Camping and fishing go hand-in-hand in our family. It’s a great way to get away from the usual demands of life while enjoying nature with the people you love. Whether it’s from the dock, the shore, or on a boat, fishing can be a fun outdoor activity for people of all ages and abilities.
While my husband and I tend to get overly excited about catching big fish, there’s nothing more rewarding than watching our 2-year-old son reel in his own fish, or hearing his “oo’s” and “ah’s” after mom and dad catch a big one. But there are also the life lessons that come with fishing, which I’ll get to in a moment.
I know for some parents, fishing with kids might seem impossible. It’s hard enough to keep your little ones focused on one thing, let alone without hooks and tackle involved. But as a mom who has taken her 2-year-old and 6-month-old fishing many times, I can honestly say that it can be done! Here are 10 tips to how to fish as a family and make it a lasting hobby.
1. A Kid-Friendly Fishing Spot
Before you pick a fishing spot, think about how you can make a day of fishing easier for you and your kids.
- Are you able to fish near your RV or home so that if worst comes to worst, you can pack up the tackle box and call it a day?
- Is your fishing spot fairly accessible, or will you and your kids have to do some hiking to get to your destination?
- Is it necessary to have a restroom or changing table nearby?
When in doubt, I opt for the shoreline, riverbank, dock, or public fishing pier. It gives me the option to pack up quickly if I need to. I also feel more at ease when my kids are on land versus a moving boat. Of course, there are safe ways to fish on a boat with your kids. Boating gives you access to more places on the water while allowing your family to enjoy a fun boat ride. Just make sure everyone is wearing life jackets and you pack for a day on the water. Choose a lake that’s smaller so that it’s easier to navigate and stay protected from windy conditions.
2. Both Mom or Dad Can Teach Their Kids to Fish
Fishing can involve the whole family. I think there’s a misconception that it’s usually dad who teaches their kid to fish. My husband and I both share the responsibility and joy of teaching our kids to fish in our family. I think it’s also important to note that women anglers are at an all-time high. Nearly 1.8 million more women went fishing in 2020 than in 2019, according to the 2021 Special Report on Fishing by the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation. In fact, the data shows that women and moms represent a big opportunity for the sport of fishing with a larger percentage of kids fishing with their moms versus dads. It’s a beautiful thing when mom, dad, or even other family members or friends who fish can pass on their love for fishing to the next generation.
3. Fishing Gear for Kids
Depending on how old your kids are, there are smaller rods and reels to help them feel more comfortable while fishing. Set your kids up with rods they can handle and not feel frustrated about. My toddler is about 3 feet tall and he uses a 36-inch rod with a spin-cast reel that releases line with the push of a button. It’s also less likely to tangle. If your kids are youngsters like mine, you may want to use a casting plug to practice fishing. A casting plug is a weighted piece of rubber or plastic without hooks that gets tied to the end of the line and feels like a fishing tackle. Once you teach your kids about safely handling barbed or even barbless hooks, get their rod setup with a simple rig such as a bobber, sinker, hook, and worm or leech. A bobber will help your kids know when there’s a bite and start reeling in. Live bait will bring much more action, especially with panfish.
4. Safety First
The number one safety gear while on the water: a properly fitting life jacket or PFD that is U.S. Coast Guard Approved. It’s good practice to wear a life jacket even when fishing from a dock or shoreline. After that, be sure to pack sunscreen with enough broad-spectrum UVA/UVB protection. There are also sun protection shirts with a UPF rating of 50+ which allows less than 2 percent of UV transmission. And don’t forget about hats and sunglasses! If you’re fishing on a boat, make sure you bring a cell phone or even a VHF radio for just-in-case scenarios.
5. Target Easy Fish
Until your kids are much older, you may want to target fish that are easily caught and plentiful, like panfish. They’re fun to catch and make for a delicious fish fry. We’re typically not targeting trophy fish like big trout, salmon, or walleye during our family fishing trips because it takes more time, patience, and technique. Having constant action and keeping your kids entertained with lots of hungry fish is much more exciting than waiting all day for the big one.
6. It’s About More Than Fishing
Sometimes fishing is less about the fish and more about life lessons — like patience. Fish aren’t always going to be biting which can be a test of patience. This is a great opportunity to teach them that perseverance and patience can pay off. In fact, it’s an even greater opportunity to show them that if something isn’t working, do something about it. Consider swapping out the worm for a leech, changing your casting technique, or trying a new fishing spot.
Encourage your whole family to use the opportunity on the water to disconnect from technology and connect with nature. For me, there’s nothing more peaceful than enjoying the sights and sounds of the great outdoors while fishing. Talk about the seasonal changes in nature, listen to the loons calling or frogs croaking, or look for other wildlife around you. As my kids get older, I hope they too can find this sort of inner calm and peace while on the water. When you’re fishing and RVing, you discover more than just new places–you discover yourself.
Teach your kids about how nature can provide food. Lake-to-table meals are one of our favorites and my son loves seeing how our catch of crappies can be filleted, cleaned, battered, and cooked into delicious fish tacos. Also teach them about catch and release and how we can’t always keep the fish we catch, whether it’s for conservation, following fishing regulations, or because you simply want to let fish go to grow.
7. Explore the Area
Use your family fishing trip as an opportunity to explore a new area. Try fishing from different docks, piers, and shorelines, or take the boat to a place you’ve never been before. Let your kids explore the beach and play outdoors, build sandcastles, collect or skip rocks, or whatever floats their boat. We love hiking trails or trying out a nearby restaurant as a way to mix things up during a full day of fishing.
8. Bring fishing-related entertainment
I will be the first to admit that fishing will not keep my kids entertained for more than a few hours. To keep the momentum going, we usually need to bring other sources of entertainment, but I try to keep it fishing or nature-related. Here are a few extra things I like to bring along:
- A big waterproof Tupperware full of outdoor-themed books, nature-related coloring books, and crayons
- A fishing log or notebook to draw and write notes about the different fish we catch that day
- Fish stickers
- beach sand toys or any favorite toy that’ll keep our young anglers occupied.
We try and avoid electronics as much as possible but will sometimes pre-download fishing-related kids’ videos on our tablet as a backup.
9. Snacks and Drinks
Preparation is key to making fishing a family hobby and a major part of that is making sure you pack plenty of snacks and drinks. Both you and your kids need to stay hydrated when spending an extended period of time outdoors. Bring insulated water containers that’ll keep your water cold all day or a cooler full of your favorite beverages. I like to pack a variety of healthy and fun snacks that are easy to eat, especially after touching fish, worms, and leeches. Some of our favorites include single-wrapped cheese slices or cheese sticks, granola bars, celery with peanut butter, sliced cucumbers, or fruit snacks. We also love fish-themed snacks like Swedish Fish or Goldfish crackers. My favorite snack that both adults and kids love is a fruit and cheese board that I can put together while on the boat or dock. This usually includes crackers, berries, sliced cheese, cheese spread, and olives.
10. Have Realistic Expectations
Be open-minded and have realistic expectations. Don’t be surprised if your day on the water only lasts an hour. Fishing comes with many moving parts, including variable weather, unexpected issues with the boat, overcrowded fishing spots, not catching fish, or the kids just need a break. Be sure to have an open mind to packing up and leaving earlier than you expected. And if you’re able to spend the whole day on the water with your family, then hats off to you and happy fishing!