There’s no better way to introduce kids to fishing than with a kayak.
The solitude and close quarters allow for easy instruction and great conversation, with almost endless teaching opportunities. On quiet paddles, a wide variety of wildlife may be seen — as well as several different species of fish caught.
The vast majority of kayaks used by anglers are single-seat models. However, too many anglers with small children overlook the fact that they can easily take a child along on most kayak trips. The weight capacity and stability on most models is sufficient to safely hold a small passenger — so don’t leave the kids at home.
However, a kayak fishing trip with a child is necessarily different than a serious fishing trip with fellow ‘yak anglers. The focus on such trip needs to be all about the child. They need to be comfortable, secure and well fed. (Nothing soothes a slow fishing trip better than their favorite snacks.)
The first order of business is a proper-fitting, Coast Guard-approved child’s personal flotation device. Many child-size PFDs include an added crotch strap that keeps them in the PFD in the event of a water entry. Get one that is not bulky or hot, and is sized properly for the child. It should be worn at all times. Remember, if it doesn’t fit properly they are going to be uncomfortable, and probably won’t have an enjoyable trip.
For fishing, quality children’s-sized rod and reel combos are easier for them to handle. It makes it easier for them to learn how to cast and reel in fish with equipment that is suitable for their smaller hands and stature. Focus on teaching proper techniques, and getting the child to catch a fish. But let them do it — don’t just show them how it is done. Some kids might say they don’t like fishing, but none have ever said they don’t like catching.
With a little ingenuity and rigging, most single kayaks 12 feet and over can easily be set up to add additional temporary seating space. Be it a small chair or even an ice chest, the rear tank well can easily be adapted as a place that your child can ride along and fish. Keep gear to the minimum for a successful trip. Most configurations allow ample seating with room to safely stand if conditions allow.
With just a little time and expense, children can be properly outfitted for a successful and enjoyable trip. But there’s no shade in a kayak, so make sure they have ample sun protection from both clothing and sunscreen. A good hat and polarized sunglasses can also make the trip more comfortable.
Remember, most kids have short attention spans, but with a few safety rules and some good advice, they’ll be able to move around a bit and stay interested. Be prepared to bait hooks, undo tangles and fetch lines from trees — it’s all part of the learning process. When kayak fishing with children, patience is a must. Above all, be prepared to answer questions — lots of questions. Boredom can set in quickly on slow days, but resist the urge to pacify them with electronics. Use the experience in nature to discuss the variety of wildlife and fauna in the area, and fishing regulations and reasons to practice conservation.
While the time together is the real prize, catching fish is a welcome bonus. Pick weather conditions and locations where the chances of catching fish are best. Be it panfish or redfish, it really doesn’t matter: Use live and natural baits to up the odds, and teach the child how it is handled, why it works and how to properly hook it.
Rod and reel fishing is not a necessity. A good old-fashioned cane pole and some worms make for a great outing. Catfish noodles are also a good way to introduce kids to kayak fishing. The noodles are easy to use and have a high success rate. And the kayak sits low to the water so they are easy for the kids to grab. But make sure they have on a pair of gloves so they don’t get rope burns if a big fish is on the line. Kids get super-excited chasing down a free-floating noodle that disappears for a few seconds as the fish tries to get away.
A well-planned kayak fishing trip provides a lifetime of memories and learning opportunities kids can’t get in school. They learn fishing terms, boating basics and even how to exaggerate the size of fish they catch. Bring along a small waterproof camera to document the outing. Tie a float to it, and let the child take photos, too.
In this hectic world, parents get precious little time together with their kids in such an intimate, one-on-one setting. Take advantage of it.