By Dan Grulke
There are many ways to enjoy a successful fishing trip with children. The main principle is to make it fun, end the fishing trip while they are still having fun and help them achieve a positive and attainable experience. Below are some of the techniques I use with kids in our fishing classes.
Set the tone early for success based on a result the kids have control over. Some examples could be learning fishing knots, tying their own lure, or learning to cast or cast further. Outcomes that children (or adults) cannot control include catching fish, catching a certain number of fish, or catching a specific-sized fish. In short, children’s fishing experience is improved if we focus on their actions and not the end results.
Learn your child’s abilities. If your child has never been fishing, success can be as simple as fishing for 10 minutes or being outdoors in nature. With a more experienced angler, perhaps it is tying their own lure, casting without help, or freeing a snagged lure by themselves.
Let children become their own person and make some decisions independently, but always guide them. Maybe they want to try a new area in which to fish or a different lure. In fishing these are ways for self-expression, creative thinking and problem-solving.
I often “guide” anglers (even adults) when the situation starts heading down a negative path. For instance, if a lure is stuck on a log, I will let them struggle with getting it free. When it gets to the point where they are beginning to get frustrated, I will step in and say, “That is a really tough snag you have, maybe if we try it this we can get it free.”
In the beginning, plan short fishing trips. I usually plan for about an hourlong fishing trip, as my youngest children have short attention spans. We may get 20 minutes of actual fishing in, and then spend the rest of the time hiking around the lake or seeing how many different animals we can find at the lake. If they have a shorter-than-typical attention span, we may only fish for 10 minutes before they want to do something else. This is OK.
Listen to them and let them dictate what is enjoyable. Remember it is their fishing trip, and we should listen to their voice and desires and put aside ours. If they are having a great time, end the fishing experience before they are tired and bored. This is our desired result if we want to develop and grow their passion. Ending a trip when they are having fun almost always guarantees the question, “When can we go again?” We are looking to plant the seeds in the beginning, not grow the forest in the end.
Celebrate the minor success, as well as the end results. This can be as simple as, “Well we didn’t catch any fish, but you didn’t lose any lures,” or, “We had three bites, so next time we may catch a fish,” or, “Your casting has really gotten better. You are casting 15 feet further than last week.” Always celebrate when you catch a fish but remind them that you may not catch fish every trip. Take pictures of your outing with and without fish.
The most important tip is to sell the trip as an experience. The angling experience is so much more than catching fish. It is about being outside, learning to solve problems, being creative, exploring nature, and struggling and finding success.
Emphasize the experience, praise the success, intervene as needed during the struggle, and it never hurts to stop for frozen yogurt or another of their favorite treats after the trip.
Dan Grulke is the Fishing Coordinator for the Fairfax County Park Authority. He has lived in Northern Virginia for all but five years of his life. He has been fishing locally, in other states, and in other countries for 40 years. He has previously been a freshwater fishing guide on the Susquehanna River and Upper Potomac Rivers for eight years. Although he currently is not a guide, he enjoys introducing others to the sport of fishing. You can contact him at Dan.Grulke@fairfaxcounty.gov