As a father with small children, one of my greatest joys is passing on my love of fishing. If I want to go fishing, my lovely wife will gently suggest I bring a child or two with me. After many challenging fishing trips, I have developed a comprehensive numerical system my checklist to help make these trips more enjoyable for all.
1. Decide on the goal: Surprisingly, catching game fish might not be your main goal. Trolling all day with little action may not be fun for some kids. I hated slow days as a kid. Watching the Alberni Canal slide by at 2.3 knots gets boring for a rambunctious child. Luckily, my daughter is content to play, eat and watch other boats, birds, planes and seals. Adapt your outing for the child. You may want to focus on crabbing, cod jigging, exploring, jumping your boat over the ferry’s wake or whatever common interest you and the child shares. Consider targeting fish such as greenling, sole/flounder and pink salmon. I also think that dock-fishing for shiner perch and bullheads should be a part of everyone’s childhood. Dock and shore fishing trips are easier to organize and a topic in their own right.
2. Timing: Before naptime or during naptime is the question. I mean the child’s naptime, not yours. Timing is dependent on the age of the child and time of day. For small toddlers, I like to include a naptime while on the boat. Make them a snug nest and let the waves rock them to sleep. I will always remember happily dozing in the V berth on a warm summer evening while my dad trolled for salmon.
3. How old: Babies are easy. They will just sleep while you fish. Stick them in a fish tub and enjoy the time. It gets more interesting as they get older. Toddlers are a whole other kettle of mischief. Between one and three years old, it is often best to limit your trips to little adventures. Bring lots of supplies. Don’t make the trips too long. Remember that once a child is overtired, things generally go downhill. I find this to also be true for most adults. At about age four, you can generally rely on them to not deliberately climb overboard, and they may even have the patience for serious fishing.
4. Climate control: The child must be dressed warmly but not so much that they can’t move around properly. It will be especially hard with a life jacket. If they can’t walk or sit properly, then they probably won’t like it. I find the new neoprene lifejackets are less bulky and more comfortable than others. Make sure they have a good base layer for when they inevitably take off their outer layers. On sunny days, sunscreen, hats and long sleeve sun shirts are a must. If you bring home a sunburned kid, you probably won’t be getting the green light to go fishing next time.
5. Snacks: This is a critical component to any fishing trip and particularly so with children. Bring a wide range of drinks, snacks and a treat. Choose age-appropriate snacks that will keep them busy. I like to bring peanuts in the shell and, in the summer, peas from the garden. The boat will be a mess during, but after the trip cleaning it up with deck brushes and lots of bubbly soap can also be fun for a child. In fact, my main tip for enjoying time with children is to just forget about the mess and to make the most of the time you have.
6. The right gear: You don’t want to hand a child a 10-foot, six-inch mooching rod. It will be too long and heavy. Plus, they will most likely drop it and your expensive reel overboard. In fact, they will at some point drop whatever you give them overboard. So prepare accordingly. Get them a small spinning rod, or best of all, an ice-fishing set up. This is basically a tiny but functional spinning rod. It’s perfect for children and cheap enough to replace when they lose it. Break it. Or eat it.
7. Safety: Firstly, de-barb all your hooks before any child is within 50 feet of them. Otherwise they will stick themselves or, more likely, you. Barbless hooks are easier to remove from your ear. Also, as children are very adept at poking you in the eye with their fishing rod, I recommend eye protection of some sort. Hearing protection is optional, generally based on the volume of the child. Another thing I have learned is that children armed with hooks, knives and possibly gaffs are a questionable combination with an inflatable dingy. Furthermore, absolutely no inflatable life jacket should be used for children under 16. This is a real safety consideration. Children cannot be expected to pull the inflation cord in an emergency. It is also worth noting teenage boys in general should not be given inflatable life jackets. At least until they are old enough to pay for the refills after they ‘accidentally’ set them off.
In conclusion, I’d like to say that this list is a work in progress. I hope to expand on it as I gain more experience at boating with kids. Each trip is always unique, with different challenges and new adventures. As for children over the age of five? I have as yet no complete idea. But I am sure it will be even more fun and easier. I hope.