Taking a kid fishing? Pack snacks, put life in the live well, and don’t get distracted staring at your electronics. Above all, allow your lil’ tykes to “determine the experience,” advises Rapala Pro-Staffer Joel Nelson, father to two spirited young sons.
“I struggled mightily with it at first, but I’ve learned a lot in the last couple years,” he says.
For Nelson, letting his kids determine the experience can mean exploring near the landing before even launching his boat. “It might be an hour and a half of walking through the woods looking for grubs and night crawlers, checking out frogs, looking for turtles and finding coon skulls or some crazy stuff,” he says.
Once on the water, Nelson advises, start the kids casting right away if they’re old enough.
“If it were just you out there, you’d probably spend a lot of time looking at your electronics, driving around looking for fish,” Nelson says. “But that kind of stuff to kids is pretty boring. But if they get to cast, even if it’s not productive, that’s an active thing they can be doing.”
Younger kids are often engaged and entertained by minnows. “Consider buying live bait and putting it in the livewell,” Nelson suggests. “Kids love fish in the livewell — even baitfish. They want to touch them, interact with them. It spurs discussion and keeps up their interest level.”
Another option is boxing the first keeper boated. “Kids enjoy peeking into the livewell throughout the day and checking on that fish,” Nelson says. “Even if you don’t catch a ton of fish, if they can keep busy casting and looking in on that one in the live well, you can usually keep them engaged a good part of the day.”
To help ensure at least a few bites, do a little research to find a “numbers lake.” If you have the time, pre-fish it to key in on a “numbers” pattern.
“The hardest part about fishing with kids is getting those first bites and getting their attention,” Nelson says. “Spending half a day figuring out a pattern is not the kind of thing they have the tolerance or patience for. If you can scout out the lake a day in advance, or even hours before, do it.”
Even if you own a boat, you might consider fishing from a dock or shore. “My kids love it, because then they are in control of being able to walk around, drop the rod, run around, chase each other or whatever,” Nelson says. “A boat can seem like a jail cell sometimes to kids — can’t touch this, can do that, can’t run around.”
And the biggest tip?
“Snacks, snacks, snacks!” Nelson says. “You need to ration them though, because if you burn through all your snacks quick, it can mean your day of fishing is over pretty fast.”
That being said, letting your kids determine the experience includes allowing them to pull the plug on the day, even if you’d planned on staying out longer. “The last thing you want to do is keep them out on the water if they’re miserable,” Nelson says.
“I’ve been on fishing excursions with my boys that take 45 minutes to drive to and then we fish for less than a half hour and then we go home. It’s all part of the gig.”