pushing it if the bite is slow.
7. DO NOT restrict kids to only fishing if something else in the outdoors grabs their attention. When your newbie angler decides it is time to ignore the fishing rod and skip stones, let them do it. If crayfish and minnows in the shallow water of the lake or pond are of more interest to them than fishing, so be it. Let kids be kids. The result will be a positive and memorable first fishing experience and they’ll be more likely to do it again.
8. DO NOT make the fishing trip about you. This might be the biggest mistake adults can make. This is not the time to focus on what YOU want to catch. That can wait. Yes, go ahead and wet a line because it will help the kid feel like they’re fishing with you, rather than you watching them fish. What you catch is not what’s important; ensuring that the kid has a positive experience is what matters most.
It’s important that we try to make time to take children fishing. Introducing youngsters to fishing and providing them with even just a basic skill set will pay dividends later in life – not only for the kid, but for you as well.
A lifelong freshwater angler and veteran writer and photographer, Darl tackles a wide variety of fishing related stories for print publications and websites. Of all fishing, angling for smallmouth bass is his favorite pastime. He may be reached for assignment at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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