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A few thoughts on fishing with kids

by Doug Leier NDGFD

Over the years I've detailed my successes and failures of getting my kids “hooked on fishing.”

Call me a bit disconnected, but I don’t see how kids cannot enjoy fishing. And I’ve never heard my kids say they don’t want to go fishing. It’s actually the complete opposite, as no matter the day or weather, they prefer fishing to about anything else.

Of course, along the way we’ve had mishaps, snags, wet feet, cold fingers and soggy snacks, but the memories continue to grow each year. And now, truthfully, we’re finally turning the corner to where I can actually fish a bit myself, in addition to helping rig, bait hooks and troubleshoot tangled lines and snags.

It does seem like just yesterday when they landed their first fish, all before turning three, and they’ve probably all landed more fish than dad since then.

Personally, I’ve found that the key to attracting and holding a child’s interest in fishing is repetition. Just taking a child fishing once doesn't mean they will immediately develop an interest. My goal is to provide my kids with enough time next to the water so they’ll enjoy angling to some degree over the course of their life, and balance it without ever having them complain, “Do we have to?”

They don’t need to become master anglers or ever land a legitimate whopper. For us, it's about fishing, spending time outdoors, having fun casting and retrieving, and most importantly, developing relationship and memories. There are so many side benefits to fishing.

Like many things in life, there are trade-offs. I'll gladly walk in their shoes for awhile if it means a chance to follow their footprints, exploring when fish aren’t biting or having their attention diverted by a frog, toad or turtle. It’s up to the adult to make sure the outing has an element of fun for the child, even if it’s not so fun for the adult.

Since all children are different, for both boys or girls you need to find out what their comfort level is when it comes to weather. One child might enjoy slopping around in the rain while another might hate it. The stereotype is that boys would be more into the slopping around, but that’s not always true. And sometimes I find myself mulling a bit too much over whether it’s too cold, hot, windy or even sunny, and my kids are a good reminder to focus on the fishing, not on the forecast.

As the kids grow older, fishing outings compete with the usual elements of school and activities. And with each outing, I try to emphasize the positives of fishing, even when it’s slow.

If fish are not on the bite and the attention span is waning, don't press your luck. Give yourself a cut-off and stick to it. And don't forget some sort of emergency diversion, like a butterfly net or maybe a magnifying glass to buy some time investigating the outdoors when the fish aren’t biting.

A teachable opportunity is that fish don’t always bite, and that’s really no different than the lesson that you don’t always win in baseball or soccer either. It’s more about the event than the ending.

My last thought is to end each trip on a positive note. For whatever reason, if you sense a lack of enjoyment or enthusiasm, maybe a side trip for a burger or ice cream can create an association with fishing that just might be enough to coax another trip, and another ... and another.