Dr. Mike's Fishing Tips
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Family Fun Tips

Ready to have fun fishing with your family?

Kids are adventurous, rambunctious, curious and fun loving. The result is that they naturally love the outdoors, but also have greater exposure to the dangers of the wilderness than the average adult. Most kids don't have the patience for fishing that many seasoned adult anglers possess. But with a little planning, preparation and patience on the adult's part, a fishing trip with kids can be safe and fun.

Safety must be the number one concern an adult has for children who are learning to fish and to enjoy the outdoors. It is important to try to foresee the potential dangers and plan for them. Sun exposure, boating, water currents, slippery rocks, insect bites, snakebites, wild animals, fishhooks, poisonous plants, cliffs and weather are some of the dangers that provide adventure to the child and gray hairs to the parent. Some areas even have traffic dangers that might not be too obvious, especially on or near mountain roads with blind curves. Sunscreen, good sunglasses, life vests (when boating or if poor swimmers are fishing on a dock or near swift current), buddy systems (everyone travels in pairs or groups), safe insect repellent, emergency whistles, proper food handling and storage, adequate amounts of food and water, proper clothing, proper instruction, soap, a first aid kit and a watchful eye are all necessary to help keep an adventurous outing from ending in injury or tragedy. Checking with the rangers or other authorities in the area where you'll be fishing can provide priceless, but free, information about local dangers and how to avoid them. The adult must know how to identify and avoid dangers in order to help a child avoid them.

The adult must also know how to provide first aid in case prevention doesn't work and the child is injured or exposed to poisonous plants. A very useful item for snakebites and insect bites is a syringe-style snakebite kit. These kits have a syringe-like suction device that draws poison out of the same hole that a snake or insect injected the poison through, without any cutting. They are quite effective and some have been documented to remove up to 75% of a poisonous snake's venom if used within the first minute after a bite. The author has personally used this type of kit to aid with insect bites on himself, his family and friends, but has (thankfully) not had the need to try the kit on a snakebite. Stinging nettles can be treated using wet sand to scrub off the invisible stinging hairs, followed by wet moss packed on the area for cooling and soothing relief. Poison oak and poison ivy reactions can be prevented by immediately washing the area with soap and water and by spraying on a cheap aerosol anti-perspirant (deodorant alone doesn't have the right ingredients). Juice crushed or boiled out of elderberry leaves and dabbed on the skin is the best medicine available to relieve poison oak or poison ivy after the reaction has already started, but the area should still be washed first with soap and water to remove the poisonous oil.

With all of the safety and first aid products and information available, the most important thing for an adult to do is to be a good example of outdoor and fishing safety. Watching one's step, wearing one's lifejacket in a boat, looking behind before making a cast, observing wildlife from a safe distance, wearing proper clothing, and other good examples all leave an impression on a child who is learning about the outdoors.

A safe trip is not enough to hold a child's attention. The parent or other adult needs to find ways to make the fishing trip fun for the child. A child cannot be expected to spend long hours sitting and holding a rod. The adult should also not plan to spend long hours paying attention to his or her rod without keeping an eye on the kids. Even so, there are ways to keep the children involved in fishing and enjoying the outdoors in general.

One method is to fish for a very catchable species at a good time of year. Spring fishing for bluegill or crappie is a particularly good way to introduce children to fishing, because there can be lots of action, which is more fun and interesting for the child. Often children want to be able to move the rod around a lot and see how things look and work when they're underwater. There's nothing wrong with letting them do that, as long as they're not swinging the rod around and hooking each other. Children that want to bounce the rod around can be successful using small jigs for panfish, since the fish will often strike jigs worked in an erratic, vertical manner. Some anglers have their children catch baitfish for them, including threadfin shad, using a small golden egg hook with a red bead on it by jigging it over the side of the boat. In fact, one of the author's favorite childhood fishing memories was catching bluegill on a bare golden treble hook vertically jigged off a dock in a small lake. Bigger children often enjoy casting and retrieving lures, especially spinners and topwater lures. If the only fishing available requires leaving a rod still with a baited hook, use rod holders and bells, so the kids don't have to be sitting still and chained to the rod. Sure, they'll miss a few fish, but the excitement of a ringing bell alerting them that a fish is interested in their bait will usually renew their interest.

Another way to keep children interested is to have a friendly competition with a very simple prize. Perhaps the person who catches the first or largest fish should get the first or biggest candy bar or other snack. Even without a prize, a child can feel pretty excited if he or she can catch a fish before (or a bigger fish than) dad, mom, grandpa or another adult. The competition can be for the first fish of the day, the biggest of the day, the first of each species, the biggest of each species, the first full stringer, the most fish total or the most of a particular species. There can even be a competition for the person who catches the most unusual or strangest-looking fish.

Yet another method to help children enjoy fishing is to plan a trip that involves more activities than just fishing, such as camping, hiking, swimming, boating, canoeing, water-skiing, horseback riding or bicycle riding. This keeps the children in the great outdoors, learning about and enjoying the natural world around them, and fulfills both their enthusiasm and their short attention spans. Some activities can even be combined with fishing. For example, fishing can be combined with snorkeling to add a whole new dimension. This usually requires a cheap fishing rod and reel (one that is O.K. to get really wet inside), a lifejacket to provide resistance against a fighting fish, as well as the usual snorkel, mask and fins. Snorkeling is a great way for a child or an adult to learn how a lure behaves underwater and how fish react to it. The author was just introduced to snorkel fishing recently by a friend who snorkels and scuba dives, and he was fascinated to see bass and bluegill attack jigs and other lures so fast that he often could not feel the bite.

As children turn their attention away from fishing, adults often think that the child doesn't like to fish. However, the child may just need a break or may just want to pay some brief attention to something else that is interesting about the outdoors. This is where the adult's patience for children needs to rival their patience for fish, especially since there is nothing wrong with safely enjoying the wonder of the outdoors. This is also a good opportunity for the child to contribute something else to the fishing experience, if he or she is willing. On a boat, a child can learn to handle a net to help land fish or to use a trolling motor. When fishing from shore or along streams, one of the author's sons likes to explore and find hooks, lures, weights and other tackle that has been washed up on the sand or rocks. A child whose attention turns to insects may feel very important if he or she can catch some bugs than can be used as bait, like grasshoppers, crickets, caterpillars or worms. Lots of other little things that fascinate kids can also be used as bait, including crayfish, frogs, waterdogs (larval tiger salamanders) and small fish. If the child would be traumatized to have his or her freshly caught friend impaled on a fishhook, then don't do it, just let them have their fun. It is also important to always make sure that the bait being used and the fishing techniques employed comply with the law, because a citation or arrest by a game warden is not a positive experience or a good example for children.

One important thing to bear in mind when teaching children to fish is that a child will make mistakes. It is therefore best not to let a child use the most expensive equipment or lures. An inexpensive or used rod that still functions well is the best thing for a child to use. One of the author's friends bought his son a Spiderman fishing rod and was surprised when his son caught a 3-pound striped bass on it. This small investment got his son "hooked on fishing." As a child gains experience and learns to properly care for his or her equipment, he or she can be entrusted with newer, better equipment.

It's a little more work to keep children safe, instruct them properly and plan for fishing activities that interest them. Despite all the planning, kids will be kids and they'll be too interested in the outdoors to focus on just fishing for hours on end. As long as they're having good, safe fun with a little fishing thrown in here and there, the children will be building good memories and good experiences that will boost their self esteem, their love for the outdoors and the family's unity.

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