If there's a young person in your life that shows an interest in fishing from a kayak, please do the world a favor and take them. This is a great way to learn responsibility, conservation, and hopefully, give them an opportunity to catch a fish. But before you say "yes", here are a few things to keep in mind to help ensure an outing that is safe, enjoyable, and productive.
This can't be stressed enough. Things happen, but when they happen on the water, its worse. So, as always, hope for the best but be prepared for the worst. Ensure that several people on shore are aware of exactly where you'll put in, where you'll be going, and how long you expect to be out. Don't take more kids than you can effectively manage. Make sure you have all necessary safety equipment (pfd's, whistle, etc.) for you and each child, and make sure they know how and when to use it. Make sure you have at least a cell phone in a dry bag, or preferably a water proof VHF radio, just in case. Make sure all paddles are secured to the kayak with a leash.
ASSESS THE CHILD'S ABILITIES:
Some kids are already accomplished anglers but have never paddled. For others, both experiences may be new. Either way, don't put the kids in situations where they can't win. If a good fishing spot is a 4 mile paddle, that won't be fun for a beginner. If they're new to angling, start them off using an artificial lure, preferably one with only 1 hook (spoon, weedless jerk bait), not a minnow type with 3 trebles. This will help them learn to cast while minimizing unwanted hook-ups with hats, trees, and you.
5 am is a perfectly normal time for me to get up and head to the water. Most kids will balk at that. So find a happy medium that will be late enough for them but still early enough to get in on the bite. Make sure you include time for a good breakfast. Most kids aren't used to this sort of activity that early in the day, so make sure their gas tank is full.
FOCUS ON FUN AND INSTRUCTION:
You've been kayak fishing a number of times and have probably caught your share of fish in the process. But today is a special day for someone else. So, do all you can to make it a great day for them. When you pack up the rods, reels, tackle, lunch, and sunscreen, don't forget an extra dose of patience. The greatest gift you can give anyone (regardless of age or circumstance) is your time. Knots will happen - trees will jump off the bank to intercept perfect casts - gusts of gravity may dump your gear into the drink. So be prepared to deal with all of those things. This may keep you too busy to fish much, but it will certainly be appreciated by your young guest. Today, it's all about them.
KEEP IT FUN / KEEP IT LOOSE:
Focus on the fun of this sport. If you constantly stoke the fire by telling the youngster about all the huge fish they will catch, you're setting them up for a let down if it doesn't happen - they'll be less likely to want to go again. As we all know, "fishing" and "catching" are 2 entirely different sports. Don't be afraid to mix it up a bit. If the fishing gets slow, don't hesitate to do something else. Look for birds along the shoreline to investigate, or as we often do in Florida, try to observe manatees as they do whatever it is that manatees do.
KEEP IT SHORT:
I like a good movie, but not if it's 5 hours long. Kids have short attention spans, even under the best of circumstances. So, don't plan to be out on the water for hours upon hours. If your clan is getting restless, find a shoreline where you can beach the boats and let them walk, run, explore, and discover. And, there's no shame in calling it a day even if fish are still biting. Hopefully that will be your problem, rather than spending extra hours hoping for that one fish to save the day. And, if they say they're not having fun or they're bored, don't wait too long to pull the plug. Quitting when it's time can still salvage the day, and they will most likely be willing to try it again.
LIVE BAIT VERSUS ARTIFICIAL LURES:
Live bait almost always out catches artificial, but that requires lots of attention to casting techniques and rebaiting. Artificial lures are easier since they can be swapped out if needed, and no "bait checking" is required. Be prepared with both. I highly encourage the use of circle hooks as they do less damage to the fish, and are less likely to end up in an anglers hand. I've had kids find more fascination with catching baitfish with a cast net than actually fishing. You'll quickly discover that their goals and our goals are different. We all need to be kids again, even if it's just for half a day.
QUANTITY VERSUS QUALITY:
3 tiny fish means "... they were small, but we caught some fish today !". That's a good thing. Being where trophy fish should be but landing none means "... we got skunked - I hate fishing !". Do all you can to ensure they catch something, anything.
If you're not going to clean it and eat it, don't keep it. Make sure your young paddle anglers understand that. And, if you plan to keep some of your catch, be prepared for it by having a cooler with ice, etc. Killing fish just for the photo op or ruining fish because you don't have ice conjures bad mojo. It angers the fish gods. They get even eventually.
Invest in one of those disposable underwater cameras. You never know when they might be in the right place at the right time. A picture truly is worth a thousand words.
From the moment you have this idea until you arrive safely back at home remember this - today is not about you, it's about them. You're a farmer today, planting seeds that will hopefully reap fruits that you can enjoy for years to come.
Hopefully this article has given you some ideas and inspiration. Remember these kids are the future of the sport. They're also the people that will be picking our retirement homes. Be nice to them and hopefully they'll repay the favor by taking you fishing someday.
See you out on the water …
Special thanks to Jeff Harrell (Director of Recreation, Florida Sheriffs Boys Ranch) for his input on this article and for the good work he's doing.
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