Teaching Kids to Fish: The Outside Guide for Parents
Fishing can help your young ones cultivate confidence and develop patience in the outdoors. Here's how to pull it off.
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My daughters, ages 9 and 6, can’t pass up a claw machine full of prizes without feeding it dollar bills. The return on investment is abysmal, but they still crave the excitement of dipping that hunk of metal in a pile of stuffed animals in the hopes of snagging something. This year over spring break, they discovered that fishing with their grandmother triggers the same dopamine effect as a claw machine, but it only costs the price of a handful of worms and pays out more often.
While fresh fish dinners may be reward enough, there are plenty of other benefits to teaching kids to fish, like building skills and confidence while bonding in nature—not to mention stress relief from work and school.
“Walking to the pond, carrying tackle, and the motion of casting—that exercise alone is great for the body,” says Tiffany “Snookie” Risch, an angler and fishing ambassador in Richmond, Virginia. Risch, who says her grandfather took her fishing when she was still in diapers, has made a career working with organizations and brands to promote fishing on social media, especially encouraging more women to take up the sport. “Being present in nature offers an opportunity for kids to learn about the ecosystem and how humans can help protect it,” she adds.
Maybe you have a few fishing memories from childhood and would like to share that experience with your children but feel intimidated by your lack of expertise and equipment. Here’s your reminder that fishing is a pretty simple recreational activity, and you can dabble in it without buying out the local Bass Pro Shop.
Teaching Kids to Fish: Before You Go
Do Kids Need A Fishing License?
Fishing license requirements vary by state, but often children under 16 don’t need one. Check your state’s guidelines and requirements before setting out.
Ask A Seasoned Local For Advice
If you have a friend or family member who fishes regularly, take advantage of that resource. They may be able to brief you on good fishing holes, the best bait, and local regulations. Don’t be surprised if they get so excited about encouraging young anglers they offer to lend you equipment or act as a guide.
Scope Out Fishing Maps
If you don’t know a local fisher and are not sure where to go, check out TakeMeFishing.org for an interactive map of fishing locations near your home and beginner tips on equipment and identifying fish.
“Pick a place that has easy access—like a park—to the water, bathrooms, and other activities you can do,” Risch says. “If the fishing is slow, allow the kids to go for a walk to explore. Pack snacks or a lunch to enjoy between casting.”
Use Pre-Fishing Activities to Get Your Kids Excited
Need to build confidence before committing to the water? Try these pre-fishing activities to build skills and excitement before your fishing day.
> Practice casting in the backyard or at the park. No hooks allowed for safety reasons. Instead, use a weighted casting plug on the end of the line so kids can get a feel for the casting motion. As their technique improves, put out a towel or hula hoop for a target so they can improve their casting aim.
> Practice knot tying. Lines break, hooks have to be replaced, it’s a fishing fact of life. With enough practice tying fishing knots, your kids will easily be able to replace their own hooks without interrupting your fishing flow.
The Kids’ Fishing Gear You Need
You should be able to get everything you need for a simple fishing trip at Walmart, a sporting goods store, or on Amazon. Consider this your essential kit for teaching kids to fish:
> Drinks and snacks, because keeping kids fed and hydrated is the first rule of any outing
> A lightweight kid’s fishing rod; a bamboo pole with no reel is adequate gear for many cases, and should cost less than $10.
> Barbless hooks, which are shaped like a smooth, pointed “J” and are easier to remove if something (or someone) gets snagged
> A bobber; also known as a float, this is a plastic ball in contrasting colors that floats on top of the water while the bait and hook hang below. A bobber gives new anglers a visual cue that fish are biting. “Bobbers are a great tool for kids to watch and understand how to catch fish. It keeps them entertained and excited about the process,” adds Risch.
> Live bait like worms, grubs, or crickets; if you are in a popular fishing location, you should be able to pick up live bait from a tackle shop or supply store nearby. If not, you can order live worms from Amazon or Walmart and keep them in your fridge until you are ready to fish.
> Pliers to remove fish from the hook
> Old towels or wet wipes to keep the “ick” from worms and floppy fish under control
> Sunglasses and sunscreen to protect eyes from glare off the water and prevent sunburn
> A first aid kit for soothing bug bites or bandaging scrapes and other common risks associated with outdoor activities
> A whistle to alert wandering children who are exploring too far from the pier
Tips For Teaching Kids to Fish: On the Water
Temper your expectations for your first fishing trip. Kids may lose steam after five minutes of watching a float bob. “Make it about the overall experience, not about just catching fish,” Risch says.
Rig Up Your Kid’s Line for Them
Risch recommends that you, as the parent, rig up an easy bobber and live worm set. Prepare your child’s line with a baited hook and a bobber or float set to suspend the hook one to four feet underwater. Help them toss their line in the water, and all they have to do is watch the float.
Show Them How to Set The Hook
They will soon be able to tell the difference between a float bobbing over the pond’s ripples and the nibbling of a hungry fish. The trick is as soon as they see the bobber go underwater, they should firmly snatch the end of their pole up to “set” the hook.
When the fish are biting, this bob-and-snatch cycle can make for an exciting round of “claw machine” action in nature. However, the kids may prefer watching tadpoles at the water’s edge until you get a bite. Again, patience is key.
Make A Game Plan for Next Time
At the end of the day, if you hear “Can we do this again?” you might be on your way to becoming the family fishing expert. The next step is to try a new spot, test a new piece of gear, or check out your local outdoor store for lessons or guided fishing trips.