We all remember the first time we hooked a fish. The seemingly innocent benchmark can set in motion a lifetime of outdoor adventure.
It’s no surprise that fishing continues to be a hugely popular family activity. A recent report by the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation and the Outdoor Foundation found that over 49 million Americans, ages 6 and up, participated in fishing last year. They fished a total of 885 million times, averaging about 18 trips each.
But to make sure your child loves family fishing from the get-go, here are a few things to keep in mind.
Make family fishing easy.
Fishing doesn’t have to be difficult. Remember your first day of panfishing? Maybe you hooked one. Maybe you didn’t. Does it even really matter? Choose a sunny day and an easy nearby location with few obstacles.
Pack a picnic, get some worms from the bait store, and watch a bobber float for a couple hours while enjoying snacks from your cooler. Young kids may not even focus fully on the fishing, but making it a fun background activity for a day away from the house can make it enjoyable for all.
Focus on fish, not location.
Getting kids psyched about fishing is all about getting a fish on the line fast. Think fish in a barrel, not a majestic lake. So for those first few introductory fishing sessions, go to where the fish are, not necessarily some scenic location you’ve been dreaming of. A neighborhood retention pond will do just fine.
Or, you can look up local stocked ponds designed for exactly this purpose — helping kiddos find early success by getting a fish on the line quickly. And don’t forget to celebrate each catch. Making their parents proud is an innate part of how children develop.
Make the technical fun.
Part of learning to fish is practicing all those little technical details: what bait to buy, where the fish are biting, how to cast, and strategies to reel in a big one. Teach the basics, but then allow your child to gain independence at each step.
Ask them to show you how to tie a hook. Don’t immediately detach the bluegill for them; let your child try first. These moments will provide the feel and muscle memory they’ll need going forward.
Engage your young fisher about how the weather affects what’s biting. No matter what the activity, children want to feel included — not talked down to or lectured about your fishing prowess.
Get gear to go the distance.
Once you’ve hooked your offspring on the beauty of bait-and-cast adventures, invest in quality equipment that will continue to make fishing fun and sustainable over the long haul. There’s no bigger buzzkill than hyping a little one on an afternoon of fishing, only to realize that the dime-store rod broke in the garage.
Take the kids to an outdoor store to pick out basics that they’ll really use. As they show more interest, you can make the sport even more special by adding new fishing-related surprises for birthdays, to kick off the first day of summer, or other occasions that will make fishing feel like an important experience.
Here are five basics to start with:
- Shakespeare Ugly Stik GX2 Youth Spincast Combo: This is a strong yet lightweight graphite and fiberglass rod that provides good balance and sensitivity for little grips. Check out more kid combos here.
- Plano 5300 3-Tray Tackle Box: Made of recycled materials, this fishing storage box is roomy enough for all your family tackle, with a brass latch to secure against kid-carrying mishaps.
- ProMar 7″ x 8″ Floating Bait Net: A plastic-wrapped handle and D-shaped frame guard keep this mesh net bringing in the loot over the long haul.
- Rapala Floating Fish Grippers: This unsinkable one-handed tool helps kids hold the fish in their free hand while removing the hook quickly for safe release.
- Sawyer Fisherman’s Formula Picaridin Insect-Repellent Spray: Don’t let mosquitoes, ticks, biting flies, gnats, chiggers, or fleas ruin the day. And this DEET-free formula is gear safe.
Besides those, another option is passing down some of your old gear to the kids and upgrading to a new rod for yourself. It’s a win-win!
Hire a guide for a day.
Boats are expensive. So compared to owning a boat, guides are cheap. If you want a great day on the water and a high likelihood of success, hire a guide and take the family on a fishing adventure.
Best yet, fishing guides often know lots of local history and wildlife facts, so the trip becomes much more than just a day of casting or trolling.
Add it to an adventure.
The lifetime sport goes hand-in-hand with exploring the great outdoors. Once your kids get the hang of basic catch and release, adding the activity to any adventure will make fishing an epic family vacation.
Consider booking a couple of days at a national park to take family fishing to the next level. Fishing is free in some parks and doesn’t require a license. And when checking off those bucket-list places like Alaska or the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, think about how you could include the whole family. Who knows who will have the lucky touch?