One of the fondest memories that a child often has, is their first fishing trip or that first fish they caught. When as a parent, uncle, aunt or a friend is the right time to take a child fishing for the first time? This is a question that I often hear, and while I will not claim to be an expert in this field, I can offer some of wisdom I have gained taking my kids out fishing.
I have learned children are really durable; they can survive in outdoor elements, and be just fine, it’s true. A lot of new parents I have met have a hard time taking their children outside into the world because of some unknown fear of fresh air or sunlight. For those first trips with mom and the newborn baby plan something close to home and best choice would be a bank fishing spot. I found that city or state parks are the best locations for this because of overall set-up. There are normally benches or picnic tables and of course fishing access. This location allows mom to relax, and if the baby needs fed/changed the necessary facilities are there. With these first trips, don’t expect to fish from sun-up to sundown; if you get two solid hours call it a win.
Ages 1-2 is when a child can start to learn and practice the basic skills of fishing as their motor skills develop. Here, I will cover a bit about locations fishing from a boat and/or bank as well as basic equipment. Picking the right location again is critical to a successful trip as the child typically will not do a lot of fishing. If you chose to fish from the bank, a city or state park would be the best choice for the same reasons as above. Plus they often have playgrounds/dirt/fields to help entertain the child. These locations often are well stocked with easy fish to catch (bluegill, trout or catfish) as well easy/safe bank access.
If you chose to go out on a boat, ensure you have a lifejacket that fits, and use it. Along with sunscreen, no matter the time of year. Make sure to know the weather conditions, there is no need to put anyone’s life into danger for a simple fishing trip. Similar to fishing from the bank the child’s skill set is limited so they might be able to help reel in a fish or two. I found taking toys and snacks always make the trip a bit more tolerable and last a tad longer. I also found that allowing my kids to play in the livewell will give them hours of entertainment.
The equipment is pretty easy at this age, those small character rods with Barbie or Spiderman will work just fine. I found that letting your child help pick out their own rod will help them get excited. Once you are home, letting them play around with it like any other toy they just got from the store, adds to the excitement. Once you do take your child and brand new rod out for the first time keep bait selection simple such as live worms, corn or powerbait. You will have to do the casting but after that here are two options, A) let them just hold the rod and don’t worry about missed fish B) you hook the fish and let them reel it in. Two other MUST HAVES pieces of equipment for any successful fishing trips bring along toys keep some stored in your tackle box or boat and plenty of snacks and drinks. These are more critical than the fishing pole, trust me.
Ages 3-4 is when the child can really began to learn more skills than just reeling in. They can begin to cast and set the hook on their own. They will start picking out their own lures. If you start your child out fishing early, then as they become more coordinated you can upgrade their equipment to a spincast rod and reel (zebcos). This allows them to feel like a “big boy/girl” and the rods/reels last longer. Early in this stage you will be picking out most of the baits and can even start moving to artificial lures with them. A couple of lessons can be taught here such as lure names and some basic techniques ex. poppers, frogs, Texas rigged plastics. One important factor here is to allow your child to pick out their own lure they will be more likely to want to fish instead of being turned off. I have spent many summer days fishing with my son, and he only wants to use a torpedo. I knew he would not catch anything, but he loved that lure because to him, it looked like an airplane.
One big lesson to learn at this age is a child may not want to always fish, and you must remember it is just fine if they want to play in the dirt, let them. On the boat, both my kids love to play in the live-well with their toys, let them. If you pressure your child to fish when they don’t want to, more than likely they will be turned off and not want to fish. This can turn a simple fishing trip into a nightmare with screaming kids on a boat in the middle nowhere.
Age 5 is as far as my experience as a parent has gone so at this point they should have a pretty good understanding of most of the basics: rods, reels, lures and types of fish. They should definitely be using a spin cast reel and maybe even try to upgrade to a bait cast reel. I recently bought my son a Shakespeare EZ Cast for under $40 and its suppose to be backlash free. I tried my hardest to backlash it to no avail. My son took out his new fancy reel and loved to use it. A change I made to this reel was it came pre-spooled was 10lb test, which made it hard for him to cast a lighter lure, so I changed the line to 6lb and it increased distance.
Taking a child to fishing derbies, rodoes or events, can increase your chances of a positive fishing experience. Some of the ones I have taken my kids to are at ponds or creeks that were recently stocked solely for that event. It increases the chance of catching a fish or two, and many give out trophies or fishing prizes; which the kids always love to get. Others are on public waters that were not recently stocked. These are certainly more challenging but just as fun. Each does prizes differently, but my kids love to show them off! Many also have people on hand to help teach the basics of casting or baiting a hook if needed. Lastly on this topic many of us like to fish tournaments and several trails allow you bring along children, why not find the best partner to fish with and grow those memories of victory or defeat than your own child?
As an angler and a dad, some of best memories are fishing trips with my kids from my sons first big bass at Choke Canyon lake at age 3, him catching the biggest rainbow trout at Steamboat Springs on our summer vacation age 4, to out-fishing his granddad on Table Rock Lake age 4. Or my little girl who not even hitting age 2 caught the first/biggest trout at Roaring River State Park. Bottom line is get those young kids out there is never too early to get your kids interested in the outdoors, even if don’t take to the sport of fishing they are likely to enjoy other aspects of the great outdoors and just let them enjoy it.