Teaching a child to fish and teaching a child to love fishing are not always the same thing. Young anglers must learn to bait a hook, cast, successfully hook a fish, and bring it to shore. But to really love fishing, a child first has to learn to love the outdoors by having fun during fishing forays.
“Fishing with children is not the same as fishing with your buddies,” said Emily MacCabe, Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s Hooked on Fishing coordinator. “The trip needs to be completely about them. Leave your fishing equipment at home so you can focus solely on assisting them with their own.”
It’s best to stick to basics with fishing gear for young anglers, she said.
“I look for light-action rods that are four-and-a-half to five feet in length and have a small, closed-face, push-button reel, as these are more accommodating for small hands and less likely to tangle,” said MacCabe.
“Open-faced reels are a good option for a more experienced youth angler. My favorite setup for a beginner in the 8-to-16 age range is the Zebco 22. It has a metal reel instead of plastic. They are reasonably priced, easy to find, and will last a long time,” she said.
A first tackle box should include bobbers, non-lead weights, plain-shank barbless hooks in sizes 6 and 8, and live bait, such as worms.
“This setup is great for fishing for cold and warmwater species, but I highly recommend starting out with warmwater [fish] because they usually provide a lot of action and can withstand a little more handling when releasing, which is common for beginner anglers,” MacCabe said.
“If they want to take a break, let them,” said MacCabe. “Chase butterflies and tadpoles, or splash in the water. If they’re having fun in the outdoors, then the trip is a success.”
Be sure to allow young anglers to do as much of the work as they are willing or able to do themselves so they learn the skills to eventually fish independently.
“Teach them how to put the worm on the hook, how to cast properly and accurately, and even how to handle their fish,” she said. “If they aren’t game right away, make sure you explain what you’re doing while they watch.”
Be sure to teach young anglers to look around before each cast and to always know where their hook is, she said, noting that it’s a good idea for child and parent to wear eye protection (sunglasses will do) and a hat with a visor as additional safety precautions. It’s also advisable to have youngsters who are not strong swimmers wear a lifejacket while standing on shore.
Several waters statewide are managed specifically for young anglers, open for fishing only to those age 15 and younger. Most youth-only waters are very accessible, and many are stocked with trout. For a list of youth-only fishing waters, visit maine.gov/ifw and select “Fishing,” then “Hooked on Fishing,” and finally, the “Youth Fishing Ponds” link.
Several organizations offer youth-only or family-friendly fishing events each year. Check with regional MDIFW offices, local gun and rod clubs, and with the Maine Youth Fish and Game Association ( maineyouthfishandgame.org) for scheduled events.