Getting Kids Hooked on Fishing

February 4, 2009 by  

By Doug Leier

I  could try to tell you how to catch whopper walleye, but my advice would be about as reliable as suggestions for chess strategy.

I could also pass along the latest tips for limiting out on pike, but that too would be a farce. Five years ago I caught a 38-inch pike, but it was all luck and no skill. Right place, right time. As I’ve always remarked, I’d rather be lucky than good.

But there’s one area of fishing for which I am confident in my skills, ability and first-hand knowledge. That is the realm of getting kids interested in fishing.

My experience comes from having three kids under the age of 5 who so far love to fish. I’ll admit the newest Leier, little 5-month-old Grace, has yet to cast a line. But Joe, 5, and Kate, 3, literally beg to go fishing.

First a disclaimer. I’m not guaranteeing that parents who follow this outline will wind up with a fishing fanatic, but these few tips may help increase the chances your kids will get hooked on fishing.

First, take your kids fishing before they can even hold a rod. Get them acclimated to tagging along. Our son Joe slept in his car seat while we fished six months after he was born. All of our kids continue to carry on this tradition. The philosophy is that kids who spend time associated with the act of fishing will grow to accept this as simply part of life. And that’s a good first step.

Next, write this phrase down on your tackle box: “It’s not about me, it’s about them.”

You may want to catch a lunker walleye, but odds are that kids under age 10 will be happy with anything that bites. A long, hot day trolling a big water downrigging for a limit might be the circumstances leading toward a successful outing for you, but for a young angler going hours between bites is a recipe for disenchantment. If you put them through that, the next time you ask if they want to go fishing, you’ll probably be met with at best a half-hearted affirmation, and at worse a firmly negative “no.”

I can’t stress enough that it’s not how many, what kind or how big. For young anglers it’s about fun, and more specifically, their definition of fun, not yours.

Another small but signifcant element is identifying a backup that can save a fishing trip if for some reason, the bullhead or bluegill are not biting. If your little angler likes cookies and chocolate milk, bring enough so that you don’t run out. And if you need more, swing by the convenience store and stock up.

Another possible add-on is a favorite activity. Many local fishing spots are adjacent to recreation areas. Some even have small playgrounds. On many occasions we’ve put down the rods and played on the slide for a few minutes. The premise is that kids’ attention spans are short. Keeping things new and fresh can keep those inevitable words, “Can we go home now?” at bay for a few more casts.

We’ve played and casted, casted and played to stretch every ounce of interest. The key again is keeping the fishing excursion fun, according to your child.

Keeping it simple for yourself is an underlying theme. Many times I don’t even bring a rod for myself. I’ll stay busy enough untangling lines, dislodging snags and keeping the kids focused. When the minnows in the bucket, or a frog, bug or even a twig divert the interest of the kids, you can take over and cast by yourself for awhile.

Finally, when the words, “Can we go?” are uttered, realize it’s time to change things up. A snack, skipping some rocks, or seeing who can catch a minnow from the bucket may or may not buy additional casts.

If not, judge the degree of duress. If your attempts to prolong their interest aren’t successful, then pack up and leave on good terms. I’m not advocating giving in and letting the youngsters call all the shots. Rather, the key is to make sure the fishing trip ends positively, so they want to go … again and again.


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