The weekend is here, the weather is fantastic, and for miracle number 3 the lawn hasn’t grown a millimetre since you mowed it last Saturday. You’ve finally got some free time and what better way to spend it than by heading off for a fish. You start packing the gear and then that inevitable question sounds out from behind you: “Where are you going, daddy?”
You answer, “Going fishing” knowing that it will only elicit the question that always follows. “Can I come too? Pleeeaaase?” Not that you don’t want to hang out with the kids, but the last time you took them fishing it was not all that much fun for anyone. The kids got bored and started being silly, you got frustrated, and no one really caught much.
Maybe this sounds familiar, or maybe you haven’t even attempted fishing with the kids yet. The fact is that whether you are a keen angler, a holiday fisherman, or a grandparent looking for something to do when the grandkids visit, fishing with kids is something you need to think about more than just who’s going to hold the camera. It can take some planning and a little practice for fishing to become that enjoyable family experience you were hoping it would be. Here’s a few tips and techniques that will hopefully lead to family fishing trips being easy, effective and fun for all involved. The techniques that work best for you will depend on how old the kids are, as well as how many, but all of them can be applied to fishing with them at some stage.
Kids don’t want to sit around while you’re getting things ready or waiting for bites; you need to get them connected to every step of the process. From picking out their fishing clothes, packing the car, and collecting the bait, to landing and releasing the fish, or alternatively cleaning and cooking them, they need to feel part of it. This helps them learn the whole process of going fishing and it keeps the trip rolling rather than alternating between the ‘fun’ bits and the ‘boring’ bits. There may be parts of the process that you have to do yourself, but there’s always a way to get the kids involved or find something they can be doing while you get the job done. If you need to rig the rods, get younger kids to pass terminal gear as needed (being careful with hooks and other sharp objects of course). With older kids you can show them how to rig the lines and tie the knots.
Bait collecting is something that kids love; it can easily be just as fun as the fishing. Although bread is my go-to bait for catching fish with youngsters, for older kids and sometimes with the little ones it’s worth fishing with live self-caught bait just for the fun of pumping nippers, catching pipis or pulling worms.
The same applies here as with fishing; get the kids doing as much of the catching as possible. They love spotting or picking up the yabbies as you pump them, and what’s not to love about digging your feet into the beach sand while feeling for pipis. It’s great fun for young and old alike.
Nothing ends a family fishing trip faster than shivering kids, or, even worse, someone getting hurt. Unlike you, who may grit through the cold blustery wind or the scrapes and bruises from getting to a fishing spot, spurred on by the thought of that massive fish of a lifetime, the kids do not have that same incentive. If it’s not fun now, then it’s just not fun. Make sure you have the appropriate clothing to keep them warm and/or protected from the sun. Sometimes that means rugged up and keeping them out of the water; sometimes it means swimmers on, or wetsuits, so it doesn’t matter if they get wet. Depending on your location, they may need comfortable, protective footwear that can get wet. This is why I love fishing with the kids on sandy shores. They can run in and out of the water with no worries about oysters or rocks.
Keeping the kids comfortable goes further than just putting them in the right gear. It means selecting a suitable location and the right day to go. If the weather’s a bit ordinary, don’t force a trip that might just mean the kids decide fishing just isn’t very nice.
Although I’m certainly used to having fishless fishing trips, it’s very hard to convince the kids that fishing’s still worth doing even if you don’t catch anything. This is especially the case with younger ones. Choose your location and technique based on what will produce the most consistent action. Heaps of small fish keeps the action rolling along. Even if you’re getting large fish, long periods of nothing in between will be boring for most youngsters. They don’t really care that much about the size of the fish, they just want to see fish of any kind and size. As the kids get older, you can push the trips to focus more on catching better quality specimens.
Lure fishing very much limits the small fish action that comes with bait fishing, but it has the bonus of not having to re-bait the hook every cast. For older kids, and keen young ones, lure fishing can be a more enjoyable and active way of fishing. This works particularly well from a boat or kayak, as you can move around and fish the snags or structure in an estuary. This is not only an effective way of catching good fish, but it also means you get to see a bit more wildlife and different areas of an estuary, making a trip more interesting for them. Lure fishing is obviously restricted to kids that are able to cast themselves.
Often, for the first few trips you will be using your own gear for the kids. This can be problematic for a couple of reasons:
Firstly, it is most likely not suited to being used by small people. It may be too big and/or too technical. This makes it harder for them and therefore less enjoyable for both of you.
Secondly, you will be way more protective of your own gear when the kids keep dumping it in the sand and/or water, or running the rod into the ground or whatever objects they can find. This will lead to you having to control their movements far more, which is frustrating for all concerned and will possibly lead to yelling from one, or both, of you. Yelling should be avoided when attempting any kind of fun activity.
Kids having their own gear solves these problems for the exact same reasons. It will be more suited in size and function. Not only will they find it easier and more enjoyable, they will also be more protective of it as it’s their own to look after.
When it comes to choosing suitable gear, there are two schools of thought. You can either buy expensive equipment that will absorb more punishment, or buy cheap gear so you can replace it when it inevitably breaks, corrodes or otherwise stops functioning. I would always recommend the latter as kids have the knack of being very harsh, even on expensive gear. If it does exist, kid-proof tackle will likely be way more expensive than you will be prepared to pay anyway. Keep it cheap and simple until you know that fishing is the hobby for them and they have learnt to look after their gear.
Safety should not be an afterthought once you’re at the water. It should be integral to the decision of when and where to fish. How deep does the water get close to shore? Is the water flowing? What would the kids do if they end up in the water? What would you do? These are all questions you need to answer before you get started. Remember that you will often be distracted by the fishing process and may not have your eye on the kids for every second. I like to remind them that they need to stay safe and close by when fishing. For toddlers/non-swimmers, a comfortable kids’ PFD can give a child some help to swim to shore or keep them afloat so you can rescue them easily should they end up in the drink. An extra pair of eyes is always helpful, whether it’s another parent or an older child that can alert you to any issues.
The penalties involved in breaking the fisheries rules in any state can quickly turn a small fishing trip with the kids into a very expensive day out, so make sure you’re on top of any regulations that apply to the area you will be fishing.
In Queensland, anglers do not require a licence to fish, apart from some stocked impoundments. You’re free to fish in tidal waters or on the coastline without a licence, but make sure you pay attention to fisheries information signs in the area and check www.daff.qld.gov.au/fisheries/recreational for the rules and regulations, including size and bag limits as well as prohibited methods and locations.
In NSW, a person under 18 does not need to pay a recreational fishing fee. An adult assisting a person under the age of 18 to take a fish using a single rod is also exempt from paying a recreational fishing fee. If an adult wants to fish or collect bait themselves, separate from helping someone under the age of 18, then they will need to purchase a recreational fishing licence unless they are Aboriginal or hold an approved pension or concession card.
You can buy licences for 3 days, 1 month, 1 year or 3 years. To purchase a NSW recreational licence, you can go to a local tackle store that provides that service, however, it is usually easier to pay through the government website at this address: www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/fisheries/recreational
Here you’ll also find all the rules and regulations for recreational fishing in NSW.
In Victoria, anyone over the age of 18 and under the age of 70 will require a recreational fishing licence to collect bait or fish in any waters within Victoria. There is a list of exemptions on the Victorian fisheries website for seniors, concession cardholders, and traditional owner groups that may apply. Check http://www.depi.vic.gov.au/fishing-and-hunting/recreational-fishing for all the rules and regulations or to purchase a licence.
This is just my quick go-to method for fishing with my kids. Results will vary depending on fishing location and time, but I reckon it would be the most consistent technique for action in almost any estuary environment around the country. Pick a location where it’s sandy, easy to get to, and will hold various estuary fish, especially bream and mullet.
For the first part of our routine we dig a small hole in the sand above the waterline. The kids then crumble a few slices of bread into the hole, throw in a few handfuls of water and mix it all up with the sand. What kid doesn’t love the idea of making sandy bread mud pies? The kids then throw handfuls of the mixture into the water, as well as break up another slice of bread to throw in slightly larger floating chunks. As soon as you see these floating pieces getting hit by fish, you know it’s on and it’s time to start fishing.
Make sure you’re rigged up and ready while the kids are throwing out the berley. All you need is a light spin outfit, 6lb line, a small float, and a very small hook (size 8-12). Attach your float a good couple of feet above the hook. Peel small strips of bread for the bait. I like to wrap the strip around the shank of the hook and pinch it at the bend so that the fluffy ends sits over the point. This way the fish is more likely to grab the hook point and get caught.
All you do is cast it gently out to where you’ve been throwing the berley. When the kids were 2-3 years old, I did the casting while occasionally letting them ‘help’ me cast. Most of the time they dug in the sand and played in the water, while I hooked the fish. They would then come running to wind it in, take a pic and release it. That way they’re just having fun and doing all the high action bits.
When you’ve set up right, most of the time it’s a fish every couple of casts. Once the kids are older, you can teach them to cast and hook the fish themselves. This method is a nice, visual technique, as they get to see the bream and mullet grabbing the berley off the surface and watching the float disappear under the water when a fish takes the bait.
Remember that with a small hook it’s easy to gut hook the fish, so try to keep the slack out of the line so they are hooked before the bait is swallowed deeply. You will mainly catch small fish, but if you’re in the right spot, you can occasionally catch some very nice sized models.
‘Go to’ techniques by age
Really young (2-6 year olds). Lots of fish no matter what the size, bread fishing or pumping nippers for bait at an easy-to-access sandy estuary location.
Primary age to high school (6-12 year olds). Bait collecting and fishing in estuary locations, or introducing lure fishing to the keen ones.
Teenagers. Teach them how to do their own thing quickly. Teenagers will want to make their own decisions on gear and techniques. Kayak fishing can be perfect, as you can fish together, but do your own thing a little more. You can also get into areas that most kids don’t get to see.
Somewhere sandy and flat makes it easier to fish, as well as land the catch.
Lip grips can be very useful for spiky fish like bream and flathead.
Dress the kids for the weather. Once they’re cold, there's limited options out on the water.
Kayaking or boating to a sandbank can get you away from the crowds and makes a perfect spot with yabbies close by, and flat, open, easy fishing.
Whiting are a common catch on yabbies. They fight well and go even better on the plate.
Remember that the kids might not be able to put the same time and effort into a fishing session. It's best to call stumps before the fuel tank runs dry.
On a calm day, beach fishing with the kids can produce exceptional results.
The release can be just as enjoyable as the catch for most kids.
Trolling from the kayak or boat can give you a break from the bait, but without the kids having to be expert casters.
Fishing with the kids can produce experiences that are about more than just the fishing, and memories that will last a lifetime.Reads: 545