Take a Kid Fishing!

by Mike Arakawa

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A boy with his first fishEver teach a child to fish? It's a rewarding (and often demanding) experience I would recommend to everyone. By sharing your favorite trout stream, and your skills and knowledge, with a new angler, you open them up to a lifetime of fishing enjoyment. I was lucky enough as a child to have several friends whose fathers never minded when I tagged along on fishing trips with them. We have all now passed that love of fishing on to the next generation of trout anglers, who in turn will teach their children about the sport they love.

Some important things to remember when you take a child, or anyone else, fishing for the first time:

  • Go someplace where youíll catch fish. This may seem pretty fundamental, but itís vitally important. If the kid catches fish, heíll be back to do it again. If he sits for five hours next to a lake in the hot sun and doesnít catch anything, he probably wonít. When I took my girlfriend's grandson, Austin, fishing for the first time, we went to a spot that Iíve fished for over 20 years, and within five minutes he had a trout in the net. He went on to catch his limit both days we fished. Is he ready to go on another trip with me? You bet he is.
  • Keep it simple. Fly fishing, or any other form of fishing where technique is key, probably isnít such a good choice for that first trip. On my younger brother's first fishing trip, we went down to the harbor at Dana Point, CA, and fished under a bridge there using frozen green peas. It was easy, and we caught a whole bunch of opaleye perch and had a blast.
  • Make the first fish special. When my brother Dan pulled his first fish out of the water, we put it in our bag with great ceremony so he could take it home and show Mom and Dad - all five or six inches of it. When Austin caught his first trout, I made sure his mother was handy with the camera to get a photo of him and his fish. I doubt Iíve ever seen another young man look quite as proud.

  • Use the right gear. On my trip last June, some friends of mine had brought along a couple of first-timers, but neglected to tell them what sort of equipment to bring. As a result, they were out there fishing the creek with rods that were better suited to light ocean fishing. They caught some trout, but they didnít have a very good time doing it. By the same token, using gear thatís too light for conditions or unsuited to a young anglerís skill level is usually a prescription for failure. Make sure theyíre properly equipped and everyone will have a better time.
  • Donít get too far outside your new anglerís comfort zone. The first fishing trip is going to be a learning experience. This means that you need to be available to give guidance and answer questions rather than leaving them alone while you go off and fish. Also, kids tend to be a little bit squeamish about touching and cleaning fish, handling bait, and so forth. While you want to eventually get them to be self-sufficient in the field, donít push it on the first trip. Forcing a child to do something that he finds distasteful will just make him not want to do it again. Fishing should be fun.
  • Be flexible. Kids have a shorter attention span than most adults. Be prepared to take breaks, engage in different outdoor activities, and otherwise keep your young angler from getting bored.
  • And teach ethics and set an example. Of course I believe in fishing legally, not exceeding possession limits, and so forth. I also believe in respecting the rights of other anglers and property owners, not taking more fish than I plan to eat regardless of the published limit, and not releasing fish that I know will die later due to being gill-hooked or played to exhaustion - among other things. Teach your children that ethical fishing and outdoorsmanship goes beyond simply obeying the law, and youíve given them the basis for a set of personal values anyone can be proud of. And remember - children learn by example in all things. Conduct yourself accordingly.

So there you have it - a few fundamentals that will help make that first fishing trip a success. Now get out there and catch some fish with your kids.

Mike Arakawa is the managing editor of StreamFisherman.net. This article originally appeared in a slightly different format on Mike's Fishing Blog.

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