I carried my kids in a backpack carrier while wade-fishing the Monocacy River. They could flip a bail before they could speak. You might think that girding them toward my favorite pastime would make my boys naturals, but the truth is they didn’t take to fishing at first and I came dangerously close to burning them out.
Of course, I’m not the only parent guilty of going overboard. My overly enthusiastic support group includes Kayak Angler editor Ric Burnley, Jackson Kayak’s pro staffer Chris Funk and Rapid Media publisher Scott MacGregor.
All our kids are accomplished anglers. They love fishing. But it wasn’t always that way. What made the difference? We had to learn to fish like kids.
Photo: Scott MacGregor
Back to Roots
My boys, Cooper and Sawyer, are five and six. Even though it goes against my nature as a bass angler, worm and bobber fishing is something I wish I tried sooner with them. A thousand casts for a trophy smallie doesn’t cut it with kids. Most newbie anglers need instant gratification.
Ric Burnley learned that early with his 12-yearold daughter, Daria. “She likes to use the jigs and plugs I’m using,” he says, “but I always keep a two-hook bottomrig ready with some artificial cut bait for boredom emergencies.”
Scott MacGregor had the opposite problem with six-year-old Kate and Doug, eight. “After five minutes of bobber fishing, they’re like ‘We’re bored, can we cast?’” He admits that casting didn’t mean fishing, it just meant casting. “There was a time when we didn’t spend much time with bait in the water,” he laughs.
As my kids grew as anglers, they wanted to try the lures and techniques Dad uses. I chose simple rigs, like a drop shot, that allowed the fish to hook itself. For my boys, spinnerbaits or buzzbaits retrieved at a constant speed get snagged less often than other lures and help them practice the mechanics of casting. Save finesse techniques for when the kids are older. Chris Funk’s 15-year-old son, Ethan, is an accomplished angler with spin and fly gear, but he still enjoys a day fishing for northern gar. “It’s as easy as falling off a log and energizes Ethan for hard days on the water chasing more elusive species,” says Funk.
Photo: Jeff Little
Plan B and C
Last summer, in the middle of an eight-mile float trip, I lost it. The kids were at each other’s throats. To save the trip, and my legacy, I paddled the last three miles, past prime fishing, to the campground and a game of miniature golf. Now I always have a plan B ready. Flipping rocks for crawfish, identifying plants and bird watching have saved many fishing trips. Swimming is a favorite that doesn’t lose its allure as kids get older and bringing along a scuba mask heightens the fun. For the older crowd, practice re-entries, advises Funk.
The way to an angler’s heart is through his stomach, no matter his age. Pack a variety of junk food, fresh fruit and vegetables. Bring along special treats, like a favorite candy or granola bar, that are reserved for fishing trips. Some days, when the fish aren’t biting and the alternate activities don’t pan out, snacks save the day.
Mountains out of Molehills
When your son or daughter catches a fish, you are going to freak out—everyone does. But make sure you keep them going with some constructive praise along the way. Comments like, “That cast was a lot farther than the last one!” or “Nice job flipping that bail right away!” go a long way toward keeping kids motivated. Don’t worry about patronizing them. They will let you know when you’ve crossed that line, and you’ll be surprised at what doesn’t.
Photo: Scott MacGregor
Let the Kids Drive
It’s human nature to want to call all the shots. Little humans are no different. As a former guide, I struggled with giving up control. A great deal of conflict and tension dissolved when I gave my kids options: “Do you want to start out fishing that cove over there or do you want to hit the points first?” It’s an easy way to get buy-in.
MacGregor takes it a step further. “Doug and Kate each have a tackle box,” he says. “Doug organizes his by target species, Kate by color.” Be careful when letting younger kids decide which lures to use, he adds. Treble hooks are a privilege that is earned with responsible casting. For example, pull out a spinnerbait and a Texas-rigged senko and let them pick. Limit options to what will work and what is safe.
Teaching kids to fish out of a kayak will test the strongest parent. Sometimes the toughest lessons should be outsourced. “When I was teaching Ethan to fly cast, he would not follow my instructions,” Funk recalls, “I was about to lose it when a friend stepped in.” Accomplished caster Henry Jackson took over instruction and Ethan responded immediately. “Henry told him the same thing I was saying,” Funk laughs and shakes his head, “Ethan just didn’t want to listen to me.”
Make sure the success is about the kids. I still struggle with this. I fish hard. When the fish don’t bite, I fish harder. This doesn’t fly with kids. I learned what they like by listening to their stories on the way home. Figure out what interests your kids and put them in a position to experience more of it.
Photo: Martin Lortz
Taking your kid kayak fishing evokes feelings of pride, satisfaction and excitement. But watching your kid drift dangerously close to the rocks, get caught in a rapid or stick a treble hook into his finger evokes a state of guilt and terror. “Crush all the barbs on your hooks,” MacGregor stresses, “and have the kids announce a warning before casting.” Only paddle as far from the launch as you can tow your kid back, adds Burnley.
For all the patience, effort and stress involved, the payoff is pretty incredible—time spent together, a shared passion and memories that will last a lifetime. The high of your own milestone catches are nothing compared to watching your kids reach the same accomplishments. With a lot of patience and a little love, you, too, can turn your kid into your best fishing buddy. And, if you’re lucky, one day your kids will be untangling your lines and taking the fish off your hook.
Jeff Little is outfished by his two sons, six-year-old Sawyer and five-year-old Cooper, on many mid-Atlantic rivers. Videos of the humiliation can be found on YouTube Channel KayakBassFishing.
This article originally appeared on page 58 of the Spring 2013 edition of Kayak Angler Magazine.