When to Take Kids Fishing?
Updated: Dec 9, 2020
Hopefully we can all remember our first fishing memory. I’m sure there is a full spectrum of stories ranging from catching the biggest fish ever, to some horrific accident (treble hook in the nose). No matter where your memory falls in that spectrum, the goal for you as a parent or guardian is to maximize the fun and minimize the risk. If you want to maximize the fun, when is the best age for a first trip?
We have read plenty of media telling us all about moon phases, feeding windows, beds, mats, flats, and everything else under the sun that relates to the “best time” to catch a certain species of fish. That knowledge will be very useful now but from a different perspective. You will be trying to not only use your judgment to predict the best time to catch fish, but also simultaneously trying to synchronize the best time for your child to go fishing (aka tolerate learning a new activity and simultaneously navigating you being a teacher). The ideal scenario is that you choose a time when your child is receptive, interested, dexterous, and obedient relative to safety (I will reference these combined factors as a child’s fishing window). Also, in an ideal scenario, you have overlapped this time with a “catching window” where you have selected a species that is easily caught during your child’s fishing window.
Let’s use some basic numbers to convey the relationship between attention span and fishing. Most children are not physically dexterous enough to fish for themselves until three years old. Even if you have a child that is physically able earlier, other factors such as interest, reception, and obedience may be inadequate. Each child is different and using approximate guidelines as a starting point is a great way to keep your expectations in check, your child safe, and begging for more fishing fun.
To keep the math easy, the high-end average attention span of a child is about five minutes for every year of age. This means that at three years old your child has about fifteen minutes before they will no longer focus on that activity or task (however some parents may agree that it's much less). You would then add five minutes to every year thereafter until you get closer to double-digit ages. You may be thinking, “wow I can easily catch a fish in 15 minutes”, however in most cases your fishing window “shot clock” starts running the moment you load your kid(s) into the car.
A tip to strategically plan your first trip is to use your child’s attention span as a reference timer for the different parts of your trip. For example, if you have a three-year-old, try not to travel more than fifteen minutes before you start fishing. Minimize set up time. Allow for the clock to reset with another fifteen minutes for the actual fishing. Catching a fish within this window may buy you a little more time, but you should still try to stick with a fifteen-minute window regardless of how many fish you catch. Then take another fifteen minutes to pack up and get home.
If these time frames seem unrealistic, you can try to extend it, but I caution you on taking young children (less than 5) on much longer trips. You will probably end up burning your attention span on travel and set up and need to pack up ten minutes after you start fishing. In addition, you risk making your child not interested in joining you for future trips. If you can find help to set up the gear and or assist with entertaining the kids while you set up, it will certainly help maximize your fishing time and their fishing window.
Some caveats to the attention span estimation times are certainly child dependent. You know your child best and if you think he or she is outside of this approximation than adjust your plans and processes accordingly. The point of the numbers is to get you thinking strategically and systematically about your trip. Breaking segments down into appropriately timed segments will create a seamless fun trip for everyone involved, but don’t get hung up on using exact numbers.
Another important variable is the fish themselves. Make sure the species of fish you target is appropriate for the age of the child and the amount of time you have to fish. I will further explain this variable in the next article (Taking Kids Fishing Part 3: How?), but the short story is don’t go muskie fishing if you only have a fifteen-minute fishing window.
Catching fish can sometimes be a challenge even under the best circumstances. When you take a child fishing you are the guide and their experience hinges on your decisions. Be strategic with your planning and preparation and you can maximize your time spent fishing instead of being a water snack fairy. Trust me, snacks will be needed, but do yourself a favor and plan for success by keeping your expectations appropriate for your child’s age and attention span.