Everyone says to take a kid fishing. There are public service announcements, pro anglers telling you that at the end of their tv shows, online videos and cool graphics in your favorite magazines and websites that tell you to take a kid fishing. I bet many of you are asking the same question that countless people have asked me over the years. It’s a good question that has to be asked. 

So how do you take a kid fishing? In this addition of “Raising an Angler” I will share with you the secrets that I’ve learned to making ice fishing fun and addicting for kids. 

But before we get into the plan that we use to take kids and new anglers out fishing, we need to define the word “success”. When we’re talking about kids and new people to the outdoors this is the definition of “success” that we use: a positive outdoor experience. It doesn’t matter how many fish they catch, how big the fish are or what kind of fish they catch; what matters is that they have a positive outdoor experience.

First you need a good plan

First you need to plan the trip. To do this you need to know your angler, what is their attention span, their capabilities and their limitations. (For more information on this, check out last month’s article “Know Your Angler,” in the “Raising an Angler” series.) Then pick a lake that fits your young angler. Some of our favorite lakes are passed over all the time because they don’t have big fish. 

The Lake

Take a good look at stunted panfish lakes that are full of 4-8 inch fish or more. These lakes are great for young kids with shorter attention spans, because you can catch fish one after another and it helps you to start teaching catch and release. Next are small pike lakes. You can generally catch a lot of fish consistently, while providing the opportunity for kids to learn some more advanced skills. These are great lakes for kids to learn basic jigging concepts while being able to catch fish even if they’re not doing it quite right. With kids that are ready for more, start looking for walleye lakes with a good evening bite and big pike lakes. These lakes provide the opportunity to stretch both skills and attention spans. One thing we like about big pike lakes is that it provides an opportunity for having a campfire and doing a little cooking and playing on the ice with the opportunity to catch a huge fish.

Don’t make a big deal out of the trip.

Great expectations are what kill the fun in fishing. Not every trip goes as planned. If you don’t make a big deal out of the trip before you go, they won’t be disappointed when the trip doesn’t go according to the expectations you have set. I like to have a couple of options and pick the one that makes the most sense based on the weather and mood of the kids that day.  You always want to have an alternate plan for bad days too. My boys loved our “planned tackle making days” when the weather was too bad to venture out. They never knew the original plan was to fish that day. They just woke up and had fun in the shop with dad. 

When you’re on the ice

When you get out on the ice give kids jobs to do so that they learn how to fish. Throw a wood handle on a skimmer (It’ll float) so they can skim holes and not worry about losing the skimmer. Shoveling snow to carrying minnows are all good places to start. Keep the jobs fun and don’t make work out of something that they get in trouble for if they do it wrong. My rule of thumb is to only get firm with them on safety concerns and always explain to them why and the consequences to them in a calm stern voice and then positively get back to fishing. 

Have plenty of food and drinks. The rule is never get cold, never get hungry. Warm, full kids have a lot of fun, energy and longer attention spans. Cold people tell stories of how miserable and boring fishing is. So have plenty of food, warm drinks and a place to warm up. I have a lot of great memories of pike tip-up days, sitting in the pick up listening to college football on the radio with the boys.

A Wing It slip bobber is invaluable when fishing with kids. With no effort you can change bobber size to match what they are fishing with. This bobber can easily be taken off and put back on if they choose a different way to fish. They can be used as a slip or a spring bobber and they are a perfect tool for teaching kids how to jig because it gives a reference point that they can see. Experienced anglers often forget that when a bait stops moving or starts moving it triggers fish to strike. Using a bobber to teach kids how to jig automatically creates both of these fish biting triggers which leads to them catching more fish.

Make sure you have plenty of warm and extra clothes. One of the rules we have on the ice is don’t fall in a hole or get wet. Now, they do fall in holes and get wet. This is not the rule to get mad about. It is a rule that will save their life when they are older. Ice fishing as a kid is a great place for them to learn the effects of getting cold and wet and how to be prepared when it happens. 

Make sure you leave before they have had enough. When a kid says “I’m done, cold or bored” its time to leave. But it is better to watch them throughout the day and call it a day before they say they are done. This is more important than you may think. This is the one thing that can take a great day on the ice and make it a bad experience that is remembered for life. Stopping while the memory is positive is crucial to having a positive outdoor experience.

Making Memories

Don’t forget to take a lot of pictures of the trip. One of the keys to foster a hunger for the outdoors in young and new anglers is giving them the tools to tell their story. I have almost as much fun watching young and new anglers talk about everything that went into them catching the fish on the picture that they are telling their friends and family about as I do taking them fishing. Not to mention, this helps kids learn to express themselves and become more relational at a time when this is becoming a lost skill. 

Remember it’s all about having fun so that they want to go again. I’ve been using this plan for over 30 years and tweaking it for every angler I take out, both on the ice and open water. 

Original Published in Midwest Outdoors March 2018

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