June 20, 2022
The final assignments have been submitted, the last grades recorded. The bell rings and Alice Cooper’s ageless anthem blares: “School’s Out for Summer!”
Lots of options for filling the hours previously occupied with academics, but ask Western Nebraska guide/tournament angler Robby Rhembrandt and he’ll quickly suggest replacing pencil and paper with rod and reel.
Fact is, much of the wholesome, neighborhood-based fun of yesteryear has been replaced with digital distractions. Rhembrandt believes summer break offers an ideal opportunity to reverse this trend.
“Probably the biggest thing that I see with kids is that the summer bicycle gang has disappeared,” he said. “I think that efforts to get kids involved in fishing and hunting is severely lacking. I look at summer as an opportunity to get these kids outdoors and doing the things are so important to learn—like being able to go out and put food on the table.”
Make It Happen
Unlikely many would disagree, but successfully introducing kids to fishing and then encouraging ongoing activity often is easier said than done. Suffice it to say, dock skipping for largemouth or fly fishing for wise and wary brook trout may sound cool, but the degree of difficulty usually stymies any borderline interest.
Forget quality and focus on quantity; keeping the rod bent not only maintains a young angler’s focus; it offers continuous opportunity for instruction.
“A lot of people like to target different species, but kids don’t care,” he said. “That’s the beauty of taking kids fishing; they could be catching carp, they could be catching catfish, they could be catching bass and they would be happy.”
Across the board, it’s hard to beat the sunfish/panfish family for line-tugging, rod-bending readiness. Bluegill, shellcracker (redear), pumpkinseed, crappie, yellow perch—the particular species mix may vary regionally, but the principles of aggressive fish that won’t make you wait long for a bite remains the same.
“Nationally, you can find (some form of these) in every state,” Rhembrandt said. “They’re easy to target, most of the time in the summer months, they’re shallow.
“You can catch panfish on a piece corn and slip sinker and you can catch them on a (small) crankbait. I think, universally, that’s probably the species that’s targeted the most by beginners and kids. That’s because of their availability.”
Rhembrandt stresses the importance of pointing out local regulations; instill awareness for stewardship early. No doubt, kids need to learn about size, season and bag limits; but the laws don’t have to impede the lesson-learning fun.
“It’s never illegal to catch and release,” he said. “As long as you have the appropriate license for a state. And that’s really what the kids gain out of it—the catch-and-release piece. They just want to be able to reel in a fish.”
(Note: Some states do not require licenses for fishing a private body of water, but teaching kids to know-before-you-go is smart teaching.)
Make It Fun
We all value technical prowess and watching young anglers expand their knowledge of diverse artificial techniques and complex rigging certainly instills pride. However, simple is best and fun is pretty much mandatory.
“With kids, I try to start them out with live bait like worms, because if you read a children’s book about fishing, there’s (usually) a worm with a face on it,” he said. “The kids just relate to that, as far as their adventurous mindset.
“Worms are easy and they’re readily available. Also, I think that kids relate worms to fishing and fishing to worms. It just makes sense, and it sparks that interest even more.”
Expounding on this thought, Rhembrandt suggests getting kids involved in the collection of live worms. Amplify the involvement by turning these bait hunts into a competition—who can find the most worms, or the biggest.
“When you watch YouTube videos, all these kids are talking about adventures and challenges; all these things that spark a kid’s imagination,” he said. “That’s what we need to bring them back to—the adventure, the challenges; anything to get these kids thinking ‘Oh yeah, I do want to go outside, I do want to find worms, I do want to put worms on a hook and catch fish.”
Make It Count
We all heard it when we were learning: Fishing requires patience. Yeah, that’s true, but Rhembrandt advises holding that lesson for later in the process. Gain the kid’s trust and activate their interest before hitting them with the heavy stuff.
Also, take your role in this process seriously. A casual vibe masking a well-planned effort is the way to go.
“I think it’s beneficial to do a little leg work before taking a kid fishing,” he said. “I never want someone to take kids fishing when it’s as big of an experiment for the adult as for the kid.”
Bottom line: Do a little recon before charging into the unknown. It could be as simple as mentally noting where you saw fish or fishing habitat during a picnic, on a family hike, etc. and then returning for a targeted angling effort.
“Just a little bit of groundwork will cut out that boring time frame that fishing (often includes),” he said. “Oftentimes, I think we just roll the dice and go out; someone wanted to take us (adults) golfing, but we couldn’t find any golf balls that day, it would be a pretty boring sport.”
Lastly, don’t make it an all-or-nothing deal. Teaching any activity should imply focus but know when to pull the plug so you can, at least, avoid leaving a negative impression.
Rhembrandt concludes: “Even if kids don’t catch fish, having a back-up plan like games to play, maybe building a campfire and cooking s’mores, that’s going to keep the kids engaged and then they’ll look up and see the bobber’s down.”