Taking Children Fishing - Young Anglers and Conservationists
A how-to guide for any parent that wants to introduce their kids to fishing. These tips will work anywhere, any place, at any time, for any body of water, saltwater or freshwater, providing, of course, there are fish present.
One of the great pleasures of fishing is watching a child of any age catch their first fish. Taking a child fishing is not only exciting for them, but deeply rewarding for you. The key to developing a love for fishing with children, especially those under the age of twelve, is to actually catch fish. When there’s nothing biting, or nothing available to bite, children tend to get bored to the point where they don't want to go fishing again.
The following is a simple how-to guide for any parent that wants to introduce their kids to fishing. These tips will work anywhere, any place, at any time, for any body of water, saltwater or freshwater, providing, of course, there are fish present. Equally important is teaching children about our delicate marine ecosystems and how to be future ethical anglers. With this simple guide, fishing with your children can be a rewarding, positive experience for you and your entire family.
Tackle - Rods, Reels, and Line
The best rod, reel, and line outfit for a new fisherman under the age of twelve is a Spincast closed-face reel, like a Zebco 202, Zebco 404, or Shakespeare Synergy. The pushbutton operation makes it easy to use and doesn’t tangle. You just press the button and cast. I recommend getting a Spincast rod and reel with the child’s favorite cartoon character, superhero, or Disney character design so they’re more likely to hold it in their hands longer when they fish. These Spincast outfits come with the monofilament fishing line already spooled on them, usually 10 lb or 12 lb monofilament.
Leader, Hooks, Split Shot, and Bobbers
While you don’t necessarily need to tie a leader to the main line, it’s a good idea to do so. The leader is just a heavier piece of monofilament line that is more abrasion resistant to protect the main line from getting nicked, scratched, or completely cut from the fish’s teeth or any rock, tree, or oyster on the bottom of the area where you’re fishing. I recommend a leader of 15 lb test tied to the main line with a surgeon’s knot or a very small swivel. You can also tie the main fishing line to the swivel and the leader to the swivel with clinch knots. You can learn how to tie the surgeon’s knot or the clinch knot from any one of our knot videos at Guy Harvey Magazine's Online Fisherman.
Once you’ve tied the leader to the main line, tie on the hook with a clinch knot. The hook should be a #10 or #12 gold hook. Any company’s hook will work, but I personally recommend these two: Eagle Claw Aberdeen Light Wire Panfish hook size 10, model number 202A-10, and Mustad size 12, model number 3260B. It’s a good idea to have both on hand. Any tackle shop or retail store that sells fishing tackle should carry them.
Once the hook is tied, add a #7 size split shot about two to three inches above the hook. A split shot is a small pinch weight that allows the hook and bait to sink to where the fish will see it. Just squeeze it on the line with a pair of pliers.
Next is a bobber. You know, the white and red kind we all used as kids. The bobber size you want to use is one and three-quarters to two inches. The size should be on the package or on the bottom of the bobber. The white part of the bobber gets clipped on top and the red part gets clipped on the bottom. Clip it on the line, nine or ten inches above the #7 split shot.
The bobber will keep the bait in the fish’s face, or what we like to call the strike zone, and lets you see where the bait is moving. More importantly for the child, however, is the visual effect of seeing it dunk when a fish takes the bait. That bobber going under and the bending of the rod from the pulling of the fish is enough to hook a child on fishing for life.
Bait For Saltwater
If you’re fishing in saltwater, there’s no better bait than frozen squid. It will catch anything, is inexpensive, and will last quite a long time. Keep it on ice while you’re fishing, pre-cut in fingernail-sized pieces (pinky fingernail size so they are very small pieces), and just thread them on the hook.
If you want to use an alternate fake plastic bait, the best is a Berkley Gulp Cut Bait Saltwater, model numbers GCB8-SHP (shrimp) or GCB8-CB (crab). If you can't find these particular model numbers, any package of saltwater Gulps will work, as long as you cut them up in the same fingernail sized pieces as the frozen squid. I like to have both as an option.
Baits For Freshwater
If you’re taking your child fishing in freshwater, there are three baits I would bring, number one being any kind of live worm. Most tackle shops, and even Walmart, carry an assortment of live worms, from Live Canadian Night Crawlers to Red Wigglers. Any will work, or you can dig them up in your backyard. You can usually use half of a live worm on a #10 or #12 hook. Just thread it on the hook.
Number two is plain old white bread. Be sure to bring enough (one loaf is usually sufficient) because the tiny little bread balls get taken easily when they get wet. Just pinch off a small piece of bread and roll it into a tiny ball about the size of your #7 split shot). A little saliva from your tongue will get the bread ball into a harder, tighter ball and help it stay on the hook a little better.
Number three is fake plastic bait, the best of which is Berkley Gulp Red Wiggler Nightcrawlers, which come in a 1.8 ounce bottle, model number GENC6-RDW.You can cut them in half or even in three sections. Just make sure they are small pieces about an inch or shorter. Again, I like having all three types of bait as an option.
Don’t forget to bring your own rod so you can fish with your child. You might want to remove the bobber from your rod and just use the #7 split shot and hook, threading the bait right on the hook. This way your bait is down on the bottom, while your child's is suspended in the water column with the float. Sometimes the fish like the bait on the bottom. If this is the case and you’re catching fish, remove your child's bobber so he too can be rewarded with catching his own fish.
Each fishing trip with a child should also include a lesson in conservation rules and regulations, education about the environment, safety and protection, and leaving a place better than how you found it.
The Most Important Piece of Equipment
Don’t forget your camera to capture the memory of one of the greatest things you can accomplish–sharing your time with a child.