Teaching kids about fishing creates bonding experiences

Alabama Living Magazine

My dad always took part of his vacation during July to spend it fishing with his sons. With school out, this month offers an excellent time to introduce children to fishing.

As the youngest, I came along much later than my two brothers and older sister, so I spent considerable time with my dad hunting and fishing after the older three left the house. Dad always used to say, “You can either go fishing or take small children fishing, but you can’t do both at the same time. Decide what you are going to do and stick with it.”

By that, he meant that if adults want to go fishing, they should go with likeminded, skilled anglers and enjoy themselves. However, if they want to take young children fishing, they must make the day all about the youngsters. They might not catch as much, but they will certainly catch infinitely more important things. Great memories!

Many people today don’t understand this philosophy. They want to catch fish more than they want to take their children fishing. Dad would rather watch a child catch a tiny bluegill than for himself to land a state record. When I was young, he spent uncountable hours tying on and baiting hooks, untangling knots, unsnagging baits, etc. and never yelling at me. He seldom even picked up his own rod. 

A young angler concentrates on watching her bobber for a bite while fishing off a pier. When taking young children fishing, keep it simple and interesting. Photo by John N. Felsher

Taking young children fishing requires extreme patience. They will make mistakes. Don’t expect them to perform like master anglers. I’ve fished with many of the top professional anglers in the world. Even the best of them snag lures, backlash their reels, break rods and lose fish occasionally.

Instead of yelling, calmly teach children how to perform certain actions correctly. Don’t do everything for a child. Young sportsmen learn best by doing and even making their own mistakes. Just do what’s necessary to keep the child and others safe without breaking anything.

When teaching youngsters how to fish, keep it simple and fun. Fish for whatever bites. A young child doesn’t care what pulls on the line. A child will enjoy catching what many anglers consider an undesirable species or even a nuisance. Watch that child’s face light up when hooking a big one.

Start youngsters with an old cane pole or cheap child’s rod that won’t cost much to replace if – or should I say “when” – the child breaks or loses it. A worm or cricket dangling under a bobber waiting for a bluegill or catfish to take it down builds a foundation for that child to learn more advanced techniques.

In salt water, buy some shrimp and find a place where youngsters won’t need to do much casting. Thread a shrimp on a hook, tie on a sinker and drop it straight to the bottom. Don’t worry about chasing trophy speckled trout. Anything that bends a rod would excite young anglers. I’ve seen children battle 3-pound gafftopsail catfish with more enthusiasm than people fighting tuna weighing nearly 200 pounds.

Make it more than a fishing trip. Dad always tried to turn every outing into an adventure, as well as a teaching experience, even if we just walked along a ditch looking for frogs. He always took time to explain how everything connected in nature. Dad pointed out different birds or anything else we encountered. Even if fish were biting like crazy, he would pause to watch a mother otter swim with her babies or a hawk dive to catch its breakfast.

Children easily grow bored. Keep them active and involved in activities. Bring plenty of snacks and refreshments. Don’t stay out too long. If children want to do something else, let them do it as long as it’s safe. When they have had enough, go home.

Alabama manages 23 stocked public fishing lakes in 20 counties. These lakes vary in size from 13 to 184 acres. Most exist in a park-like setting where anglers can catch various species from bream to bass off the bank or in boats. At some lakes, people can rent boats and equipment. These lakes make outstanding places to teach children how to fish.

Fishing with small children isn’t about catching a limit of lunkers, but landing lasting memories. Spending that time takes effort, sacrifice, patience and frequently, frustration. However, a parent will never meet a better fishing companion than one crafted over time.ν

For information on Alabama public lakes, visit and click on “fishing,” then “public fishing lakes.”


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