The Importance of Taking Kids Fishing
by Joe Schmitt, Ph.D. Candidate, Virginia Tech Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation
Take a kid fishing, the future of the sport may depend on it!
Our digital culture
We live in a digital era. We are constantly distracted by thousands of TV channels, Netflix, video games, Facebook, and YouTube. Instead of playing backyard baseball or going fishing in a nearby creek, today’s children are constantly indoors, enslaved by their tablets, cell phones, computers, and PlayStations.
This trend toward a digital culture has serious consequences. Obesity, type II diabetes, and depression have reached epidemic levels in children and adolescents, driven by their inactive lifestyles. Many of us fondly remember simpler times, when the outdoors were part of our daily lives.
Fond memories of a simpler time
My dad introduced me to fishing when I was four, by taking me “worm ‘n bobber” fishing for bluegill. The action was non-stop, and I was immediately hooked. I even remember the first largemouth I caught without my dad’s help, a little 2-pound fish that smoked a 3-inch Sassy Shad right at my feet as I lifted the bait out of the water. It’s seemingly insignificant catches like these that can influence children to become lifelong anglers.
My passion continued to grow, and as a teenager I would grab my rod and walk to a local pond nearly every day after school. Whether I was tossing a Hula Popper during the warm months or hopping a jig-n-pig during the cooler months, I always seemed to manage a few largemouth, further fueling my love for fishing.
I truly believe that we all have an intrinsic desire to hunt, fish, and be in the outdoors, but someone needs to expose us to these activities at a young age.
Is fishing a dying sport?
Across the U.S., fishing and hunting license sales have declined in almost every state. It is a pattern which will have serious ramifications if it continues unchecked. The revenue generated is commonly used to protect threatened species, to enforce wildlife laws, and to stock fish.
In states where fishing license sales have stayed constant, surveys have revealed that fewer young people are going fishing. There are several dangers associated with these trends. First, fisheries management will suffer, and your favorite sport fish may no longer be stocked or protected from overharvest. Second, as future generations succumb to the digital age, we may lose ground to radical groups like PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), who openly claim that fishing is unethical and should be outlawed. Finally, there are obvious physical and mental ramifications for a generation that stays inside.
As youth abandon outdoor recreation, I suspect childhood depression and obesity will continue to increase. It is imperative that we teach our children how to fish, and that we make their first experience as memorable as possible.
A common misconception is that fishing is “boring”. Anyone who has experienced a musky explode on topwater or has felt the head shakes of a 90-pound catfish would argue that fishing is anything BUT boring.
I’ve had many experiences where my hand was shaking uncontrollably from the adrenaline of a big catch, but it’s hard to explain this excitement to a non-fisher. This is something that must be experienced firsthand. This is why I believe that it is crucial for a child’s first fishing experience to be action packed, but “trophy” fish are not necessary. Planning is key, and simple fishing tactics are usually best.
Keep it simple and be opportunistic
Given their attention span, quantity over quality is a good rule for youngsters. It is also good to be opportunistic. A good example of this occurred several years ago when I took a group of kids bluegill fishing at a friend’s pond in Oklahoma. The action was non-stop, and I went from kid to kid constantly unhooking bluegill, rebaiting hooks, fixing tangles, and casting. Just watching their eyes light up with excitement was one of the most rewarding things I’ve experienced.
About an hour into the adventure I noticed that the youngest boy had a bluegill hooked, but didn’t realize it. As the bluegill struggled against the float, a shadow emerged from the depths. In an instant, a 10-pound channel catfish inhaled the bluegill and immediately took off, nearly yanking the rod out of the boy’s hand. He shouted for help, but by the time I reached him the catfish had already spit the bluegill.
I recognized that this was the perfect opportunity to upgrade this fishing experience from “memorable” to “unforgettable”. Fortunately, I had a few heavy catfish rods in my truck, and I quickly grabbed one rigged with an 8/0 circle hook. I livelined a bluegill in the spot where we last saw the channel catfish. It only took about 10 seconds for the clicker to go off. I let the fish run for 30 seconds, handed the rod to the little boy, and told him to reel as fast as he possibly could.
The rod doubled over and the catfish immediately started thrashing around on the surface, and the little boy’s face lit up with wonder. With my help, he landed that 10-pound channel cat, and each kid ended up catching nice-sized channel catfish using the same tactic. To these kids these fish were “huge”, and I bet they still talk about that experience.
Planning that first trip
Any sunfish species is a great option for the first trip, as they are abundant, easy to catch, and put up a good fight for their size. Catfish also have several advantages. They are relatively simple to catch, grow large, and are abundant across the lower 48.
While trophy catfishing is challenging, a child’s first fish does not have to be a 50-pound cat; even a 5-pound catfish will seem huge to them. You can do all of the casting and rigging for them, and they can focus on reeling in the fish once that rod goes down.
If you live in an area where flatheads are plentiful, bring a few heavy rods while you fish for bluegill. Throw a few live baits out on heavy gear, and maybe a big cat will cruise by.
A few other things to consider when taking kids fishing are:
- Safety first. Always bring the appropriate safety gear like children’s life jackets, sunscreen, etc.
- Keep them comfortable. If it’s winter make sure they are dressed warmly. If it’s 35 degrees and blowing 30 mph, stay home.
- Bring plenty to eat and drink. A hungry child is a cranky child.
- Know when to throw in the towel. If you’ve been on the water for an hour or two and nothing is happening, go home. Children don’t have the drive, focus, or patience of adults.
Ultimately, you want your kids to be comfortable and have fun fishing. Hopefully you can create a magical experience that will transform them into lifelong anglers. Surveys show that fishing is slowly dying, particularly with younger generations. The best solution is to take kids fishing; the future of the sport depends on it!