Ask yourself: do you want your kid to end up being the type of adult who thinks milk comes from the supermarket? Or that if they sink a line in the local pond they’ll reel in a box of Bird’s Eye fish fingers? We didn’t think so.
Fishing is almost a rite of passage for kids. Not only is it heaps of fun and a great way to spend quality time together, it helps them learn about the circle of life and how that relates to the food we eat.
Now, we’d be lying if we said fishing with your kidlets will be as easy as it is when you go by yourself. The reality is you’ll probably spend most of your time helping them cast, baiting hooks and untangling line. But fishing with your kids or grandchildren can be incredibly rewarding, and just as much fun as fishing alone or with your mates.
Focus on the kids, not the fishing
The fact of the matter is, you’re probably not going to catch as much when you take your kids along. This is especially true if they’re under primary school age. But don’t let this put you off. Remember – you’re going out there to teach your kids how to fish, not to bag a monster yourself. If they get bored and start splashing about in the shallows, try not to get all worked up about how they’re scaring all the fish away. Deep breaths people.
Besides, you want to make fishing an experience your kids enjoy, right? If you berate them every time they start getting squirmy, not only will they lose interest fairly quickly, all those happy family moments you’re trying to cultivate are going to be recalled fondly for all the wrong reasons. Hey, remember when Dad lost his sh*t at the lake, his head went purple and we cried so much that strangers kept asking if we needed help? LOL!!! Oh memories.
Sometimes it’s not just kids who need to exercise a little patience, and you know what they say about leading by example. Over time, kids learn that if they’re patient, they’ll catch more fish. So guide them in this direction but don’t worry if they don’t catch on straight away.
How old do they need to be?
If they’re old enough to stand and hold a rod, they’re old enough to fish. We’ve taken kids as young as two out for a fish. Granted, we didn’t catch a whole lot (though we didn’t always go home empty handed either) but it was still a lot of fun for all of us.
Bear in mind that if you’re taking tots along or kids that aren’t strong swimmers yet, you need to pay extra close attention to them around water. It’s all-too-easy to take your eye off them when you’re trying to untangle the bird’s nest of fishing line they’ve just created, and we don’t know about you but we’re not really keen on adding any more material to our future teenager’s arsenal of parenting faux pas. Hey, remember that time you took us fishing and I almost drowned?! Btw I need fifty bucks to get a neck tattoo.
Where can you take kids fishing?
Whether you prefer freshwater or saltwater, there are heaps of places you can take your kids fishing. The main features to look for are either railings (like on a jetty or fishing platform) or graduated banks. Kids like to get as close to the action as possible, so we’d suggest avoiding anywhere with a sudden drop-off where they could fall in if they lose their footing.
It’s also a good idea to choose a spot that’s relatively free of snags. While fishing close to structure might be a good tactic when you’re on your own if the kids keep getting snagged it’s just going to be frustrating for everyone.
Fishing off the beach is a great way to lure the littluns – although if it’s a surf beach you’ll probably need to help them cast out over the waves. Kids can leave their rods in a rod holder and then busy themselves building sandcastles and looking for shells until they get a bite. And if they decide to abandon the whole fishing thing altogether, guess what? You’re at the beach! It’s a fail-proof day out.
Jetties are excellent places for kids to have a go at casting on their own. The railings mean there’s little danger of your kid going over with the line, and they’re also less likely to get wet fishing from a jetty than say, a beach. Getting drenched and standing around on a cold day is definitely not going to score you too many good parenting points. Hey, remember when we went fishing and I caught pneumonia and was bedridden for three weeks?
Also, because there’s often just as much action (or more) directly below the jetty as there is further out, it’s not going to matter if those little arms can only cast a couple of metres out. When they do get that fish, your kids will feel especially triumphant knowing they did everything themselves.
Many lakes and dams in Australia are set up specifically with family fishing in mind, so if it’s your first time going with your kids, hitting up a lake is about as stress-free as it gets. There are often barbecues and playgrounds nearby and some have purpose-made fishing platforms to sweeten the deal.
If you’re in Victoria, check out our guide to the many stocked family fishing lakes around the state.
Choosing fishing gear for kids
A great way to get your kids keen on fishing before you even get to the water is to let them choose their own rod and reel. There’s a wide variety of small rods designed for children in bright, kid-friendly colours that are lightweight, easy for small hands to handle, and usually come in a combo with a spinning reel.
Many cheaper rod and reel combos come ready-spooled with line. However, it’s not a bad idea to spend a bit extra and get some quality line to replace this with as cheap line is often harder to cast and more prone to tangling.
If you’re looking to get some gear for yourself, check out our guide to fishing gear for beginners.
Bait or lure?
Fishing with frozen bait is a lot less confronting for kids than seeing a live animal (even if it is just a worm) wriggle around on a hook. Also, because frozen pilchards and squid are still identifiable as animals (as opposed to strips of mullet for example) they can be a great way to educate kids about the food chain.
Soft plastics are also a good option for younger anglers, provided they’re reasonably confident casting and retrieving, as they’re not smelly like bait and the kids can change up what they’re using (from grubs to minnows for example) if they get bored.
A word on hooks
The last thing anyone wants is a hook through the finger (or ear) and when kids get excited they’re likely to start waving the rod around with the hook flying everywhere. While there’s no sure-fire remedy for this, making sure the tip of the hook is embedded in the bait is one way to mitigate the chances of an injury. While this may make it harder to set the hook when you get a fish, at least you’re less likely to go home with a new piercing. That’s right, sweet child o’ mine, you’re not the only who can claim to be ‘scarred for life’.
When you get a fish on the line, let them reel it in. Nothing compares to the excitement of catching a fish and once they get a taste, any boredom they were feeling will be washed away. Be aware that some kids might struggle to use a reel with the weight of a fish on the end of the line so make sure you’re right there with them to help reel it in if needed.
Catch and release or dinner?
Always be respectful of the fish you’ve caught and make sure the kids are ready for what’s coming if you decide to take it home with you. (Pro tip: watching Finding Nemo in the lead-up = never a good idea.) A good way to gauge whether they’re ok with the fish being killed sent to fishy heaven is to ask ‘should we take this one home for dinner or put it back?’
If you decide to take it home, after you’ve established that it’s of a legal size, make sure you dispatch it quickly and humanely so the kids don’t have to watch the poor thing flapping around and slowly dying in the bucket. We’ll skip the italicised flash-forward and let that visual speak for itself.
While people under the age of 18 don’t need a fishing licence, remember that (depending which state you’re in) all the adults fishing may need one. It’s always a good idea to check out your department of agriculture and fisheries website for information about species, size and bag limits within your state. Hey, remember that time you were arrested for illegal fishing? Okay, okay, that would never happen. But you get the point.
Now grab your little nippers and get out there. The memories will be worth it – the good and the not-so-good!