Teaching Kids to Fish

By William Milheim

Santa brought my great niece and nephew rod and reels for Christmas. Of course they cannot wait to go fishing. In fact, they wanted to go the day after Christmas… Way too cold for me.

I’m really looking forward to taking them out. We did go fishing together last summer and had a blast. Having taught many people to fish, there are some things I’ve learned throughout the years to make their first time fishing a great experience. If it’s done correctly you’ll have developed a fisherman for life.

haley dink

Haley’s first smallmouth.

I’ve found regardless of age, kids attention span isn’t very long. So being prepared will keep their interest level high and make it a fun day.

Planning is the key to enjoying a day with new-comers. This might start in the backyard a few days before you plan to go fishing. Practice castin,g showing the easiest way to cast. Let them get the hang of it, then make it fun. Perhaps have a contest; who can cast farther or go for accuracy. Just get them out there getting used to the rod and reel. This can be a trying time, don’t show your frustration watch for sighs of boredom.

adam and bill

Adam’s first smallmouth. Nice fish!

Don’t get too technical, but take time to explain. Explaining how to rig your line is good, perhaps even showing them how to tie a knot. It will all come together for them the day they hit the water. Explaining knots, leaders, and hooks is kind of boring and won’t hold interest for long.

As I said, being prepared for their first time is crucial. Don’t make the first outing a long trip. Ensure you have all the safety equipment, including a first aid kit. Packing good junk food and drinks will give a bored moment a lift. Gear is also important, rod and reels should be of some quality. We’ve all seen the cartoon theme rod and reel combos. Some even light up and make funny noises. All cute, but most of the theme rod and reel combos are not very user friendly or of any quality. While I agree top shelf gear isn’t needed, poorly made outfits will put a damper on the day.


Haley with a nice smallmouth with Brother Adam looking on.

Choosing a great spot is the most important factor. Remember, they are just starting out, and catching fish is the goal. Experienced fishermen know there are unproductive fishing days. Young fishermen won’t really understand that. They want to catch fish. A sunfish pond is a fantastic spot for a beginner. Hopefully the action is good, if not, packing good junk food is always a winner.

Even if the catching is good, I’ve seen kids drift off. Most find enjoyment in playing with the bait… Let them. If conditions are good and they want to get wet or swim, let them. My sons just loved to smear mud on themselves and go out into the water to wash off. I’ve spent many an hour damming the river, making deeper pools or catching crayfish… This is all good.

Once they figure out that fishing is fun, they’ll be asking to go all the time. My sons would love to go on a wading trip. I’d even pack hot dogs and we’d take a break, build a fire, and cook them. They are in there twenties now and we still look forward to days like that.

adam and big fish

Another big smallie! Way to go Adam.

Their first fish is always a big deal. Make sure a camera is charged and ready to go. Those photos, you will treasure for the rest of your life. This is their day. All attention should be on them. It’s usually best for you not to fish. It’s your time to be the teacher. Be prepared for birds nests, tangles, and snags. You know they are coming. Realize know one can learn to fish in a day. With all the other distractions kids have in this day and age, teaching a kid to fish is priceless, a gift you both will treasure for the rest of your life.