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 also helps them learn about the circle of life and how that relates to the food we eat.
It’s probably not going to be as serene an experience as when you head out by yourself – you may well spend most of your time helping them cast, baiting hooks and untangling line. But fishing with your kids (or your 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. So if your offspring get bored and start splashing about in the shallows, don’t get all worked up about how they’re scaring all the fish away.
You want to make fishing an experience your kids enjoy, and want to keep doing. If you berate them every time they stop sitting perfectly still with rod in hand, they’re going to lose interest fairly quickly.
Over time, they’ll 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 – sometimes it’s not just the kids who need to exercise a little patience!
How old do they need to be?
If they’re old enough to stand and hold a rod, they’re old enough to fish. Personally, I started taking my son out when he was about two. 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 both of us.
Do bear in mind that if the kids you’re taking along are so young they are not 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!
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 often like to get as close to the action as possible so if there’s a sudden drop-off, they can fall in if they loose their footing.
It’s also a good idea to choose a spot that is 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 option, although if it’s a surf beach you will probably need to help them cast out over the waves. A beach provides a big open space they can play around in if they get bored. What’s more, they can leave their rods in a rod holder and entertain themselves building sandcastles and looking for shells until they get a bite.
Jetties are excellent places for kids to have a go at casting on their own. They have railings so there’s little danger of the kids going over and if the weather is cold they’re far less likely to get wet fishing from a jetty than a beach, for example.
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 they only cast a couple of metres out. And when they do get that fish, the reward for your kids will be all the sweeter knowing they did everything themselves.
Many lakes and dams in Australia are set up specifically with family fishing in mind. There are often barbecues and playgrounds nearby and some have purpose-made fishing platforms.
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 is 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 combo’s 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 are looking to get some gear for yourself, check out our guide to fishing gear for beginners.
Bait or lure?
Whether you want to steer clear of live bait or not is a personal decision. Personally, I thought it would send the wrong message to young kids so have opted to give it a miss for the time being.
Fishing with frozen bait is a lot less confronting for kids than see 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.
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. A good way to gauge whether they’re ok with the fish being killed is to ask ‘should 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.
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.