School’s Out… Time To Take a Kid Fishing
The author has two boys of his own and knows something about how to properly break a youngster into fishing.
Teaching a kid to fish is the best way to guarantee that you will be fondly remembered long after you are gone. Think back to your days as a youngster; chances are one of the people you remember the most spent some fun time with you in a boat, or maybe along the banks of a pond or river, teaching you how to cast, tie knots, bait hooks, handle fish and all the basic skills for a good day of fishing. My family still enjoys the tales that grew out of childhood fishing trips with parents, grandparents, uncles and cousins, brothers and sisters and plenty of others. Now we try to make sure my boys will have the same kind of experiences to make up their tall tales when they grow older.
Fishing for bream is one of the best ways to allow kids to have fun and catch a few fish. Whether your species of choice is bluegill, redbreast, shellcrackers, warmouth or ‘anything that bites, bream are usually numerous, cooperative, willing to bite a simple presentation, and they put up a good fight for their size. They also make great table fare, and bringing a few fish home for the table is a big thrill to most youngsters. Bass, stripers, hybrids, trout, redfish and other species are interesting to kids and will appeal to them more as they advance in age and fishing skills, but bream are the best choice for those early trips when kids really get hooked on fishing.
The summer months tend to be some of the best bream-fishing months of the year. Combine that with no school and long daylight hours, and it makes summer the prime time to take a kid fishing. I believe in the old saying that the two best times to fish are when it’s raining and when it ain’t, but obviously the best time to take kids fishing is when the weather is good. Short, local trips of a half day or less are often more fun for the kids and can be worked into almost any schedule as the days get longer and school lets out for the summer.
Bream can be caught on just about any type of equipment, but simple is usually better. No need for depth counters or reels with computer chips in this kind of fishing. Cane poles or fiberglass bream-buster poles are easy to use. Go for the lighter ones 10 feet or less in length for the smaller kids. The kids will have a hard time handling anything longer than 10 feet. My experience has been that kids like to cast when they go fishing, so we use small spincast outfits, from the Snoopy rods for the youngest anglers up to the more advanced Zebco 33 and other similar models for kids 6 to 10 years old and older. Kids who have some experience fishing, casting, and reeling can start to handle an open-face spinning outfit around eight to 10 years of age. Six- and 8-lb. test monofilament are the best choices for line, although 4-lb. test may get more bites in clear water. My kids and I have found the best all-around bream outfit to be a spincast or spinning reel on a 5 1/2-foot medium- or light-action rod. Start with a No. 4 or 6 size hook on the end of the line, pinch a small split-shot weight on 8 inches above it, and place a weighted float or bobber a couple of feet above that. The weighted bobbers have a small weight on the bottom of the bobber, which makes the whole rig much easier to cast and always makes the bobber stand up straight. Be sure to use smaller-size bobbers with this rig so the kids can detect light bites and small fish. Kids love to cast, so include in the tackle box some small artificial such as Beetle Spins, miniature topwater lures and small panfish crankbaits.
Teaching kids to fish is not always an easy task, but it should always be fun. Patience, creativity and a good sense of humor are required, along with a little bit of fishing know-how. Expensive boats, exotic locations and high-priced equipment are not required. Most of us in Georgia live within easy driving distance of dozens of good places to bream fish. Public and private ponds, neighborhood lakes, water-supply reservoirs and streams and rivers often have good bank access and a fishable population of bream. Well-managed private ponds often have superb bream fishing, as do the Public Fishing Areas managed by WRD. State Park lakes are another good choice. While many private pond owners will give permission for someone they know to take a kid fishing, always get permission first (before telling the kids you’re taking them), and respect any place you fish by not littering and obeying any regulations or landowner requests regarding limits. See the sidebar for more information on finding places to fish.
Remember that your idea of a good time and a good location may be different from what the kids might enjoy. Don’t go for a location that is tough to access or requires a 2-mile hike just because you might catch a few more fish. Catching fish is important, but the kids want to have fun and be comfortable, so keep that as the top priority when selecting a location.
In my former job as a Georgia WRD Fisheries Biologist, I organized and worked on dozens of kids fishing events over the years, and I have two boys of my own that I am still teaching to fish. In all that experience, I learned the following things that most kids from ages 2 to 12 will enjoy on any fishing trip:
Live bait and plastic worms: Whether it’s minnows, crickets, red worms, catalpa worms or watermelon-seed plastic worms, most kids like to play with things that wiggle. Try to take some along. You will catch more fish, and the kids will like playing with the bait almost as much as fishing. Make sure you have a good sturdy bait container or minnow bucket, or better yet, take two.
A small dip net: I recommend getting a couple of good sturdy ones to use for handling shad or other large baitfish. Kids can dip up small fish they catch on hook and line, or they can dip up the bait, frogs, small fish along the shore, bugs and anything else that interests them. It gives them a chance to learn about the animals and plants that live in or near water. A livewell, cooler or bucket where fish can be held alive for observation and inspection also comes in handy.
Catching fish: While my experience has been that kids don’t have to catch a lot of fish to have a good time, catching something sure helps. Bream will usually cooperate by biting live bait or small artificial and proving that there are some fish in the water.
Take along a fish-identification guide (WRD has a small pocket guide available) and you can teach the kids how to identify the species they catch. The most common sunfish species (collectively known as bream) in Georgia will be bluegill, shellcracker (also known as red-ear) and redbreast. Warmouth, green sunfish, spotted sunfish, longear and fliers are some others you may encounter.
Casting and reeling: Kids love to cast and reel. Always have at least one rod and reel rigged with a Beetle Spin, a small crankbait or some other artificial that can be easily cast and reeled in at a high rate of speed. Small topwater lures like a Tiny Torpedo or miniature chugger will sometimes catch big bream and bass to give the kids some real excitement. They are also fun for the kids to retrieve even when they don’t get bit.
Friends: Take a brother or sister, a cousin, a neighbor or a friend from church or school. The kids will keep each other entertained if the fish aren’t biting fast, and they will usually develop some healthy competition centered around catching fish. You also get to be the person who teaches two kids to fish instead of just one. While two kids are good, three inexperienced young anglers can be too many for one adult. It’s a good idea to have one adult for every two kids, particularly if they are under the age of 10. On the other hand, there are obvious advantages to a one-on-one fishing trip with a child, so plan those occasionally too.
Stories: Young kids love to hear stories about their parents or any of us ‘old folks’ when we were younger. Tell them about how you learned to fish, and the person or people who taught you. Tell them something about the lake or river where you are fishing, or just tell them a good fish tale. They will enjoy it and so will you.
Keep it simple and relaxed: Don’t try to spend the day practicing the latest tournament-winning technique for deep-structure bass fishing while Junior bakes in the back of the boat. In fact, you probably will not get to do much fishing at all. You can catch fish on another trip — make this one about the kids. Don’t get upset if they get hung or their line gets tangled, because it is going to happen. Let them try different things, have some play time, and enjoy the day. Turning over rocks in a stream, chasing frogs and minnows along a shoreline, or just running around in some open space near the water can make the trip successful for the kids.
Bring food and water: If the kids get thirsty or hungry, and you’re not prepared, the trip will get cut short. Also, a snack or two throughout the trip will keep kids entertained.
One of the great things about fishing is the variety of species, techniques, and locations that are possible. As kids grow older and their fishing skills advance, they will be interested in more advanced techniques and in catching other species, and there are plenty of great places in Georgia for fishing trips they will find interesting and fun.
Fishing for largemouth bass is often the next step after bream fishing for young anglers in Georgia. Bass fishing can be as simple as a topwater lure cast along a pond bank, or it can mean a whole new set of techniques, skills, lures and equipment that represent a lifetime learning process.
Stream fishing is always fun as the weather and the water warms up. If a warm-water stream is more than a few feet wide and reasonably healthy, chances are it has some fish that are big enough to be caught. While a 5-inch redbreast or horny head chub may not get your adrenaline pumping, the kids will have a blast. Small morsels of live bait bounced along the bottom or dropped into slow-moving pools in the stream will typically result in a nibble from some species of fish.
In north Georgia, trout fishing can provide some fun fishing in beautiful locations for slightly older kids.
Fishing from a boat opens up a whole new realm of fishing possibilities and fun, but be advised that the kids will want to “drive the boat.” That tends to be the most frequent request when the kids are in my boat. We have found that trolling crankbaits is a great way to fish the large reservoirs. It gives the kids a chance to hold the steering wheel, we are always moving, and depending on where we are, we might catch anything from a crappie to a walleye to a striper or a largemouth. If you haven’t tried trolling in a while, give it a chance the next time the kids are in the boat — you might be surprised at what you catch. Remember to have properly-sized PFDs available for all the kids and adults. Children, in particular, should always wear their PFDs while in the boat, so try to have some that are cool and comfortable.
Taking kids fishing is the single most important thing we can do for the future of our sport. It is not so important that every kid grow up to become an avid angler or even a regular angler, but it is important that they have positive experiences and exposure to fishing. My younger sisters were often included in my childhood fishing trips. Now that they are adults, they do not fish often, but they have a positive attitude toward fishing and they want their kids to have a chance to go fishing too.
This spring, take one or two of your own kids and have some fun on the water. Take someone else’s kids too, and go more than once.
Editor’s Note: Scott Robinson of Covington is a Certified Fisheries Scientist and President of the Georgia Chapter of the American Fisheries Society.
Finding Places to Go Fishing
The Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation operates the Take Me Fishing Web site www.takemefishing.org. The site has a great list of places to fish in Georgia, and it can be searched by zip code or region of the state. Click on “Places to Go” and then select Georgia to reach the state-specific list. You can also find fish ID guides, equipment suggestions, fishing tips, and conservation information on this easy-to-use Web site.
Georgia WRD’s Web site, www.gofishgeorgia.com has a Small Lakes Guide, a calendar of Kids Fishing Events statewide, Public Fishing Area information, license requirements and regulations and everything you need to know to plan a fishing trip. For more specific information about locations, check out the Northeast and Northwest Georgia Fishing Guides published by WRD, and the Southeast Georgia’s Bream Bonanza article on page 110 of the April GON.
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