I don’t have kids. I don’t even plan on having kids any time soon. That said, I’ve taken hundreds of kids fishing, and have picked the brains of parents who have successfully gotten their kids into the outdoors. Between these folks and a couple years under my belt fishing with children, I’ve picked up on some commonalities among the kids for which it “sticks.”
At the end of the day, every child is different, and sometimes despite their parents’ best efforts to make them an outdoorsy kid, they develop different interests and go a different route. But, you can stack the odds in your favor by putting in some dedicated effort. Here are a couple tips to keep in mind.
1. Fix problems or be willing to leave
Kids get uncomfortable pretty easily. I’ve fished with dozens of kids who got cold on a sunny summer day. Pair that with the need to get hands wet (something that even drives many adults off the water on cold days) and the possibility of falling in and flooding waders, and you’ve got a kid who might not want to fish for more than a half hour.
Things that might seem insignificant to adults also bother kids a lot more. I’ll often notice a small pebble in my boot and just wait until I take the waders off to remove it. Similarly, a small seam leak doesn’t bother me. I can handle a damp leg or foot for a few hours. For a child, though, you’re going to want to take care of issues like these ASAP.
Making a kid stay out when they’re miserable is a recipe for an unenthused angler. I do think there’s some merit to staying out slightly longer than a child is having fun, as I like to think it builds a little resilience. But, there’s a difference between letting a child be uncomfortable or bored for an hour, and making them stay out from dawn to dusk, miserable the whole time.
If you want to get kids into fishing, you need to be able to fix problems as they arise, or be willing to throw in the towel when it’s really just time to go home.
2. Bring food
Hunger is one of the few things that might trump the cold when it comes to children. Kids get hungry very frequently and also tend to get noticeably crankier until they fuel up (to be fair, so do I). On my recent podcast episode with Tim Hepworth, he mentioned that, often, if you forgot food, you might as well turn around and go home, because you won’t be out long anyway before battling your child’s hunger.
Snacks are a great solution. You don’t need to provide a giant lunch, something that may be a requirement for some adults. Small finger foods that the kids can sit on shore and enjoy are perfect. Crackers, nuts, fruit snacks, and the like will keep a child happy when spread out over the day. Of course, make sure you always have water available, too. Thirst doesn’t seem to come up as often as hunger when taking kids fishing, but you want to make sure they stay hydrated.
3. Let kids be kids
One of the biggest mistakes I’ve witnessed over the years is forcing a child to participate with you, and the way you’re fishing, the whole day. An image of a parent and child in an aluminum boat, watching bobbers for eight hours under a hot sun comes to mind. I’ve met more than one adult who flat-out says the reason they don’t like fishing is that their dad consistently made them sit in a boat all day as a child, while they mostly caught nothing.
Fortunately, the solution is easy, especially for wade anglers. Let your kid be a kid! Let them pick up rocks, play with bugs and salamanders and frogs, and splash in the water. Yes, sometimes this unrelated play might interfere with your fishing, especially if it’s happening right next to you. It’s just something you might have to deal with. Most kids I’ve taken fishing didn’t want to fish for more than about 30 minutes before needing a break. There are the rare ones who will go on for hours, and many kids will stay engaged indefinitely if they’re catching fish. Generally, though, they’ll need the freedom to explore, pretend, learn, and create in between casts.
4. Don’t overwhelm them
Over the years, I’ve met a few kids who had the fly fishing bug right off the bat. Not only did they want to dive right in, but casting came naturally to them and they could grasp the concept of a drift and a trout set. This isn’t the norm, though.
Most kids start off with a spin rod, dangling a worm under a bobber or retrieving a lure. This makes sense, since there’s a lot less to pay attention to with this style of fishing. If your child is the type who just has that special knack for fly fishing at a young age, that’s great, but don’t force them straight into it if they seem overwhelmed. Being overwhelmed or feeling like they’re making no progress (and, probably, not catching any fish) quickly leads to a distaste for the activity.
Start off easy. Even if your child does want to dive into fly fishing, start them with bluegills or easy, stocker trout. Let them catch fish. If they’re catching fish, and feel like they’re actually fishing (not just tagging along and reeling in when you hook one), they’re much more likely to stick with it.
5. Make it fun for everyone
Continuing with the theme above of letting kids actually do the fishing, make it known that you’re having fun spending time fishing with your kids. They don’t want to feel like they’re an inconvenience on your otherwise enjoyable day on the water.
This may mean sitting on the bank and chatting when they need a break, helping each other rig up, teaching them about the bugs and fish in your area, or cheering each other on. Whatever it is, show them that you’re genuinely happy to be spending time with them, and that you’re there together.
6. Let them create
A great way to get a kid interested in anything is to encourage them to create something around the activity. Even though many adults grow out of their artistic interests, most kids tend to love drawing, writing, and making things.
If you can’t get out fishing as often as you’d like to keep them interested, encourage them to use their off time to stay engaged with fishing. Of course, fly fishing has an obvious off-the-water counterpart: fly tying. Let your kids invent flies they think will work on their local river. Let them name them, and have them show you what they’re trying to imitate. Don’t make them follow a list of steps for the perfect Parachute Adams. Their flies will probably be pretty bad, but that’s okay! Take them out to your local bluegill pond, and they’ll probably catch something on their own flies, something they’ll absolutely love.
In addition to fly tying, they can draw their favorite fish, or write about their days fishing. A fishing journal is a great way to give them experience writing, while also teaching them to observe things in their surroundings while they’re out.
Again, it doesn’t matter the medium. Just let them create something unique and connect to fishing even when you can’t be on the water together.