Taking kids fishing takes planning and a crazy amount of will and patience. You are voluntarily putting yourself and your children in a potentially stressful or even unsafe situation. However, you are determined to pass down the tradition that has captured your passion. Now that your child and you are ready, how do you take them fishing?
First, I need to start by stating the obvious. There is a wonderful non-profit organization by the name of “Take Me Fishing.” They specialize in supplying the information you need to get your child fishing. Check out their website (www.takemefishing.org) to help aid your research prior to making the maiden voyage.
If I could sum up the “how” of taking kids fishing without pulling your hair out would be as follows: plan, prep, repeat. Repeat it like seven thousand times before you go on your trip. I promise you will not regret over preparing. Just like in fishing tournaments and deer hunting, the success of the trip could be completely dependent on the amount of work you put in prior to the day of your departure. Let’s break down some essential components for your trip.
The most important factor of any trip is safety and children are no exception. Plan accordingly for where and when you will be fishing. Ice fishing versus open water will help guide your gear. Cleats, life jackets, warm clothing, changes of clothing, first aid kit, sunscreen, bug spray, marine radio, and blankets or towels is a great starting list. Add more as you think of them and store them appropriately.
2. Kids: Children are different than adults in many ways. Planning for your children’s everyday needs while on the water will greatly increase your chances of having both a fun and successful trip. Snacks, water, clothing, alternate entertainment (books, games, electronics, etc), footwear, hats, POTTY (you only make that mistake once), snacks, snacks, snacks, and snacks. Also snacks.
3. Gear: What gear do you need to bring seems like an obvious question, but more likely you need to figure out what gear you should leave behind. Fishing with kids can be crazy and full of unknowns. You want to minimize the clutter in your set up and that includes unused or unnecessary gear. Bring only the number of poles you plan to use at the same time. Consider leaving your stuff in the vehicle and focus entirely on helping your child (very easy for ice fishing since usually you are using the same set up/rod). Also consider only bringing the lures or terminal tackle you need plus a couple extra. You want to minimize the number of hooks swinging through the air and the number of extra holes that are placed in yourself or others.
***Live bait can be a great way to minimize hooks, add a distraction for the kids, and increase your catch rate. Make plans for containment and clean up.***
4. Logistics: Figure out how far your spot is and what it will take to get your gear set up before you can fish in that spot. Calculate the amount of time you need to get the vehicle ready to leave prior to putting your kids into the car, truck, or van. Use your time strategically relative to the average attention span of your child (see Taking Kids Fishing Part 2: When?). Also don’t forget to get gas the night before. You don’t want to waste any time in the car that could be spent fishing.
5. OXO Travel Potty: I made a separate number for something that has been a total game changer for me as a new and young child dad: the OXO travel potty. I am not sponsored by them, but I would not go anywhere without it in the van (fishing or otherwise). I travel to Ohio a bunch from Wisconsin and often at night. With children at ages where they are in and out of diapers and at different stages of potty training, relying on a rest stop or gas station for a bathroom was just too unpredictable and stressful. Enter the travel potty. This bad boy can fold up into a travel bag, has disposable inserts that are self-contained, and is light weight and easy to put in the bottom of a stroller or different vehicle quickly. A boat or ice shanty is no different. You want to be prepared for their unpredictable potty needs. Wipes and hand sanitizer is also a great idea.
Another huge aspect in the planning process is which fish species to target. Obviously, everyone has their personal preferences regarding species and what they eventually want to teach their kids. However, you should plan your trips with an open mind and strategically choose species that will be easy to target within your current gear allotment or budget and will be easy to catch within the approximate attention span of your child. A great example is bluegill and young children. Bluegill are famously easy to catch using a bunch of methods including live bait and bobbers. The catch rate and ease of bluegill would pair nicely with the shorter attention span of young children. If your goal is to catch fish during your outing, targeting muskies is probably not a wise choice due to their infamously large number of casts required to catch one (“the fish of 10,000 casts”).
In order to give you a rough idea of the relationship of fish species to catch rate, I have estimated my personal experience fishing numerous species and techniques over the last twenty-five years. Your numbers may be different based on your experience and resources, but the general concept should still be similar: panfish typically have the highest catch rates if all other factors are equal. You can mix and match species based on your goals (catching, learning a technique, experience, process, etc), but the key is to adjust your expectations relative to their attention span and fishing window. Although, you want to make sure they have a fun time regardless of the number of fish they catch.