For many of us, the age-old pastime of fishing evokes memories of summer’s glassy lakes and warm breezes. For others, it may call up pre-dawn wake-up calls, soggy worms and even soggier rain boots. Either way, fishing is a childhood rite of passage and (for the most part) an adventure we’d love to introduce to our own children.
Bellevue dad Chris Brady fondly recalls fishing with his two sons. "Some of our best, heartfelt conversations happened in an old rowboat, out in the middle of a lake," he says.
Recently, my husband and I took our young son to Gold Creek Trout Farm in Woodinville, to test fishing for ourselves. It was our son’s first fishing experience, and he had a blast! The pond was stocked with trout, and bamboo fishing poles, bait and nets were available.
Graham’s dad helped bait the hook (no live bait here; instead we used a putty-like mixture), and Graham waited for the first bite. It didn’t take long, and with some help, he scooped the trout up with the net, with excitement and achievement lighting up his face. The owner of the pond cleaned the fish, and wrapped it up to go.
How can you get started fishing with your kiddos? It's easy. Read on for tips on gear and first trips.
Health tip: Also, if you're planning on consuming the fish you catch, be sure to check Washington Department of Health fish advisories for the latest info on contaminant levels.
Tip: Free Fishing Weekend takes place annually on the first weekend after the first Monday in June. During this weekend, anglers of any age do not need a fishing license to fish in Washington. Read the website carefully as other rules, such as season openings and catch limits, still apply.
Kids who are 14 and younger don’t need a fishing license to fish in the state of Washington (unless fishing for common carp, crawfish, bullfrogs, smelt or unclassified marine invertebrates). The rules differ for shellfish.
Note that if children age 14 and younger are fishing for halibut, salmon, steelhead, sturgeon or Dungeness crab, they need a catch record card to track what they catch. You can register for one online or call the Fish Program Customer Service line (360-902-2700). Youth age 15 and older need to carry a recreational fishing license.
Also keep these tips in mind:
- Most kids do well with an ultra-light spinning or spin-casting rod-and-reel combo. The Avid Anglerin Lake Forest Park, Bellevue’s Orvis, or any REI can provide gear options and tips from knowledgeable staff.
- Small floats work well for kids. This way there's no casting and re-casting.
- For younger kids, try a simple pole (with no reel). John, now a grandfather, remembers fishing with his dad: "I would spend most of my time trying to untangle the fishing line, so when I took my kids fishing, we used simple bamboo poles with floats. You want to make the experience a good one, and the best way to do this is to keep it simple."
- When it comes to bait, keep it approximately the size of your hook. And avoid hooks larger than size 10 (hooks run backwards in size). Fish won’t readily take large hooks.
- Kids might have fun digging their own bait. Dorothy Budinich, mother of four and grandmother of nine, with lots of fishing experience, says “help the kids find soft, damp dirt in the garden that would produce angle worms. Get a cottage cheese carton, fill it with dirt and find worms to put in it. Cover it with plastic wrap to keep it sort of cool and damp." Beyond worms, bait can be anything from salmon eggs to marshmallows.
- Kids should always wear a life jacket when around water. By law, children age 12 and younger must wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket when in a boat smaller than 19 feet in length. Start things off right by getting your kiddo familiar with a personal flotation device (also called a PFD).
Tips for first fishing trips
- When planning a fishing trip, keep your children's interest levels in mind. While adults usually appreciate the fishing part of the sport, kids (especially at first) typically need to experience the catching part of the process.
- Encourage kids to plan the fishing outing with you. Study a map together, pick the spot, make a list of gear or pack a lunch.
- Give kids things to be responsible for, like carrying the net or making sure everyone has a PFD on.
- If you’ll be using your own gear, make sure everything is in working order before you go. Let your kids help choose the bait.
- Dressing in layers is a smart way to go. And be sure to pack rain boots, umbrellas and slickers. This is the Pacific Northwest after all!
- Be flexible. Cut it short if you see that the kids are done, or extend time if they are having fun.
- Be a good example of conservationand preserving our fisheries.
- Teach them “catch and release” when appropriate.
- Keep kids busy. Look for wildlife, have a picnic or play games.
With these tips and some enthusiasm, you don’t need to be from a lineage of fishermen to pass on the sport. Seattle-area mother Jean Wu recalls how her husband spent time learning about fishing for the sake of their then-3-year-old son, Cody, who had been given a pole and became excited about "going fishing." Neither Jean nor her husband, Chiyang, grew up in a fishing family, so it was all new to them.
"He pretty much talked to whomever who was willing to tell him more about fishing. Fast forward five years later and fishing is now a fun father-son activity every summer," says Wu. "We stay posted on the kids' fishing derbies and invite all our friends to come with us."
This article was originally written in 2013 and updated on June 5, 2016.