(Editor's note: "Catching Bass with Dustin Wilks" airs three times per week on Sportsman Channel Ė 9:30 a.m. ET Friday, 4:30 p.m. Sunday and 6:30 a.m. Wednesday. He provides BassFans with tips about various aspects of bass fishing in these weekly submissions.)
Iíve learned a lot about kids and fishing since Iíve had my own children. Iíd love to share what I learned to help BassFans get their kids get interested in fishing. These tips are intended for ages 3-8 and are in no particular order. I actually got interrupted in the middle of writing this Ö to go fishing. At first my little one never wanted to go when Iíd occasionally ask. Now she wants to go nearly every day Ė at least for a little bit.
1. Safety. My kid is 5. I bend down the barbs on everything she uses and we donít use treble hooks yet.
2. Lure selection. Weedless lures or bobbers with live bait or tiny jigs. I have found tiny weedless crappie jigs with tiny swimbaits and grubs to be really good for catching numbers and not getting hung up. Small spinnerbaits are also excellent because of this and it is harder to snag people with it. Also, tiny trout jigs are deadly for all things small and perfect for kids. Stay away from hardbaits at first Ė they are the most dangerous for kids. When you have confidence in your child, then hardballs are okay. Single barbless hooks at first.
3. Fun. Donít assume fishing from the boat is fun for kids. Let them get out frequently and explore the shore. Dig your own worms with them. Teach them to pick up trash while you're there. Make it fun.
4. Fish. Kids donít care about the size or species of the fish. Anything is good, the more and different species the better. Action is key to hold their attention.
5. Keep the fish temporarily. See local laws, but kids love to play with their catch. Read the rules with them, teach them about laws and why we have them. Keep the fish long enough to teach them the species and anatomy of fish. Teach how important it is to let fish go to have babies so we can catch more later. Teach them it is okay to take a few to eat as well.
I carry a bucket or use the livewell in the boat. My 5-year-old girl likes crappie the best because she can eat them, catfish second because "they talk out of the water." Teach them to be brave and hold bass and crappie by the mouth. Make sure they know catfish fins are dangerous and most fish, especially bluegill, have sharp fins. Show them the sharp spots to avoid and how to bend down the fins in order to hold them. Bass and crappie are the easiest to begin teaching them how to hold because you hold them by the mouth. Once they get over the initial fear, they will love it.
6. Donít expect to fish yourself other than a few casts or while the kids are playing something else.
7. Let them reel in everything you happen to hook. They come running from a distance, it is fun.
8. Take turns. If more than one kid, start with the youngest and work up if you are letting them reel in your fish.
9. Start simple. At age 3 or so to get casting mechanics down, start with a spincasting rod. My little one loves Paw Patrol so I got her a Kid Casters Paw Patrol rod for $10, and we practiced in the yard whenever she saw it. I would keep one on the back porch as a toy and we'd just practice a little everyday if she brought it up. After they get used to basic casting it out, introduce targets in the yard.
11. Take off those dangerous casting plugs or little fish-casting plugs that come with the kids rods. This is really important Ė those donít cast well and can really hurt. The best thing is to use a bait screw like an Owner Twist Lock in the large size and simply screw it in to a frog with no hook. They love the frog and you can make it fun by talking about the frog and then practice bait control by telling them to hop it. They will get used to what the bait does with rod movement and reeling while playing. Set up ďlily pads" in the yard to cast to.
12. Spinning reels early. Once they get good with the kids rods, get them good gear but not too good (it will end up in the lake or dropped in the mud). If you get them junk that doesnít work, theyíll be frustrated just like you would be. Just be ready for things to be dropped. I ordered Falcon Boocoo and Slab rods for nearly every kid in the neighborhood and some low-end Daiwa spinning reels. The spinning reels are amazingly good at low price points. If you are able to supervise the whole time, I highly recommend spinning gear as soon as they are ready. They are easy to use and there is so much more control. If your kid is older than 5 and has not fished, it might be best to start with spinning. Remember to use line no heavier than 8-pound test or you're asking for trouble.
13. Donít tell them ďdonít" so much. Let them learn on their own. Guide them, but don't lecture. It is great if they learn to ask how instead of being told.
14. Donít push them to go and donít keep them very long. I was a rare child who could fish all day. Most can last an hour, but donít count on it. A fish in a bucket is gold for them.
15. Bring a friend. This is probably the most important. They will push each other to get better and play together by the water. Makes it much more enjoyable for everyone.
16. Selecting spots: small is great. I take the kids to a tiny drainage pipe on a tiny creek and they hammer the green sunfish. If you live in a big city, you may be surprised there are more opportunities than you think. Waters are cleaner than ever and generally fish populations now are great. Fish can live in some of the craziest places. If there is water there, give it a try.
17. Let them get in the water and get dirty. Raining? Even more fun! Limit the rules other than safety and youíll have a kid who will ask, ďCan we go fishing?Ē
18. Plan vacations around fishing. This is what ultimately got me so interested.
19. Donít take them if it is blazing hot or too cold. If hot, go swimming, take a rod along make a few casts here and there.
20. One last point is to be impulsive. If they ask, donít take forever getting ready, just go. They might not ask anymore if "getting ready" is too long and boring. Donít take too much stuff so you can move around a lot. When I was a kid I thought fish were supposed to find my worm under a bobber. Teach them you have to keep moving to find the fish. Also realize, if you havenít fished much yourslef, that close to the shore is often where most of the fish are, so a long cast to the middle is often not the best.
If you have additional tips please respond to BassFan in the Feedback section. Iím sure lots of parents would love to hear them.