That the next generation of fishermen and women are children is a given. How we teach them to fish, and whether they learn to respect and take care of the resource is the variable.
Think about those days when, as a child, you were excited to pack up and go fishing, the anticipation of reeling in a whopper literally coursing through your veins. You learned to bait the hook and maybe fumbled through a cast or two. And then, invariably, you learned the harder lesson about patience … whether waiting for the bobber to go down or untangling a knot.
That perspective of your first experience learning to fish should frame how you teach children to fish. Understanding the range of emotions, from elation to boredom will help you create a solid foundation to ignite a life-long interest in fishing. That means taking steps up front to minimize any frustrations. It may take a few tries, but often, once the first fish is hooked, so is the child.
Here are a few tips for a successful first outing:
1. Size matters
Buy a rod and reel that are sized to match your child. You don’t want some eight-foot pole he or she can’t hang onto. A closed reel may be best as it will help prevent small fingers from getting tangled in the line and the spool. It’s a good idea to bring a backup rod in case there is an oops!
2. Reel line
Put some braided line on the reel because it won’t tangle or break as easily as mono or fluorocarbon. The less time spent untangling and/or retying a knot, the more time spent fishing.
3. On the fly
If you plan to teach children to fly cast, it might be best to start with the basic spin/bait setup until they understand the fundamentals. Once they’ve got that, they may be ready to start practicing with a short, slow-action lightweight fly rod that will help them learn the rhythm. Start with only a few feet of line and let them experiment and ask questions. It’ll come in time.
4. Practice, practice
Do some lawn casting at the house before you leave so your child gets an idea of the motion. You can also spend some time demonstrating how to tie a knot and bait the hook. This is also a good time to go over some general safety ideas (Watch where the hook is at all times! Etc.) Once children are on the water, they may be too wound up to focus.
5. Choose wisely
The first fishing spot should encourage a hookup relatively easy and soon. That is, go to a spot that is well stocked, with fairly easy access so there isn’t too much time between getting/bolting out of the car and putting a line in the water. A good bluegill pond, for example. Also, don’t go to a place where you’re fishing shoulder to shoulder with someone else and where you won’t be contending with lots of bushes and trees. They’ll need room to cast.
Perhaps the biggest challenge for teachers and students alike is the attention factor. You want them to focus on the bobber or rod tip in case a fish bites. They want a fish to bite, but when a dragonfly whizzes by, odds are pretty good they’ll hone in on that. Gently remind them to keep an eye out for a strike. If they are starting to lose interest, and you can hook a fish, let them reel it in so they can feel some of the excitement.
7. Know when to say when
If they would be happier playing with rocks on the bank after trying to fish for awhile, either move to a new spot or let them play. They may view it as a negative experience if they get bored and are forced to fish when they really don’t want to. You can always try again on another day.
8. Patience, patience
Believe it or not, this will be almost as much of a learning experience for you as for your children. You will likely need more patience than you can imagine. Lost lures, knots, dropped worms. You name it. The key is to positively reinforce their attempt to learn to fish, and shake off the minor setbacks. If they sense any frustration on your part, they’re likely to pick up on it. Stay positive and encouraging.
9. Decisions, decisions
If your child does land a fish, talk about the consequences of keeping or releasing the fish, and that either choice is fine as long as your child understands those consequences. One approach to teaching the value of the resource is to suggest that if you keep the fish, your child (and you) should eat it so it won’t go to waste. If your child likes it, then there is a new experience! On the other hand, you may also tell your child that releasing the fish gives it a chance to grow, reproduce and perhaps return when it is bigger. Teaching your child the importance of this decision at an early age may simplify any questions they might have down the road.
10. End game
Throughout the process, be sure to stress that catching a fish isn’t the only goal and may not even happen. It is just as important to be outside, experiencing everything that’s in nature. That way, if you don’t catch any fish, you can talk about the birds you’ve seen, the raccoon tracks in the mud … whatever. If they feel they got something interesting out of the experience, even if they don’t hook up, they’ll likely want to do it again.