Here are the top 5 tips for introducing your kids to fishing:
1. Don’t plan on fishing yourself, especially not if you are fishing with young kids. You will only frustrate yourself and your children if you do. Let the focus be on them. If you only have one child with you, there is a chance you may get some fishing of your own in, but don’t plan on it. If there is more than one kid going, do yourself and your kids a favor and don’t plan on fishing. Otherwise, it turns into a “daddy just wants to make one more cast” situation where your kids, and you, will end up disappointed.
2. Acknowledge their shorter attention spans. Don’t make their first fishing trip an all day slog. Keep it short. If your child wants to pick flowers, chase frogs or whatever instead of fishing, that is fine. Your goal should really be for them to learn to have fun in the outdoors. They’ll be happy you took them. Last season, I took two of my daughters to my favorite brook trout stream, which is a beautiful sight to behold. They decided they wanted to build “water fairy houses” on the side of the stream instead of fish. Fine. They had a great time and still talk about it. Take breaks. Relax. Have fun.
3. Keep them safe and comfortable. Eye protection always. Use barbless hooks. Make sure you have sunscreen, bug spray, snacks and plenty of water. If you wade with them, keep them close and have them wear a life jacket. Hold hands. You won’t always get to hold their hands. If the weather is not favorable, do something else that day. Fishing at that age should not be about enduring the elements.
4. Keep it fun. I always take the kids out for a treat after fishing, usually ice cream.
5. Set them up for success. You may love trout fishing, but that may not be the best way to introduce your kids to fishing. Remember, your kids probably have a shorter attention span than you, and may not have what it takes to become a serious trout fisherman at a young age. I would suggest that you start with bluegills or other panfish. Here is the best advice I can give you to keep your kids interested in fishing: find a pond close to home that has a good stock of pan fish. Keep an eye on the pond, and in late spring or summer when the bluegills are on their nest, take them fishing. If they can fish from a dock or a reasonable bank, that would be best. Tie on a dry fly of some sort. The specific pattern probably does not matter, but I like to use an elk hair caddis or small foam terrestrial pattern like a beetle. Have your child cast over the nesting bluegills and get ready for thrilling surface action as those ‘gills smash your fly. If you are patient and take your kid out when the conditions are just right, you will be rewarded with exciting, relatively easy fishing with your child, which is great foundation for a life-long interest in fishing.
Here are some specific Tenkara tips:
1. How old should my child be? My daughters first tried to fish with Tenkara when they were 6. I’ve seen kids as young as 4 handle an 11 foot Tenkara rod. My daughters are quite small (the youngest is 7 and only weighs 40 pounds), and they still do just fine with a standard Tenkara rod. I would encourage you to bring younger kids on fishing adventures, but put more focus on the adventure than the fishing.
2. How much line should I use? Keep it short. Probably rod length, or even 2-3 feet shorter. You probably don’t need more than 2 or three feet of tippet. You should start them out on fish that are not spooky, so it is far more important to give them a length of line that they can control than trying to use a longer line for the sake of stealth.
3. Which flies should I use? I think kids have a lot more fun with surface flies. They can see the takes and know when to set. I’d start with dry flies. Believe it or not, small poppers on Tenkara can work really well and are a lot fun. There is plenty of time to teach them to use a kebari, nymph, streamer or whatever your favorite pattern may be.
4. Do I need to buy a shorter rod for a young child? In my opinion, no. See # 1 above.
That’s it. Keep it fun, keep it short, and set your child up for success. Good luck introducing the next generation of fisherman to Tenkara!