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10 Tips for Teaching a Kid to Fish

The objective is simple: Have fun!
By Dan Armitage
Published: April 1, 2003
Fishing1
Photo by Dan Armitage
Chances are, if you fish now as an adult, it all began when you were handed a cane pole or a miniature Zebco rod-and-reel combo as a child. You had fun hanging out with your dad, Uncle Greg or Grandma Norah.  You may have even caught a fish. And you wanted to go again. And again. And again.
    Indeed, studies show that most people who fish on a regular basis today were first introduced to the sport by the time they reached age 12, and the majority of children are taught how to fish by an adult family member.
    Perhaps you’d like to give something back to the sport by introducing a child to the joys of jigging, the fun of fishing … the travails of trolling? Well, you get the idea.
    As a dad, angler and professional educator who conducts kids fishing clinics at sport shows across the nation, I offer my Top 10 Tips for you to keep in mind when you have the opportunity to introduce a child – of any age – to angling.
Fishing2
Photo by Dan Armitage
1. Start at home. Begin the fishing lesson at home, even days prior to the trip, by visiting a local tackle store with the child, allowing the child to be a part of the entire process of selecting tackle and asking around for a good place to go fishing. A visit to the local library to check out books on fishing is another good way to begin the process.

2. Practice on terra firma.
Practice casting, knot-tying and bobber-setting at home or at the local park, where errant casts can’t catch in overhead tree limbs or stream-side brush, and knots and bobbers can be figured out away from the excitement of catching a fish.

3. Keep the child’s fishing equipment simple. A cane pole is a great first fishing rod, especially for younger anglers. Simple spin-casting tackle, such as the special youth models now offered by several tackle manufacturers, are good choices as well. Allow the child to have his or her own tackle box in which to store hooks, bobbers and sinkers.

4. Trade in your fishing tackle for a camera – for the day. By leaving your tackle at home, you are more likely to stay involved in the child’s activities – and less tempted to get caught up in the catching yourself in the event the fishing gets fast! With a camera, you can record the day’s activities, including that most momentous of events: a child’s first fish.

5. Give the boat a rest.
Select a place to fish from shore that offers an abundance of easily caught panfish, such as bluegill, crappie or perch. Docks or piers are excellent places to start because they are clear of trees and other obstacles that snag casts, and the structures provide underwater cover for fish. Open shoreline areas along ponds, lakes and slow-moving streams can be good, too. Boats can be used, but keep in mind that kids need elbow room – not to mention wiggle room – when fishing, and often feel confined when they have to stay seated aboard a boat for any length of time.
Fishing3
Photo by Dan Armitage
6. Use live bait; catch fish. Nothing catches panfish more consistently that live bait such as worms, nightcrawlers, crickets or minnows. A primary goal of these first fishing trips is to catch fish in order to maintain a child’s interest in the activity, so stock up on bait that slithers, crawls and swims. Besides, live bait is also interesting for the child to touch and play with, which he or she should be allowed to do when the fishing gets slow or the youngster simply wants to do something else for a while.

7. Use a bobber. Nothing is as fascinating to a child as a bobber dancing on the water’s surface, especially when the child knows what’s causing it! The bobber also provides some casting weight, allows the child to see as well as feel strikes, and keeps the bait off the bottom, in front of the fish and away from underwater snags.

8. Be a good scout. Be prepared: Take plenty of snacks and drinks, different kinds of bait for variety, and make sure you’ve got rain gear, jackets to match the weather, and insect repellent and sunscreen if needed. You want the child to be as comfortable as possible during (and after) the fishing session.

9. Keep the first sessions short. When the child says it’s time to go home – go! You want these first trips to be remembered as something fun, and when the fun ends for a child, it’s time to end the fishing trip, no matter how well the fish are biting or how early in the trip it might be.

10. Talk to the child. During the fishing trip, talk about anything, remembering that these are important times for kids, who value their time with you (whether they show it or not). Share feelings about anything under the sun. You can discuss angling topics like catch-and-release, fishing tactics, what makes a bobber work; touch on social subjects like how to do well in school or what to do when offered drugs or alcohol; or tell just-for-fun fishing tales about the elusive whoppers in your favorite lake.

Dan Armitage is an outdoor writer and radio show host in Ohio, where he’s rehabbing a 1930s fishing cabin on the Kokosing River. Dan also conducts fishing and outdoor photography seminars at sport shows across the nation.

What Kids Wanna Know
(And answers to get YOU off the hook!)

You’ll be amazed at the topics of conversation that pop up on a fishing trip with a child as you ponder your bobber, sit out a rain shower, or break for a peanut butter sandwich. Here’s a “cheat sheet” of common kids’ questions and the answers.

Q: “How do fish breathe?”
A: Instead of lungs, fish have gills that take oxygen from the water the same way our lungs take oxygen from the air.

Q: “Do fish sleep?”
A: Some fish do sleep; most just rest. You just can’t tell when fish are doing either because they don’t have eyelids.

Q: “Where do fish come from?”
A: Most fish come from eggs that hatch in the spring. They don’t look very much like grown fish for the first few weeks, and may be so small that it’s hard to see them. Many fish eat baby fish for food, so fish lay thousands or even millions of eggs at once so that at least a few of the fish have a chance to survive and grow up.

Q: “How does a fish keep warm?”
A: Fish are cold-blooded creatures, whose body and blood temperatures change with the temperature of the water they are in. People are warm-blooded, and our body temperature doesn’t change much. That’s why we have to wear coats and hats to keep warm in the winter, and fish do not.

Q: “How do fish keep from sinking?”
A: Most fish have a balloon-like sac called a swim bladder in their bodies. The gases in the bladder keep the body from sinking. Some fish, like sharks, don’t have a swim bladder and must swim all the time to keep from sinking.

Q: “How old do fish get?”
A: Some minnow-type fish live only a couple of years. Common fish like bass and sunfish usually live about 6–8 years. Catfish and carp may live 20–40 years. Sturgeon can live more than 100 years.

Q: “How big do fish get?”
A: Some saltwater fish, like sharks, can weigh thousands of pounds. In fresh water, the largest fish are sturgeon, which can weigh more than 1,000 pounds. A trophy catfish can be as long as an adult person is tall and weigh more than 100 pounds, while a trophy sunfish isn’t much larger than your hand and weighs little more than one pound.

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