Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Boundary Waters (and beyond) Fishing Tips for KIDS

We've all heard about "Take a Kid Fishing" days.  If we like to fish, we usually remember the first time we wet a line with Mom, Dad, Grandma or Grandpa.  Once you start, if you have a good experience, you are usually hooked.  The key is that "good experience" feeling versus, well, you know - a bad one.  This is what a good one looks like :)

What can make those first few times of fishing great?  What can go wrong and develop a distaste for the sport that so many people love and cherish?  Whether by canoe, boat, kayak or just from shore, I'd like to share some tips for taking kids fishing (and hopefully catching).  If you're heading into the Boundary Waters with kids anytime soon, there's some great advice here for you.  Keep them in mind even if you are just heading down to your local river or creek.

Remember that even if you don't like to fish, your kids might want to.  You could take along a book and a camera and it is a fantastic way to spend time together.

I remember my first tackle box, in fact I still have it, an orange plastic Plano box with three tiers of trays that folded out.  My dad stocked me up with purple plastic worms, hooks, sinkers and some of his favorite spinner:  Mepps.  Bobbers, line, a stringer from my grandpa's stock and a good pair of pliers.  Finger nail clippers and bug juice found their way in and some waterproof matches over the years.  I used his gear to start, but soon found myself digging through the rafters of my Grandma's garage to find a cane pole.

Some of my earliest fishing memories back home (not on the lakes of Minnesota where we went for vacation) found me on the muddy shores of a creek with that cane pole and a carton of worms.  Grandma by my side on hot summer days, Mom and Dad punching the clock and bringing home the bacon, missing out on the fun.  Once in a blue moon as we got older, my friend Brian and I would get on our bikes, balance tackle, bait and rods in one hand and take the separate gravel roads from our homes to meet at the bridge over Honey Creek.

The formula in both of these memorable places was incredibly simple.  A plain, aberdeen straight shaft hook, small split shot about a foot up from the hook and a red and white snap on bobber easily adjusted for depth.  A lively nightcrawler, pinched in half, usually did the trick for catfish, panfish or bass.  Tying on a flashy Mepps with a small barrel swivel at the end of your line or adding a 6 inch leader could land you a pike or a walleye in faster moving, cooler water.  Sometimes I'd trail that Mepps with the same worm after I switched.  If they weren't hungry for nightcrawlers I would try a bigger purple plastic worm or a chartreuse twisty tail.

One skill I needed to master before I began was that of tying a good fishing Knot.  I learned to tie my Dad's version of the Improved Clinch Knot.
Ours starts with a double loop.  Tying a knot over and over on a hook or a lure is a great way to get comfortable with fishing gear.  Using a larger hook or caribiner and rope can be a great teaching tool for kids.

Grandma always brought iced tea, soda or water and some snacks or lunch in a cooler.  Fried egg sandwiches and molasses cookies. Those early days by the creeks were short afternoons with shade trees nearby.  Horsing around on the shore was never forbidden, but that was on shore.  Canoes and boats are no place for sudden movements and frivolity.  We usually fished from shore :)  She always had plenty of stories to tell.  Some of my earliest catches were an old boot, turtles and crawfish from the muddy bottoms.  The boot was massive and it fought better than many of the catfish.

Dad and I would fish the eddies on the low side of the Rock River Dam, casting for walleye, panfish and the occasional monster catfish when I had graduated up to my own spinning rod and reel.  The simple formula for success never really changed, it just got simpler.  That was the secret for success on the northern waters we vacationed on in Ely, Minnesota as well.  Keeping the bait (live or artificial) as natural looking in the water as possible was key.  Plain hooks or ball jigs with live minnows, leeches and the old standby nightcrawers were hard to compete with, no matter how many rows of flashy lures for fisherman lined the boards at the bait shops.  They really were for fishermen more than fish.  Watching a bobber was always more exciting for me than touch fishing (jigging up off the bottom of the lake).  I later learned that slip bobbers while taking more time to set up are extremely versatile.

My kids love playing with minnows and worms (not so much leeches) so I usually get live bait nearly anytime we go fishing.  They like putting on their own bait and changing to little spinners on their own, so many times I give up a little natural presentation and put a swivel and snap on their line, so they can switch from jig to spinner whenever they like.  This adds to the fun.

I get my family all set up and untangled first if we go out in the boat.  If we go fishing from shore or at camp, I always make sure they are happy and have everything they need at hand (including a net) before I wet a line myself.  Sometimes I don't wet a line.  Sometimes we just go to a bluegill or panfish lake.  Small returns can mean great rewards, especially if the volume mounts quickly.  Besides catching is the goal, not size.  Smallmouth Bass fight pound for pound more than any other freshwater catch and they are becoming more and more plentiful in the Northland.  They absolutely love Mepps spinners.

As an aside, I carve my own topwater lures out of scrap cedar.  My kids have made some of their own lures as well.  There's nothing like casting your own handmade popper or stick bait and getting a bronzeback smallie to rise and bite.  With spare hooks, screw eyes, scrap wood, a utility knife, a Sharpie marker (or latex paint), sandpaper and imagination, your kids can make their own lures (with good adult supervision).

This is much more than those widely advertised "take a kid fishing" days.  This is something you can do with your kids over and over.  Notice anything from my stories?

Simple tips for Fishing with Kids:
1) It is about the kids fishing, not you.  You may not even wet a line.
2) Start them off with some gear of their own.   Stock a small tackle box together and practice some knots.
3) Keep the day short and fun, don't bore them, excite them with action.
4) Smaller fish in quantity are better than yearning for trophy sized catches.
5) Take their favorite snacks or lunch and some fun beverages.
6) Fishing off shore with bobbers and live bait is easy and fun.
7) Did I mention to make sure it is FUN!

Whether fishing by shore, canoe or in a motor boat, kids need to have the right safety gear.  Life Preservers (life vests) are a necessary part of the activity, especially for smaller kids by the edges of lakes and rivers (not something everyone would think of).  First aid kits and safety reminders for how to cast with people around are also a good idea.  Again, make it fun!   Tell them the story about how I hooked my Grandma in her soft grey curls while casting off the dock on White Iron Lake if you have to… that was a definite catch and RELEASE afternoon!

I always like to recommend a simple rig made right here in Minnesota to folks who go into the Boundary Waters and like to fish from their campsite.  With kids or without, this is a killer lure, that is really just a hook, spinner and float.  Made by JB LURES it is the little known, but highly effective WINKUM Spin-N-Float.  Just tie on a swivel and snap to the end of your line, put a heavier split shot for weight before the swivel, slip the loop on this rig onto your snap and rig a minnow, leech, worm, gulp artificial bait or twisty tail on the #4 octopus hook and you are ready for action.  Upon casting it out, the weight sinks, the float raises your bait up off the ground and the spinner flashes around like a one-eyed wounded bait fish.  You'll have time to feel your line being taken and see the end of your rod being yanked down before you set the hook!

You'll find these JB Lures Winkum Spin-n-float on the fishing lure wall at Piragis in Ely, where we stock lures that work in the Boundary Waters and the basics for kids and adults.  Make the trip to Ely soon and we'll even supply the FUN.  Hey, we are the "coolest small town in America" afterall!  We've got some great fishing supplies for Boundary Waters Canoe Fishing online as well.

Tim Stouffer

Look for more fishing tips this summer.


Joette B said...

Very interesting! What a wonderful family activity.!

Tim Stouffer said...

Thanks Joette. It sure is fun :) Especially when it includes a fresh fish fry at the end of the day! <