It’s December and Christmas is coming. For some of us up north we have been ice fishing for a couple of weeks already. The lingering question out there is, what do you put in the stocking and under the tree for your young angler? Here are some of the principles and ideas that I have learned over the years that will shed some light on the topic of building a tackle box with the kids in your life.

One of my favorite Christmas gifts ever and hands down the gift that my mom is still the most upset about, is the year my aunt gave me a book entitled “How to Make Lures”. The gist of the book was how to build fishing lures with all the shiny stuff you find around the house. I was only in fourth grade but it poured gas on the passion I had for fishing. All these years later I have a family of tackle makers with my oldest two boys running a successful tackle company. In fact, I am writing this series because I am riding the coat-tails of my son, Peter. 

A nugget of wisdom I learned from one of my mentors is, “families that fish together fish”. This is true from the lake to at home. If you want your kids to like to fish when they grow up they need to be part of the fishing experience. As an adult nothing will turn a kid off faster than letting your actions say “fishing is for adults not kids.” When this happens they retreat to the things that won’t reject them like video games and tv for example. But when you involve kids in all the activities of fishing, cool things happen. A friend of ours this last winter was working with his son on fishing stuff and his son designed a musky bait. They sent the design to the company who couldn’t resist but make the bait. I have been talking throughout this whole series that the definition of success is a positive outdoors experience, this starts at home.

When it come to building a tackle box for kids, start with the basics, hooks, split shot, bobbers and some jigs. One rule of thumb is don’t give them anything you will get upset about when they loose it, leave it full of water or sand and everything rusts between trips. When you’re not fishing, have some line and snap swivels around for them to practice knots. It makes a great game on cold, wet days when you’re not fishing. 

People as a rule take better care of the things they earn. Kids are no different. Have projects and jobs for your kids outside of daily chores that they can earn a trip to the bait shop or tackle store and let them pick out the gear they want for their box. Trust me when I say they won’t pick what you would and that’s ok. 

As my kids grew up, some of my favorite memories weren’t on the water but in the basement building lures and organizing tackle boxes.  Then getting to watch the older two teaching the younger ones what they learned was just the icing on the cake. Here are some of our favorite tackle projects.

Cheap, plain spoons and white, crank baits are a lot of easy fun. You can usually find them in clearance racks at some time of the year and stock up with little investment. Then pull out anything you have to color or paint with. Our favorite is metallic fingernail polish on the spoons and Sharpies on the cranks. Don’t overlook model paint and spray cans. Pretty much anything that doesn’t wash off when it gets wet works. The nice thing about fingernail polish is, it is easy to take off with nail polish remover and it’s super cheap at most stores. Spinners are also easy to color up and customize at little cost but are lots of fun.

Bottle cap jigs are another inexpensive and easy project. All you need is some bottle caps copper coated BB’s, split rings and some hooks. Fold over the bottle cap in half and place two to three BB’s inside. Flatten each end with a pliers and drill or punch a hole in the flat part big enough for a split ring and a hook. Color them up and you are ready to catch fish.

Knock-out jigs are similar to the bottle cap lures but you use the metal circles that are knocked out of electric panels and boxes. It is best to have a drill press to drill the holes. These jigs powder-coat easier because of the heavier metal used to make them. Take this one step further, any non-rusting metal that can be fashioned into a lure can work. A word of advice, stay away from the utensils in kitchen drawers. I’m just saying it may not go well, fun-yes, go well-no.

You see, when you are building a tackle box with kids it’s about learning, ownership, and relationship. It’s about building memories and creating joy for everyone involved. The right thing in the box is what the kid wants to put into the box. I’m not saying you give them what ever they want, I’m saying you provide them with the opportunity to set goals and learn to reach out and achieve those goals. A great fun place to start with these life lessons is with a tackle box.

Original Published in Midwest Outdoors September 2018

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