Classic Pro Tips: How to Teach a Kid to Fish

Written by: Paul Fersen

Who needs a trout when a creek chub can elicit a smile like that?
Photo of Brennon Hill by Jon Hill

For those of us who love fishing, very few things engender more passion in our lives—with the exception of our children. Our children become the center of our universe the moment they are born, and we struggle mightily throughout our lives maintaining that relationship to our satisfaction. One of the ways we try to accomplish this is to create the same passions in our children that we possess, and hope that we can share that throughout our lives. One only has to look at fathers on the sideline and mothers in the audience to see the best and the worst of this relationship.

This is no different for the angler who dreams of spending time on the water with their child. From the moment that child enters this life, the passionate angler looks forward to creating this perfect bond. Where we run into trouble as angling parents is when we overestimate their interest at a young age and underestimate their ability to absorb and learn.

The most important thing for a parent to realize is that the child’s first love of fishing is simply the fact that he or she can spend time with you. It has nothing to do with fishing; it has to do with your undivided attention. The fun of fishing is, to the child, simply icing on the cake. Where we make our mistake is trying to make Lefty Krehs out of five-year-olds.

Rule #1: Take the child fishing and just let him or her enjoy the moment with you. If they want to throw rocks in the water, put down the rod and teach them to skip rocks.

Once a child is old enough to understand the premise of fishing and the fun he or she can have, find ways they can be successful. For you, the joy of fishing may be taking a large brown on a spinner during the Hendrickson hatch. They, on the other hand, will stand there for days with no success.

Rule #2: Lower your expectations and make the child successful.

Nothing spells fun for a child like bluegills on their beds in spring. With an ultralight spinning rod or even better, a bamboo pole with a worm and a bobber, you can catch forty or fifty fish in an outing.

Enjoy every fish with your child. It will be unquestionably the best time of your life, but don’t do it for them. Teach them how, help them when they need it and then just enjoy the moment. There are few moments in life that can compare to a day’s fishing with your child.

Rule #3: Don’t underestimate your child.

They have a remarkable capacity to learn and absorb, and if you give them enough opportunity to learn for themselves, you will be astonished at their progress. The quickest way to turn a child off is to turn fishing into school. Let them alone!

Nothing gives greater pleasure to us, as parents, than creating that shared passion. It’s something we search for desperately, but often that desperation creates more problems than it solves. Relax. Your chances of creating a fishing partner are much greater if you don’t drive them away with unrealistic expectations. The fact is, whether you’re catching fish or skipping stones, you’re together, and that’s what it’s all about.

Paul Fersen is a father of three and a former Senior Managing Writer for the Orvis Company.

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