As a child, going fishing can be one of the most memorable events of a lifetime. Remember, they haven’t had a lot of adventurous experiences at this point in their lives, so it’s really easy to create lifelong memories for you and for them. Again, treat this like an adventure.
When it comes to introducing children to fishing, you need to formulate a plan and tactics that will allow you to have the highest probability of catching fish. It can be a huge bummer to get skunked as an adult, but it can be even worse for a high-energy, active child.
Be sure to go after easy targets, such as sunfish. Here in Texas, we have about half a dozen or so different types of sunfish. They are plentiful and usually more than willing to take a bite at your bait.
Sunfish can be found in a variety of waters, so don’t be afraid to give various spots a try. I recommend scouting out the area first to make sure you can actually catch fish there.
You don’t want to spend an hour or two fishing with a couple of kids, only to find out the spot you are in doesn’t have any fish.
As far as location is concerned, take them to an area free of other people. This prevents them from being distracted from what others are doing and it also keeps them from inadvertently hooking someone fishing next to you. I’ve been that “someone” before.
One of the main rules, especially for me, is to exercise patience. Don’t make it about a bunch of rules and what not to do. The goal is to create a positive experience that will carry on in the future.
You can coach/teach/instruct on future trips as their interest level increases. Explain why you are doing certain things, but don’t expect them to remember.
Another big one…don’t spend 8 hours on the water. Kids have very short attention spans. Don’t let a prolonged session ruin their experience. Keep it short and sweet!
Be willing to do the “work” for them. Go in knowing that you will have to bait hooks, unhook fish, etc. Another point worth mentioning is that you need to be sure to bring drinks and snacks.
Some folding chairs or stools might not be a bad idea either. Make them as comfortable as possible. The idea is to forge a lifelong fishing partner.
Okay, now that that is out of the way, let’s move on to the more technical side of how to take a kid fishing.
What equipment do I need?
Be sure to get a rod and reel size appropriately for the child you are taking. The smaller size will be more accommodating to them and provide a better experience overall.
The Mickey Mouse or Barbie rod and reel they received for their birthday may be cute and all, but in reality, they can be quite hard to operate due to their poor quality. You can buy youth size equipment that is very reliable and easy to use.
A good ultralight rod with a spin-cast reel would be a good option. Depending on the kid’s age and size, a 5’ rod would be a good starting point. Again, be sure to get an ultralight, which will be more ideally suited for small panfish.
The Zebco 33 Micro UL Spincast Combo is around $16, and its ease of use will work well for inexperienced fishermen. It’s really easy to cast (for parent or child) and is small enough to be manageable.
Use small Aberdeen hooks in the #6 – #8 range. I prefer Eagle Claw for this application. I like to use these rather than the smaller #10’s. I find that I get fewer gut hooks this way. I also prefer a clinch knot to tie on the hook.
Use small split shot weights, just heavy enough to keep your stick bobber (see below) upright. Be sure they are not too heavy. If they are, you will notice your bobber sitting really low in the water and it will likely be hard to see anything other than a small portion of the top tip sticking up.
I find it easiest to buy a small variety pack (multiple sizes) of split shot weights. This allows you to try different sizes until you find one that makes your bobber float correctly. Place your weight approximately 8-12 inches above the hook.
Bobbers (or as we say…corks)
Size matters in this regard because if you use too large of a bobber, you will miss the bites. I prefer to stay away from the small, round, red, and white bobbers.
Usually, folks pick one out that is too large and they miss a lot of fish. If you do use one of those, be sure to get a really small one that is matched to the hook, bait, and weight you are using.
On the other hand, try a small stick bobber. These are by far my favorite for panfish, especially sunfish. Attach your stick bobber somewhere between 12-36” above the hook.
The depth and other factors will determine the appropriate placement, but you can play around with it until you figure out what works for where you are fishing. The main thing to avoid is your bait sitting on the bottom. If this occurs, move your bobber closer to the hook.
As far as line goes, just stick with a 4 lbs. fluorocarbon line and you will be fine.
Avoid swivels and other unnecessary add-ons. They complicate the process and have no added value in this application.
In regards to bait, you can use worms, minnows, corn, crickets, grasshoppers and many other options. That’s the great thing…it doesn’t require specialized lures or bait to be successful.
When baiting with worms, be sure to use plenty or they will pick you clean. I prefer to thread the hook through the work, but you can also wrap the worm around the hook while hooking it several times in the process. More than likely, you will not need to use all the worm.
Minnows work just as well in most scenarios and I like the live-action. Buy the smallest minnow the bait shop has to offer to encourage the smaller fish to bite.
Hook minnows through the lip or through the back just behind the dorsal fin. Keep in mind, with minnows, you will need something like a minnow bucket to keep them alive while you are out fishing.
When baiting with corn, be sure to use several kernels on the hook.
For crickets or grasshoppers, hook them through the front end of their body or the thorax.
What to do
Once you are all rigged up and baited, simply drop or cast your setup into the water and wait for the fish to do their part. If you are fishing near the shore, sunfish can usually be found in shallow water.
If you have access to a fishing dock, even better. If your local body of water has brush, weeds or trees, be sure to fish around those as well. Be mindful of snagging your hook, but that is a risk that could be worth the reward.
Drop your line in the water, just sit back and wait for the bobber to let you know what’s going on. You may notice your bobber start to move a little when the fish become interested and start nibbling on it.
Don’t get too excited at this point. If you grab your rod and reel to early you are likely to scare them off before they have taken the hook.
Also, pay attention to how your minnow affects your bobber. The livelier the minnow, the more activity you will see with your bobber.
Don’t get confused between the minnows movement and a fish, which most of the time will be more substantial.
Best case scenario, the bobber will go completely underwater or start running off, which will be a good indicator. If this occurs, you don’t necessarily have to “set” the hook as you do with other types of sport fish.
I recommend gently pulling the rod in the opposite direction of the fish. At that same time, start reeling at a steady pace. You will be able to feel whether or not a fish is on there.
Either way, I will usually reel my line in and check my bait. Sunfish are excellent thieves and will steal all of your bait if you’re not careful.
Remember, the most important rule of all. Be sure to have fun and make an adventure out of it.