Kids love the water. They also love the independence of doing things themselves. Whether they are in the kayak with you helping paddle or in their own 'yak next to you, they will get a sense of accomplishment that can't be had as a passenger in a powerboat.
While fun is the ultimate goal, safety must be the ultimate priority. The first thing to do is assure that the kids have a properly fitted and rated Coast Guard-approved PFD. Most children's PFDs have an added "crotch" strap that keeps the youngsters from falling out the bottom of the PFD. Quality kid-sized PFDs are relatively inexpensive, so don't buy an oversized one planning for them to grow into it. The PFD must fit well to work as designed, and also be comfortable and non-restrictive. This will make the child's kayak fishing experience more enjoyable.
Bring along a couple of floating PFD cushions. They make for comfortable seating and provide additional flotation in the event of a water entry.
Kids are naturally fidgety, and that's not a good thing in a kayak. Take the time to explain the need to be deliberate in their movements, but not at a level as to scare them. As most parents know, making things into a game will allow you to keep the child entertained while unwittingly having them learn valuable lessons. If at all possible, practice 'yaking skills in a controlled environment like a swimming pool or a calm beach.
If you have a tandem kayak or one that has sufficient room and weight capacity, it's best to start off small children in the kayak with you. They will be more at ease, and you can easily attend to them. Get them a small paddle so they can "help" and actually learn proper paddling techniques and skills. Older children and teenagers will do well in a kayak of their own; just stay close by as they learn the skills necessary to handle the kayak.
Once the kids are acclimated to kayaking, it's time to add fishing. Resign yourself to the fact that the trip is for them. You will spend your time baiting hooks, untangling lines and attending to a variety of minor mishaps. Patience, patience, patience.
If you're lucky, you'll also be unhooking fish. Use the opportunity to teach proper fish handling and conservation. It's also a great time to counteract the "Nemo" brainwashing that fish are your friends and not food. Explain size limits and why it's perfectly OK to keep fish that the family will eat.
Also, be prepared to explain why some fish (like undersized fish) have to be released. It's pretty tough to tell a child why he must throw back the fish he just worked so hard to catch.
Buy quality gear and avoid cheap, toy-like rods and reels. The kids will do much better with quality ultralight equipment that is easy to handle but will stand up to the rigors of real fishing. There's nothing worse than having a child hook a fish, only to lose it to inferior gear. Target easy -to-catch species and make the process as foolproof as possible.
Jayson and Michelle Poucher regularly take their two young boys kayak fishing. Braydon, 6, and his brother, Kyle, 5, love heading out in the 'yaks to go fishing with their parents.
"The easiest method is trolling where we don't have to do a lot of casting," Jayson Poucher said. "I tell them just hold onto the pole and let me know when one bites."
This technique lets the kids actually catch the fish virtually all by themselves. In addition to trolling, live or dead bait under a cork is another easy way for a kid to catch a fish: See the cork go down and yank.
As all experienced fishermen know, some days the fish just aren't biting. There's no quicker way for a young kid to get bored than watching a "stupid" cork that never moves. The Pouchers have found a way to keep their kids entertained without toys or other non-fishing items.
"We always make sure to take some live minnows along," said Jayson Poucher. "In addition to being great bait, a few swimming around in a water bottle will occupy the kids when fishing is slow. It's amazing; they have a ball playing with them, and those minnows will live all day."
Even a fishless kayak fishing trip can be an adventure in itself. Take the time to point out all birds and animals that might be encountered. A porpoise breaching near the yak may make the child's entire trip. Show them things like oyster reefs, bird's nests and other wonders of nature that they won't see in a video game. Kids' polarized sunglasses are inexpensive, and provide eye protection and allow them to see fish and other underwater creatures and features.
To help make the experience enjoyable for the kids — and you — make sure they are properly outfitted. Kayaks sit close to the water and have no shade. Kids burn easily. Get them a wide-brimmed hat, and use quality, waterproof sunscreen. Think of them as a mini you and outfit them accordingly. Dress them in comfortable, appropriate clothing, and make sure to have an ample supply of water, drinks and lots of fun snacks.
Recognize there will be the inevitable "I have to potty" call, but, unlike a road trip, there are no gas stations nearby. Plan accordingly and get the kids comfortable with the possibility of "going" in the wild.
A kayak fishing trip affords kids the opportunity to have an exciting adventure while at the same time learning things they won't get in school. Use your time together to teach them nautical and fishing terms. One thing you'll not have to teach is bragging about any fish they catch. That is any fisherman's natural instinct.
Also, be sure to pack a waterproof camera to document these memory-making outings.
A properly planned kayak fishing trip can be fun for the whole family. The kids will get a sense of accomplishment, independence and, most importantly, learn how to tell great fish stories.