“Dad!… I got one!!!”
And good lord, did he ever. My youngest son’s rod was dang near bent in half. As I rushed to his side, my first paternal instinct caused me to grab him around the waist so he didn’t get pulled in to swift river. We were fishing downtown at the local river and Blake had his hands full with an aggressive small mouth bass. The fish leaped and splashed, lighting my sons face up with joy. Unfortunately he ended up losing the fish, but Blake didn’t care. He just cast out again in hopes of another.
I love fishing with my kids for several reasons. First and foremost, it’s guaranteed time together. Also, it’s good for them. After a long and stressful year at school, the kids are ready to relax and wet a few lines. So many kids get no experiences other than in front of an electronic screen, and I don’t want my kids to be like that. Additionally we enjoy eating fresh caught fish, and it’s fun for the kids to help gather our meals. The list of benefits of fishing and an outdoor lifestyle are endless, but those are the main reasons we like to be on the water whenever possible.
Fishing doesn’t have to be expensive, and it doesn’t always require a boat. What it does require is time and patience. It’s important to make sure the fishing experiences are fun… and that kids want to do it again. Here’s what we do each summer to make sure the kids want to keep coming back for more.
At our local river, getting access is no problem. In fact the city has several parks that line the river with easy and safe access. We all wear cruddy clothes and shoes in case, or more like when, one of us gets wet. If the depth, current, young age or lack of swimming skill are ever a concern, I always make the kids wear life jackets.
From shore or sometimes in kayaks, we cast a variety of lures hoping to hook into a few kinds of fish. In our area, the rivers are full of pike and small mouth bass. We choose the lure based on the current and bottom surface. For instance, in fast rocks areas, I have the kids cast plastic tubes and other soft baits on heavy jigs. We bump them across the bottom hoping to get a bass to bite.
In the slower currents, backwater, or weedy areas we cast shallow running crank-baits. I like the shallow runners because I have a lot of control over where the lure will end up. For instance, I can cast a good crank-bait into open water, and reel it back while the current takes it downstream. Then, when I get close to a logjam, I’ll quit reeling and let it float back up, avoiding any snags. Once I’m clear, I crank it again and it dives deep. I love being able to have that much control over a lure’s path through the river.
Depending on what kid I’m with, they may use what I have or they may just be casting simple little spinners. My older two boys can out-fish me, and they’ll use everything I have. The younger two? They just want to cast and reel, and will stop often to look at bugs and crayfish. I try to get them light spinners that will stay clear of snags.
Ponds are great for a few reasons. First, they are accessible from shore and often safer than a river. Second, they are usually chocked full of fish! Where we go on summer vacation there is a trout pond. Some of my fondest memories as a parent are watching my kids haul out gigantic rainbow trout on their ultralight tackle. I get so caught up in the moment that often, yes this has happened, my kids have been pulled in the water or fallen in right before my eyes. Usually Mama’ Bear growls at me to snap to it, and I quick grab the kids out of the water.
We fish the trout like we fish bedding bluegills, either on fly-rods (the older boys) or with bubbles tied to a leader which leads to a fly. Using some sort of fly rig is great fun for kids because they get to watch the fish rise to the surface to hit the lure. The chances are good too that the fish will jump, making it that much more exciting.
We also pond fish for bass. Usually I’ll have the kids tie on some sort of worm that will sink really slow. They work it similar to a jig, but at a much slower pace. We cast out near structure, and let it sink. When the line starts moving sideways, the kids set the hook. It’s that simple! My oldest has also grown fond of using surface plugs and jerk-baits because he can get into really shallow water safely. Like I said, he usually out fishes me.
Fishing a lake generally requires a boat, and often a gas motor or at least a trolling motor. Life jackets are required in this situation for the kids and usually we don’t start with this. A boat trip on a lake only happens after I notice my kids like fishing and are able to sit still for a little while. A rambunctious kid is normal, but it could be a potential problem in a moving boat in open water.
On the lake we cast and troll, jig and drift. Anything that will catch us some fish and we’re doing it. I’ve had some of the best conversations I have ever had with my kids on a boat. I find that boys especially really open up and talk about what’s on their mind when we are out fishing. There’s just something about being on the water that makes a man feel comfortable. Usually when we lake fish, it is all business. We are either casting heavy crank baits for pike, or slowly sneaking through the cover hoping to dupe a bass on one of our soft plastics.
Obviously make sure the motor works well before taking a long voyage on a boat fishing trip. But that being said, I do recall building a lot of character rowing back a broke down boat into the wind a few more times than I care to mention.
I can not even begin to mention all of the positive effects of a regular fishing habit. My boys and I have vowed to fish together at least once a week this summer and so far we’re ahead of that goal. When we’re not fishing, I’ll find them sometimes practicing their casts in the back yard or off the deck. I do recommend a hookless, weighted casting lure for the practice, because treble hooks are no fun to pull out of the family dog.
Also, I did forget to mention the old fashioned method of fishing with a bobber and worm. Not only is digging worms fun for a kid, but there’s just something about sitting on the soft grass next to an old farm pond waiting for that bobber to take a dip.
They say when kids grow up and leave the home they mostly remember two things from their childhood, playing outside and vacations. I want my kids to have positive memories of their time with me, and fishing is one way to ensure that happens.