January 07, 2021
A few months ago, I stood there as a father, speechless. It was 9:00 in the evening as I was stood on the shore of our local river. My 10 year-old son, who’s talked day and night about catching a big sturgeon, just had the hook pop free from a very large fish that he tussled with for 15 minutes. He never even saw a fin break the surface. My son walked quietly up the riverbank to the car. When I caught up to him, he had tears in his eyes. For a brief moment, I didn’t know what to say. Then memories came back to me of days I, myself lost big fish and still feel sick about it. I took extra care to talk about the disappointment in losing a big fish, and the need to continue to the pursuit.
As a father, I am always eager to spend time fishing with my children, and proud of the success they enjoy in the sport—often even prouder than my own past triumphs. Fishing with my children has been among my very most joyful experiences. However, some kids enjoy fishing more than others. There are many tactics you can employ to put the odds in your favor when venturing out with young people.
Go Where The Fish Swim
The first tactic is the same as the first rule of real estate: Location, location, location. Pick a spot where your youthful angler stands a decent chance at catching fish. If he or she isn’t catching fish, then they’re probably not going to be too excited the next time you want to wet a line. Some good locations include weed beds (especially in spring), areas below dams, and shorelines with a lot of structure. Keep the fishing spots visually appealing for them too. Fishing around logs, docks, and lily pads can result in snags, but the target rich environment is appealing and memorable.
Another way to keep their attention on fishing is to select lures that can be easily presented on shorter rods. Gather two or three tried-and-true baits and let them decide which they want to use. Then demonstrate how the lure works in the water. Remember to teach the child that they’re not just attempting to hook the fish, rather they are tempting the fish to eat dinner. I’ve seen my kids successfully use paddletail baits like the Storm GT360 Searchbait. It’s appealing to fish while being easy to cast and retrieve. You can fish it high or low in the water column and the Searchbait appeals to just about any gamefish.
For those of you who fish more rivers than lakes, a gob of nightcrawlers can be your best friend. Anything from walleyes to drum will find crawlers appealing, and kids can work on ‘organizing’ the worms while they wait for rod tips to bounce. Rivers often feature a large range of species, and children don’t often put too much emphasis on the type of fish they catch either. I’ve seen kids jump with joy after catching a lowly sucker or redhorse.
Trolling is a tactic that can be effective with children too. To break up the monotony of catching little panfish under bobbers, it’s often effective to toss on a Shallow Shad Rap and troll a weedline for predators. This gives kids the opportunity to catch larger fish like pike without having to cast bulky lures with their undersized arms. And of course, make sure the reel is set with the appropriate drag tension if you do this.
Keep Them Coming Back
Teach your kids the value of the resource too. Sometimes it’s good to keep a stringer of bluegills for dinner. Other times a larger fish might be better off released, so it’ll spawn in the springtime. You can also add a brief lesson in biology regarding the forage your quarry is focused on. Kids may not seem interested at the time, but they’ll surprise you down the road when they want to use a silver bait because you taught them the fish were feeding on shad.
And lastly, there’s value in picking your battles too. Fishing in shorter spurts of time such as 90 minutes is recommended for many kids under 10 years old. If your child has an interested friend, then bring the friend along. Make if fun for your son or daughter. Take a picture of the biggest (and smallest) fish too.
It's About Them
Fishing with kids it not only good for their knowledge of the outdoors, it’s good for your relationship with them. About one month after my son lost that sturgeon, we were back at it on a different body of water. The day was going relatively slow with few fish caught. At about 3:00 p.m., his rod tip doubled over. Immediately I recognized the situation and grabbed a net. A short time later, I did the biggest fist pump of my life when we corralled a muskie—his first. After it swam off, he gave me a big hug. I can think of no better feeling in the world than I felt at that moment when I helped my child land a big fish and create a great memory that will last his entire life.