Tips For Fishing With Kids: Make a Lifetime of Memories

I learned how to fish by the time I could walk and I taught my kids to fish when they were very small. Introducing kids to fishing at an early age can be a fun family activity. We “fished” in the backyard by learning how to cast a rubber plug into a hula-hoop on the ground. They would play for hours dangling their feet off the back step, pretending to catch the Big One. The kids loved planning our upcoming fishing trip for weeks ahead of time.

Here's a few tips to make it a big success:

Get each child an inexpensive fishing rod that fits their size. There are lots of options like Spider Man or Barbie fishing gear. (The Big Outdoor Store will tell you to get gear to last a lifetime, but wait until they can take care of that equipment before emptying your wallet).

A small tackle box helps them plan on what they need to bring. It will give them hours of fun putting bobbers or small toys in the compartments of their box. (I bet you have “toys” or non-fishing items in your tackle box too). Best not to include hooks when they are small. Put the hook on once you are at the lake.

Teaching a kid to fish will bring lots of joy, but be prepared for “This is boring” or “I never catch anything” and other complaints. It never fails that one kid will be thrilled at the fishing adventure and another will be unimpressed. Understand that their attention span is short and they need to be catching fish or entertained in another way. Pulling a plastic boat on a string next to the boat may be a fun alternative or a few minnows in a bucket they can catch with their hands.

Dress the kids in layers over a swimsuit so that they can shed layers if it gets too warm or for a side trip near shore for a quick swim. One time my granddaughter insisted on wearing a red velvet dress to go fishing in 104-degree heat. She ended up in just her life jacket and underwear.

Pack snacks and drinks and wet wipes for cleanups. Be sure to bring sunscreen (put it on before you go), bug spray, fishing hat and sunglasses. A well fitting life jacket for each child must be worn for the entire time you are near the water. Bring a beach towel for each kid that can be used as a blanket, pillow, towel or tent. Consider fun ways the kids can play on the boat or near you if fishing from the shore.

Take along a long handled dip net to retrieve things that may go overboard. You may also have to retrieve a kid out of the lake. Remember they are “top heavy” and can easily fall in.

Teach kids to bait their own hook as soon as possible or use artificial lures. In advance of your trip, buy night crawlers, leeches or minnows for fun learning. They may be a little timid about handling the “bait” so letting them touch will help once you're actually fishing. Be prepared for sad faces when they see that you are “murdering the minnows.”
When my oldest son was about 3-1/2 I thought he might be afraid to touch leeches until I found him at the back of the bait shop armpit deep with both arms in a 5 gallon bucket of leeches. The bait shop owner was not laughing as hard as I was as I pulled off leeches dangling all down his arms.

Locate an area where kids can catch Bluegill rather than trying to locate Walleye or Bass. Remember it’s about the kids and fast action. The smaller fish will be manageable for the child and they won’t be scared. Even with a well thought out plan, excitement comes when a feeding northern pike grabs ahold of the Barbie line and the laughing turns to screaming and crying. The kid will be scared and excited all at the same time and your job is to give gentle direction and net the fish without actually cranking it in for the child.

You may need to take home some pretty small “keepers” this first trip. Clean them and have the kids watch, explain how good they are going to taste and thank them for providing supper.

All of this may seem like a lot of work, but your effort on the very first trip will pay off, as the kids quickly catch on to fishing and you will have years of memory making fun. Then the grandkids come along, and you do it all again and you thank God for the opportunity to fish with the kids.

For a list of great lakes, rivers and state parks to fish check out the Fishing page on the Southeast South Dakota tourism website -