A grumpy old Captain once told me there was fishing and “fishing with kids”. He wasn’t adverse to small children in that classic W.C. Fields way, but nevertheless, a tad short on patience towards the little people. Let’s face it, doing anything with your children, grandchildren or anyone’s children for that matter, presents moments (perhaps even hours), when it takes everything you got, not to get a little…let’s say frazzled. Compound that with a day on the water where you are “pot committed” with pretty much no Happy Meal or Play Station to turn to, and things can go sideways in a hurry.
Before we get carried away, first, realize that these are kids we are talking about. Even those pole breaking, bait eating, button pushing, foot stomping, “I wanna go home” kids. I have also been with kids who never want to go home or quit fishing; the “one more cast” kinda kid (I was that kid, and maybe the foot stomper too). But let’s address the kids that aren’t quite so enamored with a long day on the water pitching jigs all day. While we grownups are obviously out there to do some damage and sore lip our finned adversary, it’s important to put the little people first…even if it means sacrificing a shot at a monster, a limit of fine eating filets, or the “targeted species”.
Step one in establishing the “grin”, and developing a life time angler is the target species. Or should I say eliminating the target species. The fish you are now after is the not so elusive “whateverbitis”. The whateverbitis inhabits every place a fish lives in any part of the world. Depending on your locale, this could be a whiting, shiner, sucker, catfish, toadfish, gar, croaker, spot, pinfish, skate, sting ray, or, whatever bites. A child’s first fishing trips should be about them catching something…anything! Many of us anglers would call them trash fish, but to the child starting his angling endeavors these are giant blue marlin and the start of a lifelong passion for fishing. By targeting some of these easier to catch species it is very possible that children can experience the whole thrill of dropping the bait back, feeling the bite, and reeling in the fish! If you are hiring a guide for you and your children, it’s often wise to let the guide know that you just want to catch fish for the kids...of any kind. This may be the fish you had in mind, or it maybe “whaterbitis”. Remember, this needs to be for the kids.
Another important part of your child’s fishing trip should consist of other activities and options. Food and drink go a long way here. Bring some of those junk foods the kids like. While I am not suggesting changing your kids eating habits to sugary snacks and drinks, this is a special occasion, and a special snack or two will go a long way. Establishing a ritual of sorts, like a certain breakfast or dinner stop on the way to, or from fishing, is a great way to bond and make the day on the water one to remember and look forward to.
Finally, when a fish is caught, show your child all the nuances of the fish. There may be fish with scales, fish with smooth skin, teeth, no teeth, etc. Do not force your child to hold the fish if he does not want to. Sometimes I give a child a towel to hold a fish. Some fish may be small enough that a kid can hold the line or pole and let the fish “dangle”. Be careful that the fish is not harmed in anyway, and let the child be part of a successful live release. It is important to stress the fact that fish need to be released healthy. If you are catching fish to eat, explain how they are managed as far as limits and size. Although this may be a hard pill to swallow, some children will not last very long on the water, so plan your trip accordingly, giving yourself the option of leaving earlier than you planned. This may even mean just planning a short trip at first. If you take care to make your kids’ first days on the water fun ones, you will have a fishing partner for life. And remember, fishing may not be for everyone (God forbid!), so support your children in all healthy endeavors they may want to pursue.