School is out for summer! And nothing goes better together than summertime and fishing! Now is the perfect time to load up the kids, head to the lake, and introduce the kids to some great, old fashion fishing fun.
A study by the National Alliance on Mental Illness suggests that fishing may improve both physical and emotional health. Fishing is a physical activity that can be classified as “self-care” activity, resulting in improved physical well being associated with other outside activities, but also improves self-esteem, relieves stress and improves resilience and skill building.
For years one of the best parts of my job with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation was to teach kids to fish. I took thousands of kids on their very first fishing experience, but I enjoyed none more than taking my own son on his first fishing outing.
I learned a few things over the years when conducting kids fishing clinics and that knowledge paid off when it came to my kid. Here are a few pointers for getting a kid started in fishing.
Keep it simple – My very first fishing class was a disaster. My expectations were too high. I wanted the kids to learn about different kinds of fish, different kinds of tackle and lures and different methods of angling – way too much to expect of kids. I forgot the reason that kids (myself included) like fishing, it’s FUN!
Remember back to your first fishing trip. If you are like me it was a cane pole, or stick, with some line, a bobber and a hook. We caught grasshoppers or dug a few worms or grubs from the ground and away to the creek we ran. That is what beginning fishing is all about. Not $40,000 bass boats and $200 dollar rods and reels.
Now I’m not saying that you have to go retro and start looking for a cane pole to cut, but you need to start a kid off with the simple basics — an inexpensive rod and reel, some terminal tackle (hook, sinker, bobber) and live bait.
The equipment — I recommend purchasing a simple rod and reel for your child, don’t spend a lot of money. In my opinion, the Zebco 33 is the best reel for beginners, in fact some anglers are still using the same old 33 that they started with 20 years ago. It is a great, dependable reel, all metal casing and very little plastic, which makes it hold up to a multitude of fishing trips.
I’m not a big fan of the small “Frozen” or “Paw Patrol” or whatever the character of the year is, rod and reel combos. They are small and cheap, and while cheap is good, they don’t hold up like the 33. There are other good reels on the market, all for around $30. Just make sure the housing is metal and the rod is about five feet long.
As your kids get older, or progress in their abilities, move to a spinning reel and more expensive rods. Some of the largest fish ever caught were done so by novice fishermen using a simple spincast rod and reel combo.
Getting started — Back to the Keep it simple. Start teaching your kid about fishing before you ever head to the water. Get a practice casting plug and tie it on and teach them how to cast in the driveway or back yard. My son use to pretend with his granddad that they were fishing in from the back of the pickup bed.
Stress safety, accuracy and the correct way to make a cast. More practice here will make the time at the lake much more enjoyable. Make a game out of it. Place a target (a hula hoop works great) out on the ground and have them practice casting to the target. Short casts are best, most fish live close to the shore, so being able to cast 50 yards does little good.
When they get a little better, shrink the target, say a coffee can or then a coffee cup sized target, and practice trying to drop the bait in the can or cup without knocking it over. These skills will come in handy when trying to place a bait in the best place to catch fish at the lake.
Baits — When it comes to baits, simple is better here too. Almost every fish likes worms, so they are the perfect bait. Cartons can be purchased at the sporting goods counter of most stores, or if you prefer to go old school, did them yourself. The white grubs found in flower beds are great too.
Better yet, grasshoppers and crickets are everywhere and your kid will have a great time catching them. Buy and inexpensive butterfly net and take it along with you, they are great for helping to catch grasshoppers, but also provide another activity if the fish are not biting.
I take an insect net that makes it much easier to catch grasshoppers. You also get spiders, leafhoppers and other insects that kids love to inspect.
Now all it takes is finding a good spot and baiting a hook. Using a bobber will help the kids know when they are getting a bite. Which lead me to the next tip.
Kids love action — We live in a fast paced world, so it is important that when you take a kid fishing you need to go to a spot where that can catch fish, quickly. Size does not matter to a kid, so find a spot where the bobber will “dance.” Most lakes that have docks or boat ramps will also have sunfish under or around those structures. You are not looking for a wall hanger, just action, so think small.
If you are not catching anything in the first spot, then move, don’t give them a chance to get bored. Later on they can develop the patience that fishing does bring, but when they first start they need success.
When they get better at casting and catching fish, then teaching them to throw a small spinnerbait or grub bait that they can cast and retrieve will be a natural progression.
Kids will be kids– Remember fishing should be fun, so think like a kid, you know short attention span, taking in the sights and sounds, the whole experience. Don’t get upset if all the kid wants to do is play with the worms or throw rocks in the water. That’s part of being a kid. If they don’t have fun they won’t want to come back.
If the fish are not biting, find a way to have fun, look for frogs, dangle your feet in the water. Be a kid for a while, and both of you will enjoy the experience.
Keep it short – This kind of goes with keeping it fun, but set a time limit and keep them wanting more. I’ve always felt it was better to stop while the action was still going and they will yearn to come back with you. An hour is plenty for the first couple of times out. Don’t plan on staying at the lake all day, they will stop having fun, and you will be sorry you brought them.
When it’s time to go, it may be hard to get them in the car, we employ a 10 cast countdown, or a 10 second countdown to end the action. After 10 casts (or 10 seconds if using a bobber) we reel them in. This gives kids some closure to the activity, then relive the successes and failures on the way home.
Celebrate successes – It goes without saying that reliving memories is what fishing is all about. Telling fish stories or better yet looking at pictures that you took of your trip is a great way to get your kid wanting to go back out. Always take a camera and use it! My son loves seeing the pictures of our outings and he loves telling the story of how he caught the particular fish. And to be honest, I love hearing them, again and again.
It is not all about catching fish either, commend them on how good they are at casting and how great it was that they baited their own hook, or how they took a fish off by themselves, or how much fun it was just spending time together.
Warning – Remember to take sunscreen, mosquito spray, snacks and drinks. Sunburn and bug bites can take the fun out of a family trip.
Have fun – I know we have already covered this, but it is the most important thing. Make it a fun experience to go fishing and your kid will be begging you to go again. The time you spend fishing together can never be taken away, so get away from the phones and the video games and have a good time together. You’ll be glad you did!
Free Fishing – Now that you have taken the kids out, it’s time to take some older folks fishing. There is no better days to do just that than the Oklahoma Free Fishing Days. June 3-4 anyone may fish in Oklahoma without a state license. Some city or lake permits may still be required. For more information consult the Oklahoma fishing regulations at www.wildlifedepartment.com.