Before having children, my wife and I spent just about every weekend exploring lakes and rivers by boat or canoe. Simply satisfying our angling habit had been demanding enough, but launching onto the stormy seas of parenthood created the sort of change and challenge that really rocked the boat. Thirteen-hour days on the water were suddenly no longer an option.

Even so, a young family doesn’t mean your rods and reels have to collect dust in the garage. Instil a passion for fishing in your young children and be rewarded with fun family excursions for years to come. Our girls are now in their mid-teens with infinitely more important distractions than fishing, but we still manage to spend time together on the water catching fish and having fun. As a parent, you can’t ask for much more than that. Create a life-long passion for fishing and nurture your angler from the cradle to the boat with these hard-earned pearls of advice.

Never Too Young 

Armed with a properly fitted PFD, a child is never too young to get out on the water. “I was about two years old when I started fishing with my dad,” says Gord Ellis, an outdoor writer, fisherman and father of two. “My boys were barely walking when they’d join us in the boat.” Ellis adds that they didn’t do much fishing at first, but being on the water became second nature to them and they get excited for each and every fishing trip now. 

A Rod of Their Own

A small spinning reel and three-foot rod is a great starter unit. Stay away from commercial kids-specific rod and reel combos that are more flash than function, can be frustrating to use and prone to breaking. Hand-me-down spinning reels paired with ice fishing rods were a solution for my girls. Like me, you’ll learn the hard way that pre-schoolers often simply let go of their fishing rods when they’re distracted. During the early stages of rod wielding, tying a string from the boat to the rod is a wise precaution. Ellis notes that his kids had a better experience with higher-quality gear and recognized quality early on. “By age six the boys started eyeing up my best jigging rods,” he says. Not until you’re older, Junior!

Choose Your Weapon

Like most adults, I was reluctant to let my daughters choose their own lures because I felt more qualified to select a presentation that would help them catch fish. I was quickly cured of this conceit when my three-year-old insisted on hooking her jig with the strangest looking soft plastic bait in my tackle box. While my wife and I used live minnows, my daughter worked a monstrosity called a “twin tailed skirted grub.” After she caught three walleye to our zero, I vowed never to doubt my daughters’ angling instincts. I still make general suggestions but I open my tackle box and let my girls choose their own lures. Often, I’m surprised and enlightened as to what works. 

Fish Where There’s Fish, Dummy

Children like catching fish more than fishing so go for the sure thing whenever possible. While hard-core anglers enjoy the search, youngsters are much happier casting off a point or into a pool at the base of rapids and experiencing instant gratification. Appreciating the subtleties of finding fish in challenging waters comes later.

Warm and Dry

Weather often doesn’t cooperate and an uncomfortable kid will not be receptive to the joys of angling. On the flipside, kids are surprisingly ambivalent to foul weather when they’re prepared for it. First on the list for angler Jamie Robinson is warm clothing and quality raingear for his son and daughter. 

“Thinking back, I’m surprised at some of the miserable weather we’ve been out in,” he says adding that when the kids are warm and dry there’s no complaining. Living in Northern Ontario, Robinson errs on the side of caution for his excursions, packing hats, mittens and warm jackets even in summer. “It’s nothing to see us in July in snow suits in the boat,” he jokes.

Bring Distractions

Even at the best fishing spots the bite is not always on and “I’m bored” can become an unpleasant soundtrack for the day. Robinson always brings snacks and books to occupy his kids during slow periods in the boat but draws the line at video games and electronics—kids get enough of that at home. It’s easier to keep excitable children entertained while fishing from shore than within the cramped quarters of a canoe as more distractions are at hand. For my girls, hot weather equals swimming, even if the fish are biting. Often, I’m pleasantly surprised that the walleye continue to bite in spite of the shrieking and thrashing limbs.

Pull Their Weight

While it’s tempting for parents to do everything ourselves, when kids assist with the duties that surround the trip they have an investment in the outing. As pre-schoolers, my daughters would pack their own snacks and help catch minnows and leeches for bait. Their experience has evolved to the point that my oldest can now back the boat and trailer into the water for me and my youngest can clean and fillet fish. Not only has involving them made them feel like an integral part of the adventure, but now they’re confident, capable and a big help.

Go One on One

With the whole family on board, a small craft can get cramped and hectic. The one-child-to-one-parent dynamic provides a great learning environment for kids and more time with a line in the water for parents. Young anglers love the undivided attention and mom or dad will have fewer snags and tangles to deal with. One-on-one provides the perfect opportunity to teach essentials like safe casting practices. Hint: Kids should always announce their casts. 

Learn When to Pull the Plug

Don’t let children push you around with early requests to leave but learn to recognise when your child has had enough. Better to have a shortened day on the water than imprint a bad experience. Whenever we couldn’t convince our daughters that boating and fishing was the most fun they could be having, we would head to shore, consistent with our pledge never to force fishing. 

While nurturing young anglers takes adaptation and even sacrifice, for parents who love angling and the outdoors, the investment is worthwhile, to be repaid with years of rewarding family adventures. 

An avid angler and camper, James Smedley’s life revolves around the outdoors. He has earned more than 30 U.S. and Canadian national awards for writing and photography.

This article was originally published in the Early Summer 2013 issue of CanoerootsThis article first appeared in the Early Summer 2013 issue of Canoeroots Magazine.



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