Going fishing with kids is not like going fishing with grownups. It’s a whole different ballgame, and for an enjoyable outing for both kids and dad, you better plan ahead.
Where do you fish with little one? Small kids belong on shore. The ground won’t tip over and put your little one in the water where they might drown. And if your little one drops something, it won’t disappear beneath the waves — just into some grass or maybe a snake hole. More importantly, there’s the potty factor. Small boys might be able to stand up in a boat and send some wee wee over the side, but taking them behind a tree is a lot safer. Many state parks even have restrooms — stinky outhouses, but better than squatting behind a tree.
Next, there’s the boredom issue. Even if you took your little one out in a boat for the first time in their lives, they’re going to get bored long before you’re ready to give up and head home. Bored kids often like to take naps. Is your boat big enough for that? Far better to have a nice blanket on shore, maybe a coloring book stashed in a backpack, or maybe a Nintendo DS or PSP along to keep them occupied.
Which brings us to how long you plan on fishing. With little kids, the answer is not very long. They need bathroom breaks, snacks, naps, and stimulation beyond the still quiet the outdoors provides.
Next, forget fishing yourself. If you want to do some serious fishing, take an older child or go with your buddies. If you take your little ones along, it’s all about them, as it should be. Just grab a rod and reel and plan on spending the short time you have at the lake helping them.
Next up, you need to pick a method of fishing they can do. Very few 5-year-olds can fly fish or cast very far. I find the best thing for my 5-year-old is a small rod with a bobber and live bait. Cast it out, hoping you’ve got the right depth set off the hook and then tell your little one to watch that bobber. You’ll have to tell them several times.
The fish aren’t biting? No problem. Small children are easy to trick. Help them hold their pole and then ever so gently tug on the line, so the bobber moves. “You’ve got a bite!” That’ll get them excited. Of course, do this too many times without catching anything and you’re going to have one crying child.
What if your child does catch a fish? Don’t snatch the pole from them. Let them bring it in. If it’s a little big, you might grab the line at the end of the pole and pull — they can reel in the slack. Hopefully, you won’t cut your fingers on the line.
Once you have landed a fish, even if it’s a keeper, you might want to send it back. Small kids might think of a fish as a pet and not a delicious healthy dinner. To make it more memorable, have a camera ready for that first fish shot. I like to also make my kids touch the fish, maybe petting it’s head (being mindful of any spines on the back) and even naming the fish before we send it back in the water.
Be ready for questions, too. Like “Does that hurt having a hook through your lip?” Don’t break out the PETA field book here. Small children want a nice world, not the truth — whatever you think it is. Tell them that no, the fish doesn’t feel a thing, it’s like getting your ears pierced. No sense making your small child going home believing they’ve been mutilating and torturing fish all day.
If you do get a keeper, try and keep it alive on a line, in a basket or maybe a cooler. That alone will keep your child interested in staying lakeside for some time as they periodically check on their fish.
Remember to take breaks during the fishing day, giving out some drinks and snacks, and hopefully some hand sanitizer. Remember, kids like to touch everything, and quite frankly, nature is dirty.
Don’t be a stubborn fisherman when you go with your little ones. Sometimes, the fish just aren’t biting. You can maximize your chances for catching something by using a solunar table to see if it’s really a good day to go or not. My grandpa always swore by the solunar tables and you can even get apps that put the data on your smart phone.
Also, don’t make your kid march around a lake looking for that perfect spot. Short legs get tired fast. Don’t turn that father-child fishing trip into a Bataan Death March. Fish near where you parked.
If the fish aren’t biting, or your kid is tired, or you’re only catching baby fish, maybe it’s time to go. And when you do, make it a happy exodus. Congratulate your child on a job well done, and clean up your area.
If you are lucky enough to be bringing your fish home, think carefully about how you’re going to clean them. Are you going to let junior watch? Is your child squeamish, or curious? Even if you’ve got a budding neurosurgeon, remember they’re just a kid. I like to cover the fish’s eyes right before I chop their head off. That way they aren’t giving my kids a final, condemned-fish stare, begging for their little fishy lives.
I also don’t make a huge mess scaling fish. I find the simplest, quickest way to clean a fish is to filet it. Sure, sure, I waste some meat, but I haven’t spilled fish guts and scales everywhere and grossed the family out.
And please be careful with that filet knife. They are razor sharp. Just touching a filet knife could mean a nasty cut for little ones. Make sure they know to stay clear and keep those grubby little paws off.
Finally, don’t make your kid eat what they catch. If they think it’s gross — heck, if they change their mind and don’t want you decapitating and cleaning the fish — go with it. Throw the fish away or eat it yourself later. Keep the experience fun. Let them have good memories and print off that picture of their first catch and hang it in their room for all to see. Then, as they get older, they might just want to go fishing again and again.
Image by juliancolton2, flickr.com