PART 1 - Planning The Expedition:
When you take a kid fishing, be prepared for one thing: communication. It^s a great opportunity to listen and communicate with your youngster, and it will be an experience you^ll both treasure for a lifetime. It^s a chance to talk about nature, his or her school, their friends, things they like or dislike . . . you^ve got the idea . . . plus its building a foundation that will keep that youngster focused on this great American sport for many years to come. Make it the most pleasurable outing you can imagine for the youngster.
Don^t try to prove to them that you are a great angler, who catches big fish all the time. Emphasize that fishing is purely fun, catching is a bonus! And it doesn^t matter that the fish may be small ones. All the kid really wants is to catch something! This is the best time to begin instilling good conservation habits in your budding new angler by teaching them about "catch and release" and returning the fish carefully to the water. Or, if the fish are to be kept, keep just enough for dinner.
Plan your trip to some place that^s easily accessible and that is sure to produce some catching . . . a city park pond stocked with trout or panfish, a fishing pier, or even a pay-per-catch pond or lake that^s heavily stocked. If you^re totally in doubt as to where to go fishing, call your local state game and fish department offices. Explain to them your desire to introduce your youngster to the sport of fishing. They should be more than happy to point you in the right direction.
"My first fish was caught off an ocean pier, at age 4," says Gordon Holland, co-founder of the Hooked on Fishing International. "I don^t remember too many details about the trip now, but it was a great experience and I^ve been hooked ever since."
When you plan that first trip for a youngster, it^s very important to make it a short, but exciting adventure. A child^s span of attention can be fleeting, so make it only a two or three hour outing . . . long enough to catch some fish, but not long enough for the child to become bored.. Usually a morning trip is preferable. The fish bite better and the kids have more fun. Try to pick a sunny day with moderate temperatures . . . and don^t forget to take along some sunscreen!
Remember, catching is the key. Target your outing for the easiest-to-catch species . . . bluegill, crappie, planted trout, etc. Don^t expect that youngster to enjoy sitting there trying to catch a bass on a plastic worm. A bunch of worms or nightcrawlers, or the numerous prepared trout floating baits are the answer to productive fishing for the smaller species. Most any fish will hit these live baits, and there^s nothing more exciting to a child than having something tug on his or her fishing line, and feel that vibration of the fishing rod, or to just see the bobber disappear underwater from the efforts of a feisty sunfish. Herein lies the magic of your child^s first fishing experience!
Speaking of memories . . . don^t forget your camera. The pictures you will take on this day will likely become priceless mementos. If at all possible, try to get a couple of shots of the two of you together.
And, when next season comes around, be sure to sign up that youngster in one of the more than 1,100 Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World and Tracker Marine Kids All-American Fishing Derby events sponsored nationwide, in all 50 states, by Hooked on Fishing International, and staged by local clubs and organizations, state and federal agencies or parks and recreation departments.
PART 2 - The Journey:
Taking a youngster fishing can be one of the most rewarding days you will ever spend. The success and the quality of "the journey" will depend on many factors, some over which you have control, and some not. Let^s talk about the controllable factors . . . things you can or should buy to make your fishing outing more successful. The people at the Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World and Tracker Marine Kids All-American Fishing Derby program have some recommendations, based on years of experience with youngsters.
Tackle — Choose a reel and rod combination that fits your youngster^s hands. Try it on for size first. The rod should be the same or close to the same length as your child^s height. This may sound fussy but, if there^s a choice, let^s do it right. Choosing the proper tackle is very important.
Zebco manufactures plenty of youth-size fishing outfits, made specifically for a youngster^s hands, and besides that, they carry the names of some of the most popular cartoon characters. What kid could ask for more! These outfits come ready to fish with reel, rod, line in the correct pound test and even a casting plug that^s great for backyard pre-trip casting lessons.
Terminal tackle — That^s what the pros call it. It consists of hooks and sinkers . . . the stuff that^s at the end of the line. If you^re in doubt as to what you need for where you^re going to fish, pay a visit to a nearby bait and tackle shop or sporting goods store. They^ll be eager to assist. Remember that the hooks are sharp, however, so it^s a good idea to have adult supervision.
Personally, we^re big on bobbers. Buy a handful of bobbers, the round ones, red and white, of course. Bobbers are great fun for kids, especially in freshwater. Youngsters love to watch them and they make it easy to detect a fish^s nibble. Bobbers are made to be used in non-moving water situations, like a lake or pond, not particularly a stream or river. Put the bobber approximately two to three feet above the bait and sit back and watch. The colorful action is almost hypnotic.
It would also be really good for you to get the youngster his or her own little tackle box. They love to organize it and study all the items. Tackle boxes, like the reel and rod combos, come in bright colors, are small to fit a youngster^s hands and, of course, come complete with cartoon characters on them.
The next item on the journey list will make some of you laugh, but it works. Take along a coffee can or non-breakable container and a small minnow dip-net. All kids love to collect things along the water^s edge and maybe bring home a few samples for the home aquarium.
The fishing trip is going to require bait. According to Ron Gentzen, co-founder of Hooked On Fishing International, "Worms are the most popular bait at the over 1,100 annual Bass Pro Shops and Tracker Marine Kids All-American Fishing Derby events." Worms work! What a great slogan . . . sounds like public relations campaign by the national worm advisory coalition. But it^s true, they do work. They catch almost all fish in almost all situations. Worms are really not too difficult to put on a hook. Every primer on fishing will show you illustrations of at least three time-tested methods of putting a worm on a hook.
"Another sure-fire bait, number two in the overall bait preference survey," continued Gentzen, "is the minnow." For this you^ll need a minnow bucket and a stop at your local bait and tackle shop. That small dip net will come in handy again here.
Other important items to take along on your "journey" are insect repellent, a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen lotion, and the most single important item: snacks! Something about fresh air, the great outdoors and the adventure of fishing makes kids hungry and thirsty.
"I^ve seen kids at the derbies eating hot dogs and drinking soda pop at 7:30 a.m. Throw in a doughnut and they^re really happy," said Gentzen. Pack along a small ice chest with juice, water or soft drinks, along with a sack full of snacks. Or, you can begin a memorable tradition of going out for breakfast on your way, or stopping for a special lunch at the conclusion of your outing! It all adds something to the excitement of the trip.
PART 3 - The Results:
You^re all set to go. You have the tackle, you^ve got the snacks, and you^re about to depart on one of the greatest adventures you and your child will ever enjoy together. It^s called bonding at its best. It^s called fishing.
Be prepared to enjoy the sounds of nature, fresh air, and maybe catch a fish, too. But most importantly, it will be the sounds of you and your child talking to each other and enjoying each other^s company and the great outdoors. But as with all wonderful experiences, there are also lessons to be taught and learned.
Let^s start with water safety. Always, we repeat, always have your youngster wear a life jacket near the water. The next best idea is swimming lessons. This is a must if you live near any type of body of water or plan to take your child fishing or engage in any type of water-related activity. Swimming lessons should be high on your list of priorities. Lessons are usually available for a minimum charge through your local YMCA or parks and recreation department. The lessons will make your fishing experience more fun because you and your youngster will feel safer.
While we^re on the subject of water safety, be sure to pick a fishing site that is not only comfortable for fishing, but is safe. Pick a bank with no loose gravel or slippery mud that might cause a youngster to slide off into the water. Another little tip . . . should your child slide into the water, a fishing rod can be used as an object to grab hold of.
Safety can^t be stressed enough when it comes to handling hooks. Until the youngster becomes adept to the ways of fishing, it might be a good idea to let the adult handle baiting the hook. A little casting practice can also help assure that the hook lands in the proper place. Most junior-sized fishing reel and rod combinations, such as the Zebco Snoopy or Mickey Mouse models, come with a practice casting plug. Good news . . . no hook! Your youngster can practice in the backyard, if you lock up the dog. Or you can take the youngster to a park with a large open area, with no trees or power lines to interfere. Take along a small bucket or box for them to aim at. The Bass Pro Shops and Tracker Marine Kids All-American Fishing Derby program annually conducts the Zebco Kids Casting Contest as part of the overall derby event, so they can practice for next year^s entry into a local derby near your hometown.
"We^ve seen thousands of youngsters cast," said Gordon Holland, co-founder of Hooked On Fishing International which provides instruction and supplies for setting up the local derbies. "Distance is hardly ever a problem when kids cast, nor is shanking it right or left. The major problem seems to be too much height. That^s why we recommend that they practice in an open area with no obstructions," said Holland. "Encourage your youngster to practice. You^ll be surprised how very quickly their skill will develop and how much more they will enjoy the actual fishing experience when they can cast out the line by themselves."
Okay, now you^re at the water^s edge. You^ve found that perfect spot, the hooks baited, the cast is made and, oh, my, they^ve got a fish on the line and they^ve landed it! Now what? The next discussion area is what to do with the fish. You basically have two choices: save the fish for dinner, or practice catch and release. Most kids usually want to eat at least some of the fish they^ve caught. Frying the fish in a simple seasoned cornmeal coating works just fine, thank you. Don^t over-engineer it. If you are going to keep some fish to eat, keep them cool or on ice, especially in the heat of the summer. In other seasons, when the water temperature is cooler, a fish basket or stringer works fine for keeping the fish fresh.
The second choice and most often the wisest, is "catch and release." Carefully remove the hook from the fish^s mouth and gently lower the fish into the water. Try not to handle the fish too much or their protective coating will be disturbed. The lesson you want to teach the child here is that letting the fish go will give it the chance to grow bigger and reproduce and thereby preserve a wonderful resource.
In the past articles in this 3-part series, we have briefly touched on a handful of helpful topics that should add to the enjoyment and safety of a fishing trip with your youngster. Please remember a couple of things in closing: plan for safety, keep the trip short and simple, and don^t forget the snacks. And last but not least, don^t forget the camera. You are going to have the time of your life, and it needs to be recorded on film! Remember . . . you^re building a foundation for your future fishing partner. Do it right, and have fun!
And, when next season comes around, be sure to sign up your child in one of the more than 1,100 Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World and Tracker Marine Kids All-American Fishing Derby events sponsored nationwide, in all 50 states, by Hooked On Fishing International. These events are staged by local clubs and organizations, state and federal agencies or parks and recreation departments, following a program designed by HOFI.