Getting Kids Started: It’s about Them and Their Fishing

A frank discussion on what it takes to get more kids into the
sport.

To Jason Mitchell, introducing kids to fishing and hooking them
on the sport ideally takes place on the same day. It’s a specialty
that takes a commitment from an adult that goes beyond “letting ‘em
come along.”

Mitchell is a veteran guide from Devils Lake, North Dakota, who
travels widely to fish and film Jason Mitchell Outdoors television.
Still a relatively young man himself, he has a huge soft spot in
his heart for helping youngsters become attached to
angling-including his own kids, Olivia and Brennen.

“It has to be about the kids and their fishing,” begins Jason.
“Your child-to-adult ratio has to be low. You can’t expect to take
out more than two kids, and it’s best if it’s one-on-one.

“And you have to be in a good spot. It doesn’t have to be a fly-in
trip; it can just be a good spot off a dock, or the best bullhead
spot in the area. As long as you can provide something with fins,
some action, you’re off to a good start.”

Kids Own the Day

While guiding, Jason has seen firsthand what happens when parents
want their kids to pursue big walleyes rather than the faster
action of smaller walleyes, or better yet, panfish.

“If parents put their own desires in front of the kids’, it’s
usually a disaster,” he says. “Don’t go out there to impress these
kids with your advanced abilities. Have their first trips be
something simple they can grasp. Something where they can have
success.

“Try to find a situation where it’s easy, in a sense. Take them to
a place where they can cast and not get into trouble, but let them
make mistakes without criticizing their technique. When you take a
youngster fishing, that day is their day. You’re fishing for
whatever bites. And you stop when they want to, even if it’s after
just an hour. Kids don’t have the threshold to stay out all day,
even if it’s a nice day.”

After an outing or two, if a youngster is taking to the sport, then
it can be time to broaden their horizons-but keep the training
wheels on.

“You can take them out trolling crankbaits, or bottom bouncers, or
jigging,” says Jason, “but it might take you to detect the bites in
those situations. As soon as you set the hook, hand them the rod.
At the end of the trip, they don’t remember you had anything to do
with it. They tell their friends how many fish they caught.”

Let ‘em Bring Toys

On a youngster’s first fishing excursion, it’s common for them to
want to bring a gaming device or other toys. Rather than separating
them from these security blankets, Jason urges adults to “not ban
toys right off the bat.”

From his guiding experience, Jason has seen that it almost always
works better to let kids bring toys, and play with them.

“I don’t think it’s a big deal if they want to bring some toys from
home,” he says, “if it eases the transition between living room and
the outdoors. A lot of times, the Game Boy is in the glove box by
the end of the day, and they aren’t paying attention to it
anymore.”

Let ‘em Keep Some Fish

Some kids naturally want to let every fish go, some kids want to
keep ‘em all, and some kids want to keep one or two.

As long as the fish are of legal size and limits are adhered to, “I
think kids should be able to keep some fish,” says Jason, “and we
shouldn’t judge the kids for which fish they choose to keep. If
they spend the rest of the day with the livewell open, looking at
the fish, and then we fillet them and eat them, that’s all good
stuff.”

Let Friends Come Along

While he feels that initial outings are best handled one-on-one,
after kids have a good introduction to fishing, bringing a friend
or two can help kids have fun on the water.

“Especially once they get a little older,” says Mitchell, “maybe
fourth or fifth grade, let some friends come along. Then it’s
really cool. They love to do things with their friends. It’s a good
way to get their friends outside, too. Maybe all of them will like
fishing, and it will become something they do together for many
years.”

Mentors are the True Key

Jason, who is also a volunteer instructor for the nonprofit School
of Outdoor Sports, believes that the key to developing lifelong
anglers is to provide them with quality mentoring.

“Teaching kids to fish requires a commitment of time from people
who are willing to put their own fishing on hold,” he says. “You
have to get kids on the water several times before they can get a
feel for it, have some success, get that feeling of accomplishment
that makes fishing so important and special.

“It’s so important that they catch something. Those are the
life-changing events. If they catch fish, that’s what they
associate fishing with, rather than being cold or hot or getting
sunburned. It comes down to you taking one kid to your best spot
and letting them catch-or at least reel in-all the fish. If
everybody did that once a year, we’d have a lot more new
anglers.”

 

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