After a fairly successful introduction to fishing for my two young sons, now ages 9 and 12, it’s been a slow-go in recent years. It took some steady learning on my part to understand that snacks, bait, shoreline rocks, and frogs were far more interesting an experience, and that all the pressure I put on myself to keep bobbers dunked and lines tight didn’t really matter all that much unless they had the freedom to experience fishing the way they wanted to. About the time it started clicking for me, it came to a grinding halt for them. What was once an easy task to convince them to head out fishing for a few hours, became painstakingly difficult, requiring bribes and negotiations regarding all kinds of competing activities. Maybe I’d made it too easy for them, or perhaps there was still too much focus on the fishing? Either way I had somehow managed to do what I promised not to do, which was burn them out on it in some way or another.
Now, as my boys have gotten past those initial stages, I see them coming back to the sport of fishing that I know and love, just maybe not as much for the same reasons. All of which is fine by me, as anything that gets them on the water is positive as far as I’m concerned. A few fishing fanatic friends have really turned the tide, as angling becomes a way to hang out with their buddies as much as anything. It’s amazing how “uncool” something can seem when coming from your parents, only to find out how “cool” it is when introduced to the very same activities and ideas by peers. A bit of boyhood bravado, brought on by some impressive fish pictures, has helped to fuel that fire as they trade these photos back and forth as if they were a form of currency or man-measure. All of which is not necessarily that dissimilar from our own grown-up angling aspirations.
I certainly don’t know it all as it pertains to helping your kids along with fishing, but my own family has provided a great case-in-study. I continue to learn the do’s and don’ts of fishing with kids, and am anxious to see where it goes from here. That said, here’s what I’ve learned in helping to take some initial interest and grow it into what I hope becomes a life-long activity for them:
Bigger Species – Kids eventually bore from the bluegills and crappies under a bobber routine, and at least for my own kids, by ages 7 and older they were ready to try some other species. While they didn’t then, and still don’t, have the patience for an all-day walleye expedition, pike and bass provide more than enough excitement to keep them busy. Going after the “big” fish becomes a great draw, even when not catching as their attention-span gradually increases.
New Techniques - My children hated trolling or more passive techniques like live-bait rigging, even when catching fish. Then, casting was the draw, and forcing them to keep the rod in a holder or worse, in-hand but still, was pure torture. Now, simple patterns like throwing spinnerbaits to weed edges or casting senko-type plastics in the shallows will keep the kids busy for hours, especially if the action is reasonable. As their fishing universe expands, you’re creating a feedback loop where the more they learn and understand, the more they want to consume.
Bring a Buddy – Take advantage of the fact that as your kids get older, they often naturally want to spend more time with friends than just family. Recently, on a Lake Pepin trolling run, I had my oldest in the boat for more than half a day, and his buddy posted his (at the time) personal best walleye. We were trolling crankbaits, something my son previously couldn’t stand. Now I’m fielding requests from other friends of his that want some boat time, and the benefit is getting to spend some more time with your child and fishing all at the same time.
Photos and More – With how digitally easy it is to preserve and send memories these days, take as many photos as you can. You’d be amazed at how proud they are of fish or experiences you wouldn’t think to take shots of, like the recent 10lb Sheepshead my son caught while hoping it was a walleye the whole way to the net. If you’re socially savvy, share their catch and watch their chest swell as others congratulate them and pile on accolades. Those memories mean more to them than we know.
Don’t Forget the Fun – Even though their patience level is increased and they may be able to make it all day, make sure the event stays fun. For them, every trip on the water is special, no matter how often you get a chance to fish, so make sure to do all those little things right. Maybe it’s a meal out on the way home, some special boat snacks, or even just letting them pick the music (as painful as that may be) in the boat or on the drive to and from.
It’s a fun ride, and I continue to learn more with each trip I take, but know that there’s not a bad time to take your kids fishing. I find myself sometimes passing on the opportunity for better weather, longer hours on the water, or increased opportunities, but as long as you keep it a fun event no matter how well the fish cooperate, I’m convinced they’ll choose fishing first more often than not.