Taking a kid fishing is great family fun and a rite of passage for many. Avid anglers may feel eager to experience this family milestone early, and families that have little to no experience fishing may be wondering where to start.
Let me walk you through some of the time-tested methods for introducing a kid to fishing, regardless of age. By following these directions, the experience won’t result in horrible memories that will send them to a therapist later in life. Let’s go have some fun!
Kids of all ages can go fishing, as long as you match the trip to their age. By age six, kids are ready for the “full experience,” which means casting by themselves and maybe even taking a fish off the hook for the first time. But what about those avid anglers who want to get their kids fishing right away? Here are some ideas on getting these future anglers in on the action and starting to build some memories from a very young age.
Ages One to Five
14 months to 24 months: This is a fun time as a parent since your child is just starting to walk. He is curious about the world and craves stimulation. This is a great time to take him on a short hike in the woods along a small creek while he rides high on your shoulders in a baby carrier. Bring along a small rod that’s easy to carry, but forget the tackle box – just go with what’s on your line. Attention spans for this age group range from two to six minutes, according to experts.1Plan on a few casts in spots you think might hold fish, and then move on to the next. Be sure to point out any wildlife or colorful fauna you see along the way. Don’t plan on spending more than 30 minutes on the whole trip, and gauge whether you should stay longer than that by your child’s reaction when you’re there. Oh, and don’t forget to bring a camera!
24 months to 36 months: As a parent, it seems like each week brings a new milestone for your child. She is using words, pointing to things by name, and is full of energy. Experts say that the average attention span for this age group ranges from five to eight minutes, so you can spend a little more time focusing on catching a fish on your outing. Just as before, make sure to plan a short trip that doesn’t focus solely on fishing. Either do the same trip as described above or head to a local small pond that has geese or waterfowl around it (just don’t feed them). Bring along an ultra-light rod and small lures. Try to catch a panfish along the shoreline while you walk around, and let your child help reel it in. Keep the camera ready so you can capture her reaction when she first sees the fish!
Three to five years: Children at this age are growing fast and might even seem like young adults at times. They are able to form solid memories that may last a lifetime. You can start planning excursions that are a little longer now, but still maintain a healthy mix of fishing and outdoor exploration. If they are good listeners, try taking them out in a boat that you feel safe operating with them in it. Just make sure that they wear a properly fitted United States Coast Guard approved life vest. Safety should always come first. Try paddling around in the shallow areas of a lake while trolling a small fly or lure behind the boat while your child holds the rod. If the lake has a panfish population, the odds are good your child will hook one. If the fish aren’t biting, though, it’s a fun experience for kids to see the different areas of a lake and go for a ride in a boat.
If you would rather stay on shore, you’ll still have luck. It’s common for some anglers to think that the best fish are far from the shore and require a boat or long casts to get at. However, most panfish are found close to the shoreline and are easy pickings. Feel free to let your child toss rocks in the water as you go. This will ruin all chances of catching a fish, but kids this young can’t resist the urge. At this age, the goal is just to introduce kids to the outdoors while you bring a fishing pole along for fun.
Ages Six and Up
All kids are old enough to go fishing, but by age six, they are old enough to be anglers. They finally have the dexterity and muscles needed to cast a rod on their own, along with the other skills you’re dying to show them.
Good-quality gear for your junior angler is easy to find and affordable. The last thing you want is for them to have equipment problems on this first real trip, as it just might sour them on fishing completely.
Stay away from the kids’ packages that have their favorite superhero or princess on them. These are basically disposable fishing setups that you will never use again and can cause you grief. Most of these packages come with stiff rods that are around 2’6” long and a plastic push-button spincasting reel. The short, stiff rods make casting a bit harder because of kids’ weaker casts, and the reels are notorious for jamming and birdnesting. Even if the rod package comes with a small set of lures and a case to keep them in, you’re not saving that much. These packages are in the $15-$30 price range at most retailers, and for a few bucks more, you can get something more reliable that is just as easy to use and that you can use should your children decide that fishing isn’t for them.
This Retro WON first appeared July 21, 2017.
The Women's Outdoor News, aka The WON, features news, reviews and stories about women who are shooting, hunting, fishing and actively engaging in outdoor adventure. This publication is for women, by women. View all posts by The WON