Take time to teach a child the fun, recreation and life lessons of fishing
By Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission Staff (FWC)
Few memories stick out in our minds as clearly as catching our first fish, and who we were with when we caught it.
With three million acres of lakes and ponds, 12,000 miles of rivers and streams and more than 8,000 miles of coastline in Florida, you’re always close to good fishing in Florida. Here are some tips to make those fishing memories with your kids …
How to Get Started
The biggest thing to know about going fishing with kids is that it is about spending quality time together. Avoid putting pressure on yourself or the kid by expecting to catch lots of fish or especially big fish: Remember they call it fishing — not catching — for a reason. Patience is the key! Fishing provides a great time to learn more about your kid and just talk.
Here are some helpful suggestions to get the most out of your time fishing together:
- Be patient … very, very patient. Of all these suggestions, this one may be the most important. The goal of fishing — superseding even the actual catching of fish — is to have an enjoyable time. Unfortunately, anyone fishing for the first time can expect tangles, snags, and lost fish. Realize that these events are likely to occur – they happen to everyone — and take them in stride.
- Avoid negative criticism, don’t raise your voice and concentrate on covering a few basics while having a good time (and hopefully even landing some fish).
- Keep it simple. This principle runs a close second in importance. Even if your kid’s line is a bit too slack or his or her rod tip held a bit too low, avoid turning the first fishing trip into a two-hour list of “Dos” and “DON’Ts.” Once you have covered the basics, a good rule of thumb is this: Unless it’s something that will really prevent them from being able to catch a fish that day, don’t mention it. Some concepts can even be learned before the actual first trip, such as knot tying and casting techniques. The simplicity concept also applies to equipment and methods. Someone who has never wet a line before will do much better with a spincast or spinning rod and reel than with a baitcaster. Similarly, live bait makes for an easier start than does learning to work a complex lure. Remember—if that first trip is enjoyable, there will be plenty of future opportunities for instruction in the finer points!
- Make the kids comfy. While any outdoor sport often involves some minor hardships, do as much as you can to make your kid comfortable on that first trip. Remember the raincoats in case it sprinkles, bring a mid-morning snack or a picnic lunch as well as a comfortable lawn chair and a jug of iced tea or water.
- Catch fish. While there’s a great deal more to the pure enjoyment of angling than simply ending up with a fish on the line, most people associate fishing with catching fish! Instead of going after the glamorous but sometimes-elusive bass on the first outing, it might be better to seek the commoner and easier-to-catch sunfish. A beginner is also more likely to land a fish using live bait than with any other method. The king of live baits is the lowly worm, and it will catch not only the easier-to-find sunfish and catfish, but will attract any bass that happen to be nearby as well. That first fishing trip, however, is not too early to begin making your student aware of the other (and more important) pleasures to be had from this sport: the fresh air, the great outdoors, interesting wildlife, and good company.
- Avoid the “ick.” There’s no getting around the fact that fish (and certain baits) might be unpleasant to touch when one is not used to it. While any competent angler will eventually need to learn how to bait hooks and handle fish, these experiences can wait until later outings. If a newcomer is willing to do their own baiting and unhooking (after a proper demonstration or two), by all means allow him—or her—to do so. If not, show the correct procedures at least several times during the first trip. While live worms are hard to beat, cut hot dogs will work well on panfish and catfish and may be better starting bait for some individuals. Similarly, using barbless hooks makes unhooking fish much easier when the time comes, and wetting the hands prior to handling a fish will not only protect the fish but will keep the beginner’s hands from getting slimy as well.
- Introduce angler ethics. Younger beginners in particular are very impressionable, and fishing provides an ideal opportunity to teach responsibility and to reinforce the importance of good choices. Don’t introduce too many rules at once, but do take time to properly identify and measure fish and to address size and bag limits (and discuss the reasons behind them). The first fishing trip is also the time to begin instilling a respect for fellow creatures — whether released or kept for the frying pan—and the environment we share with them. Fishing is a sport in which very often no one else is watching, and behaviors learned here can have incredibly far-reaching implications for other aspects of life.
When to Go
Anytime that you can get away with your kids safely is a good time. However, as you gain experience you will see that some times are more likely to be productive than others. The following bullet points provide some basic fishing tips.
- Time of Day: For freshwater fishing especially, dawn and dusk tend to be more active feeding periods and also allow some escape from the heat. However, any time of day you can expect to catch fish, if you know where to find them and are patient.
- Weather Patterns: Many species of fish tend to fish actively just before a front passes through and then shut down somewhat during the sudden barometric changes associated with the storm front itself. If the front lasts for a prolonged period, after it passes can again bring enhanced fishing conditions. One good source of weather information is Wunderground.
- Spawning Cycles: Each fish species is prone to spawn at a certain time(s) of year. Part of this is programmed into their genes, but much of it is triggered by water temperature, lunar phase and their nutrition as well. For freshwater fishes, we have a chart that shows peak fishing seasons and shows their preferred spawning temperatures.
- Events: Youth programs: The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is working to create The Next Generation that Cares about conservation by getting kids and young adults outdoors and connected to nature through active, nature-based recreation, which studies show enhances children’s quality of life.
Fishing can be extremely simple and inexpensive and still provide great recreation and opportunities to have fun and spend quality time together. The most basic needs are a fishing line, a hook and some bait. The line can simply be wrapped around a can, but a basic cane pole with no reel is easier to handle and normally a better choice. For bank fishing with a cane pole and live bait (for example, crickets or worms), simple sinkers and a bobber are useful. Such a kit can be put together for less than $20. Other rod-and-reel options and suggested gear are listed below.
- Rod: The simplest fishing rod is a cane pole. It can be homemade or bought for a few dollars. In freshwater, a utilitarian rod is medium-weight, 6 to 6.5 feet long and designed to match the type of reel you want to use. For spincasting reels, a pistol grip with relatively evenly sized line guides on top. For an open-faced spinning reel, the guides will be underneath, and the rod should have larger line guides near the handle graduating out to smaller guides at the tip. For bait casting, the reel will go on top, the handle may be straight and the guides are pretty even in size. Mid-range rods are often sold as sets with reels attached, and, for the novice, this is a good way to ensure the rod, reel and line are properly matched. An inexpensive spincasting rod and reel combo can be purchased for about $20 that will last, or less expensive youth models can be bought for less than $10.
- Reel: Closed-faced spincasting reels are button-operated and mount on top of the rod. The enclosed fishing line is less likely to get tangled, making them an excellent choice for a kid’s first reel. Make sure the handle is reversible, especially if your child is left-handed. Bait-casting reels are the ones that have fishing line rolled on them more like a spool of thread and the spool spins to release the line. This is the next step up in most circumstances and requires a little more practice to become proficient. A fly-fishing reel simply holds the line, which is manually stripped off by the angler and the whipping motion of the fly rod is used to cast the lure.
- Fishing line: Various types exist, from basic monofilament to braided to new super polymers. For the most part you want to match the weight of the line to your rod and reel and to the end-tackle you’ll be using. For bream in freshwater, 4 to 8 pounds is good; for bass, 8 to 20 pounds; and, in saltwater, 8- to 50-pound test may be needed — around 12 would be good for redfish.
- Hooks: Hooks need to match the fish that you are seeking based on the size of the fish’s mouth. Sizes are a bit confusing they run from about 30 (the tiniest) to 1 and then start climbing from 1/0 to 12/0 (a big shark hook). A small bream hook is typically 10-6 (10 being smaller) and should have a relatively short shank. For freshwater bass, larger hooks (3/0 or 4/0) are very popular and typically have a slightly shorter shank. For saltwater trout and redfish, 2/0 or 3/0 would be good starting points.
- Bait: Whatever you use to attract a fish to bite your hook can be called bait, whether it’s alive, dead or man-made. For catfish, it might be chicken liver or a smelly ball of cheese or bread impregnated with scents. However, most people think of baits as being things such as crickets or worms for catfish and bream, or small fish such as minnows and shiners for bass, to bigger fish for going after large saltwater fish. How you handle the bait is important to keeping them alive, so that they’ll be active when hooked. Worms, for instance, need to be cool and moist, and fish need to have oxygenated water. Please don’t release any live bait alive when you are finished, since they can contribute to the spread of diseases.
- Lures: These are the man-made baits that come in an infinite variety of colors, sizes and shapes. A basic jig is good for most species, if properly sized. A jig is a hook with a heavy weight attached directly to it, around which a skirting or plastic lure or perhaps natural bait (for example, pork rind) might be attached. Bass anglers often use soft plastic baits, such as worms, crawfish or jerkbaits, and rig them to an offset hook with a sliding weight. Spoons are flat, metal lures shaped somewhat like the bowl of a spoon with a single embedded hook or trailing treble hook and are quite versatile. Plugs are typically wood or plastic with a cupped front face and lip that makes them dive to different depths. Spinners have a metal blade that twists as it goes through the water creating flash and noise. Poppers and flies are typically smaller and often used with fly-fishing or ultra light tackle. Some rules of thumb are bigger baits for darker waters or in heavier cover with gold or silver colors and smaller baits with dark colors such as grape in clearer waters. An important consideration is the hook size should match the fish you are after, and it needs to be of an appropriate weight for the rod/reel and fishing line you are using. For 2-4 pound test (ultra light) use a 1/64- to 1/16-ounce lure; for 6- to 8-pound test, use 1/32- to 1/8-ounce lures; for 10- to 14-pound test, you can go with a 1/8- to 3/8-ounce lure and medium action tackle. Experiment with your lure where you can see it to determine how to get the most action from the lure.
- Floats: Floats or bobbers are typically used with baits rather than lures. The float should be big enough to suspend the bait and sinkers without going more than halfway under water.
- Sinkers: Sinkers come in various shapes as well. In saltwater, large pyramid-shaped weights are useful in choppy surf. A bullet or cone-shaped weight is typically threaded over the line in front of soft plastic lures. A split shot is often placed above crickets or worms and below a float when fishing for bream or catfish.
- Sunscreen: In Florida sunscreen is essential. A 30 SPF waterproof sunscreen is a good choice. On the water, 45 SPF or more is probably safer. Get kids to start the habitat of applying sunscreen early.
- Sunglasses: Another very important item to bring and use to protect your eyes and enhance your vision through the water is a pair of sunglasses. Polarized lenses will significantly increase your ability to see fish and your bait through the glare on the surface of the water.
- Hats: As with sunscreen and sunglasses, hats are important for safety and comfort on a hot or rainy day.
- Insect repellant: You don’t want to ruin a great family outing because you need to leave early to avoid the bugs.
- Water: Carry plenty of fresh drinking water for everyone in your party. It is easy to get dehydrated in Florida’s sun.
- Pliers: Pliers or special hook removers are useful for extracting hooks from the fish’s mouth.
- First Aid Kit: When you’re with kids, it’s always good to have a few antiseptic wipes and Band-Aids along. Having some aspirin or medicine for sea sickness if you are going offshore is also useful.
- Snacks: Watching the fish eat up all your bait can be hungry business.
- Fishing regulations: The FWC is constantly evaluating the health of various fish populations and determining what anglers in particular communities want from their local fisheries. The FWC tries to keep the rules simple, but you should always check for the current management efforts and bring a copy of our regulations guides with you when possible. Remember: Teaching kids the “right way” from the beginning is an important part of getting them on the right track. .
- Camera: A kid’s first fish is a big deal. Make sure you get a photo.
- Tape measure: Having a tape measure is important to complying with the law, since there are size limits on many species of fish.
- Towels: It’s also useful to bring a few old towels, paper towels or wet naps with you. Fish have a “slime” layer that is very sensitive and helps protect them from infection.
- Rain Gear: Summer afternoons in Florida have a tendency to turn unexpectedly to rain, and, in winter boat rides can sometimes become chilly if the water splashes on you.
- License: It is easy and inexpensive to purchase a fishing license. A resident annual freshwater fishing license is $17, and a resident annual saltwater fishing license is also $17. Licenses can be purchased online at MyFWC.com/License, at retail agents such as sporting goods stores or other retailers that sell hunting or fishing equipment, by telephone at 888-FISH-FLOrida (347-4356) and at local Florida tax collector offices.