Fishing with Kids: 12 tips for a safe and memorable day

Some of my best childhood memories are from when I first learned to fish.  My passion for the outdoors and love for all things fishing began the day I caught my first fish.

Taking a child fishing is immensely rewarding and equally challenging.  Having a fun day of fishing depends on your ability to adapt and cater to the way kids think in order to keep them engaged.  

To help make your kid’s day of fishing awesome, I have put together 12 essential tips that are sure to keep them excited, engaged and begging for another trip to the lake. 

1. Consider their age and personality

Taking a 3 year old fishing is completely different than fishing with a 12 year old.  Apart from age, you should think about their personality.  Are they patient, calm, excitable or a bit of a handful.  Either way, be prepared to adjust the type of fishing and the length of time you go.

Younger kids will likely be more interested in their surroundings instead of keeping their eyes on a bobber.  You may also want to plan for only an hour or two of dedicated fishing.

An older child can maintain focus longer and fish more independently. They will likely be less distracted and enjoy hours on the water with no signs of wanting to quit.

Each kid is unique.  Understanding their personality and age limitations will be key in making a day worth remembering. 

2. Let them help plan 

Half the fun is in the planning and gear preparation. Take them to pick out a few lures, hooks and sinkers at a local bait shop.  When the gear shopping is done, you can have them organize the tackle box and rig up the poles.  These are the best opportunities to teach them the nuances of fishing.

When it comes time to pick the location for their fishing trip, let them choose between a few spots you are willing to go.  If you already have a spot where success is likely, simply pull up a map and show them.  Tell them about the spot and what they can catch.  Let them know the full plan and I promise they will be up at dawn ready to go before you can even say “coffee”.

3. Teach them to cast at home

One of the most frustrating parts of fishing for a child is casting.  This is especially true for the youngest anglers.  It only takes a few failed attempts while fish are jumping all around for a kid to throw their pole in the water.

Instead of waiting until the morning of, try teaching them to cast at home.  Rubber practice casting plugs are available at most sporting goods stores and cost a few bucks. Tie one on and let them practice at home a few minutes each day until they’ve got the hang of it.  Don’t stress about accuracy.  Just make sure they can consistently cast the line in a forward direction. 

If a conventional spinning reel is too difficult for your child, I would recommend a Zebco spincast setup.  Life would have been much easier if I had this when I was a kid.  The push button reel makes casting a snap and line tangles are greatly reduced.

4. Leave your pole at home

I will be the first to admit how hard it is to go fishing without bringing my own pole.  However, I am usually glad I left my pole at home because it forces me to focus on what is important – teaching a child to fish.  

You are unlikely to properly teach a kid to fish if you are preoccupied with catching your own.  Spend the day making sure they are having fun and you will have fun too.

5. Use simple fishing gear

Simple is usually better.  Especially when kids are involved.  You will be hard pressed to teach a 5 year old how to effectively use a top water popper for bass.  They just want to catch a fish.  Size and species is irrelevant when they are first learning. It is important to give them the best chance of success and a simple worm and bobber setup is hard to beat.

When a worm and bobber are not effective, remove the bobber.  A small lead weight placed approximately 18 inches above a worm on a hook is perfect for dropping straight down from a dock.  Smaller fish usually seek protection under docks and can be quite easy to catch.  

6. Alway wear a life jacket

Anytime you have small children near the water, have them wear a life jacket.  There is always a chance they may fall in.  This is most important when on a dock as opposed to fishing from shore.  The water around a dock is several feet deep and there could be ropes or wood that can tangle them up under water. 

If you plan on fishing from a boat, life jackets are required by law.  There must be life jackets for everyone on board and children are required to wear them at all times.  Adults should also wear them to set a good example.

Safety should always be a priority. 

7. Get them polarized sun glasses

Polarized sun glasses are designed to remove the glare from water and allow you to see into it more clearly.  They are an essential part of most anglers fishing equipment. 

For a kid, these glasses could be the best thing since sliced bread.  They will love watching the fish swim in the water as they try getting them to bite the hook.  

The sunglasses are also important for protecting against a full day of bright sun.  

A word to the wise, get a glasses strap or they will likely end up on the bottom of the lake.

8. Don’t forget food, water and sunscreen

A hungry kid is a cranky kid.  Pack plenty of snacks and a lunch to keep them fed and focused.  Depending on where you go, drinking water may not be available so bring water or juice.  On cold mornings, pack a thermos of hot cocoa to warm them up.  

As the sun gets higher and begins to warm everything up, break out the sunscreen.  It is important to protect exposed skin from damaging  UV rays.  If you are out all day, apply frequently.  

I would also recommend brining along sanitizing hand wipes.  These are great for cleaning fishy hands before eating and wiping excess sunscreen from your hands before baiting the hook.  The sent of sunscreen can be a deterrent for finicky fish.

9. Think about a bathroom

Potty breaks will happen often with small kids.  Planning for a day of fishing should include checking that the location has a restroom.  Older kids find it easier to pee in the woods, but crowded locations could make this difficult and embarrassing.

If you happen to be fishing away from prying eyes, then by all means do what works.  Either way, when nature calls it is hard to ignore.  I can pretty much count on seeing my nephew doing the pee dance after his first cast.  Oh, and don’t forget toilet paper.

10. Let them play

No matter how excited your kid is about fishing they will inevitably get bored.  If the fish are not biting it won’t take long for them to find something more interesting than their fishing pole.  Usually they find that throwing rocks in the water or playing with the worms, is more fun. 

Teaching them patience is part of the fishing experience, but know their limit.  If they are catching lots of fish they will focus longer.  If the bite is off, just let them throw the rocks in the water.  The fish will be there when you return another day.

The important thing to remember is that fishing is about more than catching fish.  A kid may not want to go fishing again if they don’t have fun.  It is okay to let them play.  

11. Know when to call it quits

Time passes on a different scale for kids and adapting your plans will keep them interested in fishing.  Knowing when to call it quits is the difference between a long, boring day or a fun morning. 

When fishing is good, by all means, keep fishing.  You will find that a child’s attention span is proportional to the number of fish caught.  Once the fishing starts to slow, you will want to watch for signs of boredom.  Again, if they want to play, just let them.  Once they tire from playing think about heading home or finding a new activity.

As kids get older and mature, your fishing days will get longer and they will be more willing to sit patiently.  Until that time arrives, fishing for an hour or two is plenty to keep them hooked on fishing.

12. Go with the flow

There are few things in life better than seeing a smile on a child’s face.  Having reasonable expectations and patience with whatever may happen is a sure fire way to have fun and create life long memories.  

Good luck and go take a kid fishing!