Fishing with kids is a bonding experience that can teach them great skills and ethics to carry through life. It gets them out in nature for a good dose of Vitamin D and importantly, away from technology. If they catch a fish, they can learn the cycle of life – from water to plate, just like learning that milk doesn’t originate in the supermarket.
So how do we make it an enjoyable experience?
The simple answer is the more prep, the less stress! It’s even handy to compile a list of what you need and put it on the fridge to check off each time you go. Nothing like leaving an essential behind!
You want to make each fishing trip a memorable experience, so they want to go again and again!
Lower your own fishing expectations and make the day about them- you are their deckie. Maybe even leave your own rod behind or bring it as a spare for them to use whilst you are untangling theirs! It’s a lot safer to keep an eye on them around water if you’re not focused on your rod anyway- they can be in the water within seconds! Helping them while they start out means a better experience for all down the track when they are confident, more independent fishers.
Err on the side of caution if they are too young and especially if they can’t swim. A negative experience from the outset will discourage future trips. Start by building up slowly. You may even consider taking one child at a time for the first trips, so you can concentrate on helping them bait up, casting and all going to plan, reeling in their catch. Once each child has a better idea, graduate to taking them out together
You can practise casting at home or in the park, a long time before their first fishing trip. Track down casting plugs from tackle stores or tie on an old lure with the hooks removed. You can use a bucket for them to aim their cast at. Teach them the concept of opening and closing the bail arm and casting in a big semi-circle above themselves.
Two hours is a reasonable length for their first fishing trips. Unless of course they are still having fun and catching, then go a bit longer! Plan your trips at locations close to home, so you don’t tire them out getting there.
Safety first and foremost: if out on a boat an approved life jacket is a must but also worth considering wearing them on jetties, near surf or deep banks at a lake or river. You can check out Marine Safety Victoria’s information on lifejackets here. A discussion pre-trip about how important it is to listen to the adult in charge and that it’s dangerous around water. Set the tone- maybe have the discussion around the dinner table the night before. Reinforce that good behaviour is a must for a fishing trip.
Check conditions in the lead up to your planned trip and again on the day. Be prepared to pull the pin if you must. A nice calm day is what you want for their first trips.
If planning to fish land based, research in advance to ensure you have facilities like toilets nearby. If going out on the boat have a bucket for a toilet, loo paper and hand wipes for wash up. You can even add a pool noodle or camping toilet seat to the top. Show them at the start of the trip you have a toilet and reiterate it’s all good to use it whenever they need. A big beach towel or old shower curtain are great options to hold up for privacy.
So, how can we increase our chances of getting them a fish?
The trick is to target ANY fish, NOT a trophy fish!
Land based off a pier, around weed beds, or graduated banks where small fish are likely to congregate are all good places to start. A toadie for a first fish is great- it’s all about learning to reel in and catching the buzz of hooking up! In a boat you could target calmer, shallower parts of the bay (forget the ocean!)
You can also look up VFA ‘school holiday fishing’ waterways (https://vfa.vic.gov.au/recreational-fishing/fish-stocking/school-holiday-trout-stocking) to see where catchable fish are stocked regularly.
Improve your chances by fishing the first and last two hours of a tide change when fish feed more actively. Mornings and afternoons are also more sun safe than in the midday sun.
Avoid busy areas where the kids can tangle lines up with others or take their eyes out with wild casts.
Graduate straight to a ‘youth combo’ rod/reel that will see them through for many years. Single hooks mean less accidents and you can even get a pair of pliers and crush the backwards facing barb, so they become barbless and safer. A ball or bean sinker running down the line to a hook or above a swivel is an easy set up to start with or you can purchase pre rigs you tie on to a swivel. Learn a basic blood knot to attach pre rigs and hooks.
Land based floats are fun to watch in rivers and lakes. On the bank or a beach, rod holders are great for when they get bored and want to go off and play. Look at the ground you are going to be fishing: sand or dirt? The answer will dictate what rod holders you need to pack- a piece of pipe works well for sand, where a metal rod holder or even the humble forked stick works will for dirt banks. Rod holders are great for keeping their reels out of the sand/dirt. Explaining early that they can’t lie their reels in the sand saves extra cleaning and the risk of gear failure. Bells on the end of their rod are a fantastic addition to your kit- watch them come running when they go off!
Hook safe covers are handy and minimise hook injuries and tangles when travelling in the car and boat.
Baits like blue bait and squid are great starters, as they hang on the hook longer and can be good for a few casts.
A tacklebox with a few spare rigs, hooks, swivels and sinkers is a must. Always pack pliers to get hooks out of the fish. A glove for fish handling if you want. Bring along a bucket for putting water in to wash hands and all going to plan, to bring your fish home, plus a hand towel for clean-up. Something to measure your fish on is essential if you’re planning to keep anything. You can access all the regulations via the VFA Rec Fishing Guide here or by downloading the VicFish app
Old backpacks are great for carting gear to land-based locations. Don’t worry about investing in an expensive one as salt and sand destroy them. Just check the zippers work and keep the zippers lubricated with lnnox or cooking spray.
Beach trolleys and garden carts are fabulous for carting gear down to the water’s edge, you can get them from places like Kmart or Bunnings.
If land based you can bring beach tools, bucket, and spade for sandcastles. Pop up tents are great to put their gear/food in, keep them out the sun and make a cubby in case the fishing is quiet. Speaking of which, be prepared to play games with them if they get bored- eye spy and treasure hunts are proven winners.
If they are lucky enough to catch a fish and you are going to put it back, show them safe handling techniques, how to remove the hook and how to handle them correctly including not suspending fish by the jaw or putting hands in its gills. Show them how to gently swim and resuscitate fish – no launching it back and giving the poor fish a headache! If the fish is of legal size and you want to keep it agree early that the rule is: if we keep it, we eat it!
If at the end of the day, you are bringing home a fish and they are not asleep yet, you can engage them in the task of scaling, cleaning and cooking their catch.
Food and first aid
BYOing a picnic is essential! On a boat, choose plain foods that won’t add to seasickness. Avoid milky and fizzy drinks. Packing their own reusable water bottles are great both for land and boat. Minimise plastic wrappers that can blow into the marine environment by preparing individual packed lunch boxes. This way they are also less likely to fight “he took all the muesli bars out the esky”. Let them have their own tucker boxes and bring plenty of food! Kids become munching machines out in the open air!
If you know the kids aren’t great travellers, prepare in advance by grabbing something from the chemist to aid with seasickness.
Leave technology at home! Looking down at iPads contributes to seasickness and they certainly don’t mix well with sand or dirt!
Bring a small first aid kit land based and always have a well-stocked one on a boat. Band-Aid’s, pain meds, gauze and disinfectant are all essential.
Layers that they can take off then put back on are a great way to combat changing conditions e.g. t-shirt, jumper, rain jacket. Grippy waterproof footwear for the boat. No Thongs or bare feet for hooks to find! Gumboots or old runners for the beach. Have a bag of spare dry clothes in the boat or car in case of an accidental swim.
Kids sunglasses are a great idea. Not only do they protect eyes from the glare of the water and stray hooks, but if you get polarised lenses they can see into the water and spot fish in between bites.
End the day on a good note! Especially if you didn’t catch fish. A play in the park on the way home or an ice cream or milkshake. This is a positive affirmation or reward for a great day out.
If you’re looking for more information, you can access the VFA’s Family Fishing Guide here