More than four out of five Americans fished as a child. Surveys show most adults who fish today started before their 13th birthday. That means the best way to preserve the future of the sport is to take kids fishing.
A day on the water can improve the bond between parent and kid or make you the hero of the neighborhood. Fishing builds self-esteem, independence, responsibility and decision-making.
All it takes is a little patience. Be sensitive to how children will judge the time they spent fishing. It's that judgment that will determine if you have a fishing pal for life.
Here's a few ideas to help;
* Start the trip long before you hook up the boat. Include youngsters in on planning. Show them where the lake or river is on the map. Show them hydro maps of the targeted waters. Build anticipation.
* Let them help with preparations by spending a night or two after dark with flashlights and trowels digging in the yard for nightcrawlers. Kids love to get dirty. And, you might just remember why you liked hanging out after dark long after mom called you home for dinner.
Take them to the store and let them pick out lots of goodies and things to drink.
Let them help make and wrap the sandwiches. Have them gather the sunscreen, insect repellent and sunglasses. Take a bird-watching guide along.
Spend some time in the yard teaching them how to cast. Show them what you mean by vertical jigging.
The point is the more they feel a part of the trip, the more they will work to make it a success.
* Check state regulations. Some require children under certain ages to wear safety jackets. If your state doesn't require them, it's still a good idea they do. Make certain theirs fits and is comfortable.
* Don't use Mickey Mouse gear even for small children. Tackle foul-ups are just as frustrating for them as they are for you. Spincasting reels are OK for youngsters. But, make certain they are good ones that won't break down.
* It's not a good idea to target muskies the first time out for a lot of obvious reasons. Kids want ACTION. They don't care if their fish are small. They just want something to pull on the line over and over and something to brag about at school on Monday morning.
Target schooling fish. Bluegills are good. Perch and crappies are good, too. Walleyes can be good at certain times. Do your homework to insure as much success as you can. Go when the odds of catching fish are highest.
* Use a simple slip-bobber rig for panfish. Kids love to watch for the bite. (And, so do we.)
Use a Thill float, a small hook and enough split shot to balance the rig to detect even light bites. Show them how to tie a simple Palomar knot. It's quick, good for many uses and it works.
Use wax worms and nightcrawler pieces for bluegills. Use wax worms or minnows for crappies. Your son or daughter might get a surprise in the form of a big bonus catfish or bass.
Don't get too fancy. Older kids can be taught to jig for walleyes and sauger in rivers. But, let them use heavier jigs, like 3/8 and 5/8th Fuzz-E-Grub jigs to keep them on the bottom in the strike zone. It's probably easier to teach them to use three-way rigs with heavier weights on the dropper. Same is true for Lindy rigging. Make sure the weight is a heavy one to teach them the importance of bottom contact.
When the bite is on, trolling for walleyes in lakes and reservoirs is simple and fun. Use planer boards and teach them how to spot strikes. Let them reel in the fish.
* Here's an important point: Kids don't care what kind of fish they catch. Make a big deal out of whatever they reel in.
Put away your prejudices, and applaud even carp. They fight great, and that's all children want. Nothing is more depressing than to watch a kid fight a fish for five fun-filled minutes only to hear the grown-ups in the boat say, "Oh, it's just a carp." The smile from the little fisherman disappears very quickly.
* Take lots of pictures or videotape. They let you relive the fun and reinforce the experience over and over again.
*Stop often for snacks and soda. As most parents know, hungry kids are tough to handle.
* Even if you don't plan to keep any fish, put the first one or two in the livewell. Let the kids check on them often. It gives them something to do. The same goes for the minnows. You'll be surprised how a trip to the livewell or bait bucket to check on the fish will perk up bored kids.
* We happen to think it's a good idea to take some fish home to eat. It is good to show children the angling process from water to table. It teaches kids there's nothing wrong with harvesting a few fish according to the state and local laws. Kids should know that there is a food chain and they are part of it.
* If you shore fish, let them explore. Countless hours can be filled with exciting discoveries, like crawdads hidden under rocks.
* Never, ever make them stay longer than they want. When fishing becomes a chore for them, you've lost.
Nearly a quarter of Americans who fish are under the age of 16. Someone has to show them how. Don't you think you should?