In South Florida, we are lucky to have access to many fishing options. From the urban canal and lake systems to the Gulf Stream just off our beach, there are plenty of opportunities to get a kid hooked on fishing. Not only can fishing put smiles on young faces, but our sport can teach patience, plenty of everyday life lessons and influence the future of impressionable minds. Fishing also provides an avenue for young children to develop hand-eye coordination, motor skills, confidence and self esteem that they will carry with them for a lifetime. Most importantly, fishing is a great way to have fun and make lasting memories with your children.
When introducing your child to fishing, it’s very important to remember that they have short attention spans and you’ll want to keep them interested. You won’t want their first trip to be a full day of offshore trolling as they will likely get bored quickly. Instead, take them to a spot where they will almost certainly catch a fish in the first few minutes. Urban canals and lakes are a great place to start. They are loaded with small fish like bluegill, bream, small bass and cichlids. Local saltwater canals can be accessed from seawalls and will produce pinfish, grunts and small snappers. You don’t need an expensive rod and reel. You can find everything that you will need at your local Wal Mart. Rig a small push button outfit with a small hook and bring along some live worms for freshwater or frozen shrimp for saltwater. Make sure to use a bobber so they can get a visual of when they are getting a bite. Once they catch a fish, let them know they did a great job. Positive reinforcement is key to hooking them for life. After a few successful outings, your child will be asking you when the next fishing trip is.
Once your child starts showing a real interest in fishing, don’t be afraid to ask for help with taking their fishing to the next level. Talk with the folks at your local tackle shop or ask a local guide for pointers. Among adults, it’s well known that fishing spots and techniques can be closely guarded as top secret, but throw a kid in the mix and most of those walls will come crashing down. There are also plenty of online resources to learn about fish identification, knot tying and techniques to catch various different species. Many boat shows offer kids fishing clinics. Captain Don Dingman runs the Hook the Future Foundation and puts on a wonderful clinic for kids between five and sixteen years old. Hook the Future will be at the 2017 Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show on November 4th and 5th with two clinics each day.
Now that your little fisherman has learned the very basics of fishing, it’s a good time to begin teaching responsibility. Don’t overload them with all of the rules and regulations at once, but talk to them about size and bag limits of the species that you are fishing for. Show them how to handle the fish correctly and use the opportunity to explain proper catch and release techniques. Fishing allows children to be outdoors where they can experience nature. Teach them about the environment and ecosystem and how their footprints can impact it if they are not careful. If you see discarded fishing line or garbage at your fishing spot, pick it up and throw it away and tell them why. Conservation is essential to the future of our sport and it’s up to the adults to pass on those principles our children and grandchildren.
There are reasons that we call it fishing and not catching. Lots of them. Sometimes the fish don’t bite. Sometimes the fish gets away. Use these opportunities to talk about patience and persistence. Life doesn’t always go the way that we would like and fishing is no different. Fishing can help kids develop the skills they will need later on in life if things don’t go their way. Lessons learned by kids when fishing, will translate into strong character traits as adults. Hook them early!
~ Gene Dyer