By Nick Simonson
Mid-summer, with its relatively stable conditions, obliging fish of all species, and typically warm temperatures is the perfect time to get kids outdoors and on fish. Whether it’s bluegills in a farm pond, bullheads on the bank of a small river, or hungry pike on a spoon trolled on a lake, finding those fast-biting fish for willing young people is key in developing a new angler’s love of the outdoors. In order to help grow the sport and an appreciation for all of the fishing options in our area, the following tips will provide a good start to a lifetime of angling when introducing a kid to angling.
Keep It Simple
Young children don’t need to catch muskies, walleyes or bass to get hooked on angling. For me it began with bullheads on the Sheyenne River in southeastern North Dakota and bluegills from the dock in Detroit Lakes, Minn., with the occasional northern pike thrown in. These fish bit readily, were close by, made for a fast-sinking bobber and a solid tug at the end of my Zebco 202. A plain hook and splitshot and a coffee can full of nightcrawlers were all that was required for a fun diversion that blew away my short attention span.
The same goes for today’s kids. They can watch hours of shows anytime on Netflix at home or on a smartphone and have 23 different children’s channels on Dish TV and own more electronics and gadgets than I had when I was in college two decades ago. Shorter attention spans are the norm – so give them a target that keeps their interest. Bluegills and perch – really any panfish – are the best way to lengthen that timeframe. As long as there’s something going on and fish coming up, a young person’s interest is piqued. Know where to go for fast-biting fish and know the warning signs (rock throwing, disinterest, etc.) when things aren’t going well, which serve as a hint that maybe it’s time to pack the gear up early.
Keep It Accommodating
Try to time a fishing trip with good weather. The nicer it is, the longer the adventure will last. Mix in some cool and cloudy weather, rain or too much wind and the trip becomes more of a challenge and often results in a less positive experience. Target those days where the sun is shining and the conditions are enjoyable. Avoid buggy times, like dawn and dusk for young anglers, or slather on the spray to keep insects at bay. Have snacks, juice boxes and plenty to talk about between bites. Offer up new baits, like a leech or minnow instead of a crawler to show how different options work. Ultimately, realize that you’re the unpaid guide and your fishing time will be limited as you untangle lines, rebait hooks and keep kids on fish.
Keep it Hands-On
While it’s good to help out, there comes a time where young anglers learn to do it on their own. Let kids figure out how the bobber works, and that it doesn’t go down until fish bite, despite them reeling it in just to check it after an imagined bite. Let them handle the bait and see if they can spear a worm on their own hook, with supervision of course. Catch frogs, toads and other creatures streamside, and see how many species of animals – birds, insects, fish and more – that they can identify. All of these things add up to a fun experience in total, often with a lot of humor and learning going on along with it.
Keeping things fast-paced, comfortable and engaging will make each new experience in the outdoors positive for a young, beginning angler. Take these tips on the next trip to the water’s edge to help add to the ranks of sportsmen, and to the lives of others venturing into the outdoors.
Featured Photo: Panfish like perch from a pond with public access are a great summer target for young anglers. Simonson Photo.