Teaching children to fish at any age can be rewarding. but what is the right age to teach your child to fish?
What is the best age to teach a child about fishing? Age is a difficult question to answer because every child is different; however, there are two main concerns, motor skills and attention span. If you start too soon, a child might frustrate easily with casting difficulty or may have a difficult time staying focused on fishing with the world of outdoor distractions around them. When asked this question I answer with a question of my own, “How do you measure success? Is it by a fun filled day together, or is it by how many fish are caught?” After planting the seed of what success might be, I follow up with – as soon as a child shows interest.
A 4-year-old child can cast a small rod with a spin cast reel. Many tackle stores sell “Action Figure” rods that are perfect for practicing. Most of these rods also come with a casting practice plug or fake lure. The first few times you teach your child to cast, start in the back yard. I highly recommend you also purchase one of these rods for yourself to practice with. There are challenges to casting a smaller rod with this spin cast reel that you may not be aware of and this will help you work through some of the difficulties the child may be having. This is also a great way to keep children interested in learning; they are using the same stuff as the big people, which is a huge bonus to a young child.
Start by setting up a target within both of your casting distance. Targets can be a bull’s-eye laid flat on the ground, bucket, or cardboard box (Fun Tip: disassemble a cardboard box until its flat and let the child draw a bulls-eye on it). Start by simply trying to hit the target with a hook-less lure or practice plug. Attempting to hit a target can generate hours of fun and quickly develop casting skills. Build a scoring system, 1 point for hitting the target, 2 points for hitting the center; maybe subtract a point for a complete miss. Scoring puts a competitive edge on casting and keeps their interest; it also teaches addition and subtraction. Don’t forget to let them win once in a while. If you limit yourself to the same equipment, your casting abilities will be hampered and you might find it more difficult than you think.
When your child has developed some casting skills, it’s time to head to a body of water. The most important thing to remember at this point is to make sure the day will revolve around the child. You must remember that while catching fish is a bonus; it’s not the only goal. Teaching children how to fish is a difficult task if you are not committed to the endeavor, so in the first couple trips, stay focused on the mechanics of fishing more so than the catching.
There are many things to learn once at the water. A good starting point is determining where to start casting, paying attention to what is in front and behind you. From there, you can work on basic hook or lure selection and knot tying. These are all very fun for a child. Keep in mind that, simple tasks for you are very time consuming for a child. A child might take several minutes to pick through a lure selection and find the perfect color. Never forget that the day is focused on the child and if they want to spend an hour digging through your tackle because it’s fun, isn’t that the goal?
When heading to a body of water, be sure to pick a location that is free of obstructions. A shoreline that has no trees behind you is excellent. Stay away from crowds. Crowds can be intimidating for a child who might get embarrassed by a bad or errant cast; crowds also cause unnecessary tangles and increase the chances of someone getting hooked. Farmer’s tank ponds, secluded places along creek banks, or a friend’s private boat dock are all great locations. I highly recommend fishing lessons are always from the shore, when your child gets tired or bored with learning, you both can take a break and explore the shoreline. I haven’t met a child, boy or girl, which doesn’t enjoy exploring. Between the fishing and the exploring, these days are always cherished by everyone.
As more casting skills and interest in fishing develop, it will be time to start focusing attention to catching a few fish. Some species to consider angling for are bream, bluegill, crappie, perch, or catfish. Typically these species school up in groups during summer months and once found they are easy to catch. Once you find a bream bed or catfish hangout, it’s not uncommon for an adult to have trouble keeping up with the child’s catching. Don’t worry about size; numbers is the game with kids.
Children like to be active when fishing, doing a lot of casting and winding of baits. Conversely, when it comes to catching a bunch of fish, this typically can involve using live bait or cut bait. This presentation means casting an offering, live minnow, worm, cricket and letting it sit still until a strike happens. Keeping a child interested when action is slow can present a dilemma. There are a couple options to deal with this. One, use very small artificial baits to cast for pan fish; however, keep in mind small lures can be difficult to cast with the smaller equipment. Two, develop an attention keeping game to go along with watching for a strike. A child at this early age is very easily entertained, especially if it includes one on one time. So use your imagination, something as simple as drawing pictures in the sand or identifying wild birds can be a lot of fun. In the beginning, remember you’ll have to monitor for strikes while reminding your child to do the same.
Once the basics are in place it’s time to start teaching your child about setting the hook. Hook setting can be challenging; some kids swing for the fences every time, and others simply start winding. With pan fish and catfish, the hook set is not near as important as with species like bass, which makes them great learning species. The goal is to get your child familiar with all aspects of fishing, hook sets being one of them, so that when they graduate to other species they have a basic understanding of what is needed to catch larger fish.
Teaching a child to fish, can be a lot of fun and will build memories that last lifetimes. For a variety of reasons, I believe children that develop outdoors skills are better suited for life, but the bottom line is one on one time between adult and child. Use your outings to teach life lessons. Cleaning up after yourself by leaving no trash behind, respect for nature by being careful not to damage plants and trees, care for fish that you’ll release so they can live to be caught again. These are just a few of the many life lessons that can be learned on the banks of a small pond or creek. Finally, expect short trips at first. To a child that is not catching anything, time can really drag on. So if the fishing isn’t fun, and the exploring is all explored out, then it’s time to head home and plan another adventure.
Teaching a child to fish can be a very rewarding experience for both the teacher and the child. Please keep in mind you don’t have to be a parent to teach a child to fish. As a relative, big brother/big sister, neighbor or just a friend, you may be starting the journey for the next generation of great professional anglers.