Fishing With Kids

May signals the beginning of the end of the school year for kids across the state of Texas. As they enter the final month of the school year, most begin daydreaming about how they will fill their days during the summer vacation. Inevitably, many wistfully think of days spent on the water with their parents, grandparents or older siblings, catching plenty of fish - big fish - and relaxing.

Likewise, many adult anglers share this idyllic dream. They, too, can envision themselves along with their children or grandchildren, having a grand `ole time and catching fish one after another.

However, such days are few and far in between, even for accomplished anglers. Young anglers usually have plenty of enthusiasm, but may lack the necessary skills or experience to catch limits or “trophies.” Adult fishermen looking to take a youngster out for a day on the water need to be aware of the child's limitations and do a few things differently in order to ensure success.

The first step to a successful outing with a young angler, whether fishing fresh or salt water, is to understand what the child's expectations are. While a hardened “Old Salt” may be pleased with nothing less than a 30-inch speckled trout, a mere 15-inch keeper may spell sweet success for a youngster. Likewise, hardcore bass anglers may be content to bounce jigs all day hoping for just one five pound bass, whereas kids will more than likely enjoy constant bobber-sinking bluegill action.

“The trip has to be geared to the kids,” said Lower Laguna Madre guide Capt. Eddie Curry. One of Curry's specialties is guiding young kids and families. In addition, the long-time guide has twin boys of his own, whom he takes fishing every chance he gets. “If it is a guided trip, I let parents know it is all about the kids. They have to have fun. So, besides fishing, I let them play in the livewell, scoop up crabs as they swim by or get out on some of the spoil islands and collect some shells - anything to keep them happy and interested. And, when they're ready to go in, we go in. You can't force `em to stay too long or it takes the fun out of it for them.”

Well-known bass pro Lonnie Stanley agrees. “You have to time your trips to coincide with other activities,” Stanley says. “The kids like catching fish, but after awhile their attention drifts. So, then you can take a break, go boating or swim in the lake or some other fun activity. You just can't push them to keep fishing after they decide they want to do something else.”

Although Stanley honed his competitive fishing skills on the BASS circuit, his three daughters and eight grandchildren have taught him a totally different set of fishing skills - some necessary to ensuring kids have fun on the water. “Kids have to be catching,” Stanley observes. “So, any time we head to the lake, we will usually have a couple bags of minnows and some worms - real worms, nightcrawlers. That way, if the bass or crappie aren't biting, we can take those worms and catch bluegill, catfish or drum. You can pretty much catch bluegill anytime you want so long as you have some worms.”

“When I take my boys fishing, we do two types of trips - catching trips and fishing trips,” Curry explained. “When we do `catching' trips, I take bait and we will try to catch whatever we can and let them have fun just catching fish. Then, after a few `catching' trips, we'll go on a fishing trip. During that trip, we'll use artificial lures and I try to really teach them how to fish. They enjoy that as well, but you can't do that all the time. You have to sprinkle plenty of `catching' trips in there to keep them interested.”

One final piece of advice offered by Stanley - food, plenty of food. “I don't know why, but as soon as you crank up the engine, everybody in the boat is hungry,” Stanley observed. “So when we take the grandkids, we always make sure we have plenty of food on board.”

Like most fishermen, kids are usually “gear junkies.” With that in mind, try to get kids their own equipment - tackle boxes, rods, reels, lures, etc. - whenever possible. This helps keep them interested in fishing even during times between trips. And, of course, catching fish with “their own” tackle heightens their experience on the water as well.

While adult anglers may insist on seven-foot popping rods or pool cue-stiff worm sticks, kids need to be fitted with rods and reels that are comfortable and easy for them to handle. As a rule, you want to let the child use the longest rod they can easily manage without quickly tiring. This will vary by the age, size and strength of the child. And, of course, at some point the fishing situation will also dictate what equipment is best.

“I usually start `em off with little push-button (spin-cast) outfits,” Stanley said. “Shakespeare and Zebco are making a bunch of `em and some of `em are pretty good quality. Once they get a little older, we'll move them to spinning rigs. Then, when they're ready to do some serious bass fishing, we'll start them on baitcast reels.”

Stanley says, at least in his experience, kids are usually ready to start casting lures around 5 or 6 years old and are ready to step into serious bass angling around 12 or 13 years of age.

Curry generally agrees with that assessment. “A young child can learn a lot faster than people realize,” said Curry. “A kid who has fished a few times already - even one as young as 5 years old - is ready to start casting on their own, although I generally cast for them (clients' kids) on the boat until they are pretty good at it. But my own kids (8 year-old twin boys) have been casting spinning gear on their own for a few years now. And, starting from when they were really young, each time we went out, I let them do a little more on their own. For instance, if they want to net the fish, let them. It's not like you should be worried about them knocking it off with the net, because they've already had the fun of fighting it. Remember, it's about them having fun.”

Although both Curry and Stanley recommend natural baits to ensure young anglers get plenty of action, they also believe in allowing kids to progress to artificial lures. However, not every bait is productive in the hands of an inexperienced angler. If you are hoping to see your kids move into artificial lure fishing - fresh or salt - here are a few “kid friendly” lures that can produce quality results.

DOA Shrimp - For those looking to make the switch from live or dead shrimp, the DOA Shrimp is the perfect artificial lure. Many Texas saltwater anglers have discovered this bait in recent years.
Believe it or not, when freelined or fished under a popping cork, the DOA Shrimp usually keeps pace with live shrimp. And, you don't have to worry about inexperienced casters “throwing it off” or losing pint after pint to pinfish and other bait stealers. Essentially, using a DOA Shrimp is like fishing with live shrimp without the hassle of live shrimp.

Swim Baits - Swim baits, like those marketed by Tsunami, Storm and other manufacturers, are designed to have a fish-attracting “swimming” action with a steady retrieve. This means young anglers don't need to master “jigging” or “twitching” the bait to catch fish. By simply reeling swim baits at a steady clip, they will be ensured plenty of action. Tsunami and Storm swim baits are sold rigged, with the hook, weight and eye molded into the lure. The Stanley Wedge Tail is a swim bait that is designed like a traditional soft-plastic, in that it is threaded onto a jig head.

Spoon - One of the earliest artificial lures used in saltwater, the spoon is still a fish catching machine. And, one of the nice things about the spoon is the simplicity of its use. Again, simply casting and reeling will do the trick. When fishing on the flats, set young anglers up with a weedless spoon and they can also avoid fouling in grass beds. Additional, freshwater anglers using Pet, Johnson weedless or Tony Acetta spoons can catch a mix of black, white, striped and hybrid bass.

Spinnerbait - Spinnerbaits have long been used in freshwater, but are just now making major inroads among saltwater anglers. These lures have the flash of a spoon, combined with vibration from the blade and color attraction from the skirt or soft-plastic trailer. Like the other two baits listed above, anglers only need to cast and reel in order to catch fish. An added bonus to the spinnerbait is the arm holding the blade makes the bait virtually weedless. Plus, because the blade gives the bait “lift,” it can be retrieved extremely slow without fouling.

Prop bait - If you want to get your young angler in on a topwater bite, let them throw a prop bait - also known as a slush bait - such as a Torpedo, Devil's Horse, or other topwater plug with propellers. Unlike walk-the-dog type baits, prop baits require little skill to use. Just reeling the bait back will cause enough commotion to catch plenty of fish. If more noise is desired, simply jerking the rod tip will cause plenty. These lures are a great way to introduce young fishermen to the heart-stopping excitement of a surface strike.

Taking the youngsters on a guided trip can be a valuable learning experience - or a trauma that pushes them away from fishing. The key is picking a guide who is comfortable taking young anglers. Not every guide - even the good ones - want to share their boat with aspiring young fishermen. So, when looking for a guide, it is important to be sure he or she is willing and capable of giving a family a quality experience.

“You should ask a guide as many questions as you need to feel comfortable before you book the trip,” Curry said. “Ask the guide if they take kids often, if they will fish for bait or other species, ask them how they structure the trip to keep the kids occupied. Everyone - parents and the guide - needs to understand this trip is for the kids.”

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