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-ups, soggy worms and even soggier rain boots. Either way, fishing is a childhood rite of passage and — for many of us — an adventure we want to share with 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.
How can you get started fishing with your kiddos? It's easy. Read on for tips on gear and first trips.
Pro tip: Free Fishing Weekend is Saturday–Sunday, June 8–9, 2019! During this weekend, anglers of any age do not need a fishing license to fish in Washington state. Read the website carefully as other rules, such as season openings and catch limits, still apply. (At all other times, everyone ages 15 and older needs a fishing license.)
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.
Do we need fishing licenses?
Kids who are ages 14 and younger do not need a fishing license to fish in the state of Washington, unless fishing for common carp, crawfish, bullfrogs, smelt or unclassified marine invertebrates. Anyone age 15 and older must carry a recreational fishing license.
Note that rules differ for shellfish and that if youth ages 14 and younger are fishing for halibut, salmon, steelhead, sturgeon or Dungeness crab, they are required to have a catch record card to track and report what they catch.
Also, keep these tips in mind:
- Most kids do well with an ultra-light spinning or spin-casting rod-and-reel combo. The Avid Angler in Lake Forest Park, Bellevue’s Orvis store 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.
- 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. They can dig in the garden to find angle worms. Beyond worms, bait can be anything from salmon eggs to marshmallows.
- Kids should always wear a life jacket when around water. By law, children ages 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 kids familiar with personal flotation devices (also called a PFDs).
Tips for a first fishing trip with kids
- Keep your children's interest levels in mind and aim for an experience that will result in a catch.
- 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.
- Dress in layers, and be sure to pack rain boots, umbrellas and jackets.
- 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 conservation and preserving our fisheries.
- Teach and practice “catch and release” where 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 this fun family activity.
Where to try fishing in the greater Seattle area
1. Washington State Trout Fishing Derby lakes, statewide
From April 27–Oct. 31, 2019, more than 100 lakes in Washington state are stocked with more than 900 tagged fish to catch. Choose a lake, catch a tagged trout if you can, then see if you've won a prize. Adults and teens age 15 and over need a valid fishing license to participate; kids ages 14 and younger participate for free (no fishing license required).
2. Gold Creek Trout Farm, Woodinville
This local hatchery hole offers equipment. There’s no need to make a reservation, but check the hours before you go.
3. Pine Lake, Sammamish
Check online for the ideal time to drop your line into this lake. You may reel in a delightfully-named Pumpkinseed Sunfish.
4. Green Lake Park, Seattle
Green Lake has year-round fishing. Fish for trout, carp and catfish, among other finned fare.
5. Mill Pond, Auburn
At this fishing pond, you can cast off from the edge of the pond rather than from a dock or pier, so bring boots! Youth fishing only (ages 14 and under) at this spot.
6. Old Fishing Hole Pond, Kent
This is another youth-fishing-only spot. Adult fishing is prohibited. Let the tots reel one in and admire the beautiful Cedar and Salmon totem pole by artist David Boxley.
7. Mount Baker Park, Seattle
Kids can fish from the shores of Lake Washington. There’s also a recently updated playground (further into the park, away from the beach) and a swimming beach area.
8. Seacrest Park, West Seattle
Located on the West Seattle waterfront, right at the King County Water Taxi dock, this park boasts some of the best views of Seattle. It’s also a great spot for fishing and has a nearby boathouse. Follow with shave ice and sliders at Marination Ma Kai.
9. Jim’s U-Fish, Spanaway
Farmers Jim and Debbie love sharing their working farm in Spanaway. They invite families to come and visit with their fuzzy animals. Kids can ride a pony or train when they’re not fishing.
10. Belvoir Place, Seattle
This is a small dock on Union Bay in Lake Washington in Laurelhurst. Small, quiet and grassy, it’s the perfect spot for beginners.
11. Fishing for an Experience, Sammamish
If you don't feel like going it alone, this program based out of Sammamish offers guided family fishing outings to Eastside-area lakes. They nearly guarantee that you’ll go home with a fish; the catch rate is 99 percent.
Editor's note: This article was originally published a few years ago and most recently updated in June 2019.