Winter fun for kids? There's an app for that, and it's called ice fishing

When it comes to taking kids ice fishing, who better to ask for advice about doing it than kids themselves?

“Ice fishing is fun and I learned to do it just by doing it,” said Ronny Hustvedt, my 7-year-old son who has been ice fishing for the past four winters. 

Catching fish and spending time with Dad are among the reasons he likes ice fishing. What he likes best, however, is the creature comforts that go along with the sport. 

“My favorite thing is having hot chocolate,” he said. 

When I interviewed my 5-year-old daughter, Vivian, she said she likes ice fishing and listed time with Dad, catching fish, and hot chocolate as her favorite parts of it.

How can staring at a hole in the ice be fun when there are apps and video games to be played? That’s the great challenge facing those of us who hope to carry on the traditions and heritage of ice fishing. But it can be done.

I’ve taken a lot of kids out on the ice and organized numerous kids ice-fishing events. The following tips are not just good advice for kids, but for all rookies you might take onto the ice with you this winter. 

Kid realities

Adults get bored, but not as quickly as kids. Adults want to catch lots of fish, but are more willing to wait for a bite than a child. Adults get cold, but physiologically kids get colder faster. Most adults forget these facts. 

Let kids be kids. What’s the harm in letting them throw a few snowballs or play with the minnows? That perch in a bucket is a lot more fun than the actionless hole in the ice. Forcing a child to sit and wait for a bite is a recipe for failure.

If kids want to play, read, or do something else besides fishing, let them. Unless they want to go home, it’s a good time to lead by example. Do some fishing yourself. They’ll be watching whether you know it or not.

Fun is contagious. If you are griping and groaning about everything going on, what fun are you? When things go wrong, laugh it off. 

Kids are a lot like little adults. They want to be independent and do as much as they can by themselves. There is a fine line between doing it all for them, and letting them try it and fail. Be accommodating and helpful, but when they say “I want to try it” or “I can do it myself,” let them. Failure is a great teacher. A child might not want to learn how to tie a fishing knot, but when the line breaks because of the knot, the child is probably going to want to know how to tie that knot the right way. 

Give kids jobs to do on the ice. My kids each have cheap ice scoops that they use to clean out the holes after I punch them with the power auger. This year, for the first time, my son used the hand auger to cut a hole in the ice. With some help, he was successful and felt a tremendous sense of satisfaction. 

If children want to try it themselves, it is a good indication that they are enjoying the experience. 

Quantity begets quality

Unless they are already seasoned anglers, and probably even if they are, most kids would rather catch five 1-pound fish than a single 5-pound fish. My kids still love catching tons of sunnies the size of their hands rather than going for larger fare, but with my oldest that’s beginning to change.

Walleyes are not a good introductory species. Focus on aggressive biters like perch or panfish. Tying into a mess of 4-inch perch might not be your idea of a successful day on the ice, but it’ll be a blast for kids. 

Separate your fishing experience from theirs. If you are taking kids out fishing, you are the guide and they are the clients. Give them what they want. If they get sick of catching little perch and tell you they want to catch walleyes, then go for it. My son is starting to like going after larger fish and using lures that will produce heft over haul. 

Just don’t force the issue on them because it’s what you want. It is better to leave them home than drag them onto the ice kicking and screaming. As most good guides say, the client should catch the most fish. 

Creature comforts

One of the easiest ways to make the trip fun is to bring some snacks and treats like hot chocolate. Kids enjoy the other experiences of fishing before they enjoy the fishing part and my kids provided proof of that. 

Bring good equipment along as well. Cartoon character rods are fun off the ice, but immediately lose their draw when they cause a child to lose a fish. 

Kids don’t have to fish with a bobber but it is a time-tested technique simply because they don’t have to feel the bite in order to know it’s happening. Make sure the bobber matches the lure. 

Keeping warm is harder for kids than it is for adults. They have a smaller body mass, are more sensitive to the conditions, and less likely to ‘grin and bear it.’ Keep them comfortable and they will usually stay on the ice longer.

Unless the weather is going to be warm, bring a shelter of some sort and don’t forget a heater. Using a shelter as a warming house will keep them warm but just don’t expect them to stay in there all day long. 

Another option is to rent a permanent fish house. Baitshops, resorts and fishing guides rent fishhouses for short blocks of time. Try to find one that will drill the holes and have the heat going for you. 

If you have a depth finder or underwater camera, bring it with you. It can help your fishing success and give the child something else to look at besides a hole in the ice. If you don’t have these items, consider renting one for the day. They are both fun fishing tools for children of all ages. 

My son loves watching the fish come closer on my electronics, and it didn’t take him very long to figure out that when the red blob for the fish is red on your lure that you should set the hook. 

A lot of winter clothing for children is made totally of cotton. It is comfortable on their sensitive skin, but it does very little to keep them warm or dry. A pair of synthetic long underwear is a minimal investment they can use even if they never go ice fishing again. Be sure to pack extra gloves because they will get wet. An extra pair of socks is a good idea as well because of the odd magnetic attraction between a child’s foot and holes in the ice.

Wait for it

This is for you, of course, not the children. The way you’ll know they had a good time is when they ask you if they can do it again. It might not happen that day, that week or even that year, but when they do you’ll know you did it right.

Kids need a lot of processing time and don’t always make up their minds very quickly. If they don’t give you the answer you want the first time, give them more time. Ask them a month later and they may have changed their minds. If not, give them until next season and ask again. 

It’s only a problem if you stop asking. 

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