Man and young boy fishing in surf

How To Fish With Kids

A lifelong angler’s 21 indispensable tips for sharing a love of fishing with the next generation. 

Bob Johnson has five adult children and 10 grandchildren, all of whom he’s taught how to fish. “It was Dad’s and Grandpa’s great joy to teach them all how,” says Johnson, the fishing specialist concierge at the Public Lands store in Columbus, Ohio. Starting some of his brood as early as 4 and others as teenagers, Johnson says that, regardless of fishing type and age, he’s followed the same points to instill a foundation of basics skills. 

The most important step of any instruction? Keeping it fun is at the core, he advises, as is persistence. “A disastrous early attempt doesn’t preclude starting over,” he says, using the example of his wife’s first (and last) trip out as a little girl, ending with her accidentally hooking her father. “She didn’t want to fish and didn’t like to fish until I took her on our honeymoon to Mexico, hired a boat, and put her on the end of a saltwater setup,” Johnson recalls. “She hooked into a 400-pound blue marlin, brought it into the boat five and a half hours later and now I can’t keep her off the water!”

Returning fun to the pursuit created a memory that won’t fade. And it’s that longevity in interest that keeps fueling Johnson as well. Fishing as he sees it, “is the only sport I know that lasts a lifetime, long after the body has worn out for other activities,” he says. “And it’s super inclusive—boys, girls, men, and women all fish.” Here are his main pointers for starting any and all kids on that long, rewarding journey ahead.

Mother teaching her daughter how to catch a fish on a summer day
  1. Be patient. It takes years to learn what an adult knows. Your child won’t be proficient on the first outing. 
  2. Use a gentle, encouraging, and praising voice. Nothing turns a child’s happiness and enthusiasm off as quickly as an angry voice or disapproving face.
  3. Match the gear to their age. A child’s setup makes it easier to learn. Put everything together and make sure it works before you go. For very young children (preschool down to age 3) purchase a starter rod with a push-button spincasting combo. It’s easy to learn and fits a small hand. Use single-hook lures, sized to the rod (the rod will list the maximum-weight lure to use) or single-bait hooks. Let the enthusiasm and attention span of your child play a role when buying tackle and gear
  4. Gear doesn’t have to be expensive. For less than $20 you can get a kid’s combo preloaded with line and a practice casting plug. When kids’ excitement for included cartoon characters fades (around 6 to 10 years old), go with a reduced-sized rod with any of the following reels: spincasting (push-button), spinning (open-face), and baitcasting (level wind) or even fly. They range in price from $50 for a basic spinning combo to $179 for a starter fly rod and reel combo. Get advice from the expert staff at specialty stores like Public Lands to help further customize by types of fishing and tackle appropriate for every age, experience, and budget. 
  5. When teaching to cast, the backyard and a properly weighted casting plug, if spin-fishing, or a piece of yarn tied to the tippet of a fly line, is the best place for first lessons.
  6. Show and tell about all the gear that you’re going to take, and let them try and ask questions. If you don’t know how to use gear, or much about fishing yourself, do some YouTube research or seek out guidance at a local specialty shop
  7. Make all trips an adventure and a fun game. There are books that deal with fishing, such as Fishing with Grandpa by Rebecca Kenyon, for young readers to start learning and talking about the adventure.
  8. Tell them all about where you’re going and what they can expect to see and find.
  9. A neighborhood pond is as much an adventure to a child as a great river or lake is to an adult. 
  10. Mash down all the barbs on hooks. It makes a hook-removal trip to the doctor unnecessary—and it’s easier on the fish. Supervise and assist children when putting bait on a de-barbed hook, and taking a fish off the hook. Hint: Snap swivels make it easy to change lures.  
  11. Suggest sunglasses and a broadbrim hat. They protect from the sun, as well as errant hooks.  
  12. Understand that children have the attention span of a gnat. Catching fish is the goal, not fishing for fish.
  13. Size doesn’t matter to a child. Panfish, crappie, and bluegill are easier to catch than other species for kids. Take appropriate bait (e.g., nightcrawlers, worms, crickets or grasshoppers) and lures such as single-hook Mepps or spoons. Ask your local fishing shop or your state’s department of fish and game, or division of natural resources for help. And for panfish, smaller is better.
  14. Review your state’s fishing regulations with regard to species and age requirements to have a fishing license—in most states, the child doesn’t need one under age 16, however, the participating adult does. Also, many states have “free” fishing dates where both children and adults can fish without a license. 
  15. Skip the boat ride. Fishing from shore is easier for a small child, especially when bathroom breaks come into play.
  16. Snacks. Take plenty of food and snacks. A hungry or thirsty child is a disinterested child.
  17. Take and apply loads of sunscreen and bug repellent if necessary. Nothing ruins the day for a child than a bad sunburn or tons of mosquitos or no-see-um bites. 
  18. When your child gets bored, don’t force him or her to continue. Look for another adventure—finding frogs, pollywogs, going for a walk, or just lying on the bank and finding animals in the clouds.
  19. Carry a small trash bag. Teaching a child to be a steward of the land—leaving the environment better than you found it—is just as important as teaching him or her how to fish.
  20. Don’t make it a one-time affair. Go with your child at every opportunity. It will form memories for you both that survive the years.
  21. When you return home, ask the child to “tell” their story of adventure to anyone and everyone within earshot. Pictures are great story aids.  

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.