Fishing With Kids — If You Fall, Get Up

by | Sep 18, 2018 | 19 comments


 

“How long have they been fishing with you?” he hollered. The old man leaned over the wooden railing of the walking bridge and gestured toward my sons who were wading upstream. As Joey fished some thin pocket water in the shade, Aiden searched the shallows for anything unusual to add to his daily rock collection. The sun-drenched day was warm enough for wet wading, and the boys had been out with me for about an hour.

I waded downstream and stopped under the walking bridge to visit with the stranger. We watched my sons and chatted for a while. He told me stories about his childhood in Connecticut, of rivers and rope swings and cheap fishing gear. When Aiden turned downstream to hold up a new prize from the streambed, and when Joey yelled down that he just missed another one, the stranger and I waved back and replied with big thumbs up.

“So, really . . . how many years have they been fishing?” He asked again.

“Well,” I said. Aiden is six and Joey is eight. I think they both started casting fly rods around five, but they cast spinning rods a little earlier.”

I explained that, from the beginning, Going fishing with these kids was less about catching trout and more about taking an adventure together. What can we see today? What will we find? Those are the questions to focus on rather than, How many fish will we catch?

Just then Joey hooked a trout on the shade line of a poplar tree — right where the fish was supposed to be. After a brief closing word with the stranger, I quickly waded upstream to help Joey.

That was about two years ago. And it was a good day — a memorable trip where Aiden found a piece of metal that he insisted was a sheriff’s badge, and Joey hooked two trout on a dry dropper rig.

The things you find . . .

But just a few months ago I had a parallel experience, at the same walking bridge, with my boys in roughly the same spot. Aiden was fishing this time.

I turned toward the voice when I heard some unsolicited advice from the bridge:

“Man, those kids are young. Be careful out there.”

Surprised, I stared back at the young couple crossing the bridge, and they nodded upstream toward my boys.

“Thanks.” I said flatly. And they walked onto the weedy path on the other side, disappearing into the woods.

What I’m about to argue should be taken with a generous serving of reason and caution. A lot of preparation and awareness goes into keeping kids safe around any body of water.

But with that in mind, I’ll say this: Don’t hold kids back from the experience. Put them in the right conditions, and kids can handle a river. I’m talking here about wading trout streams. Rules from a boat are different, and they can handle that too, but my focus is on getting kids’ feet into the creeks.

Without getting too grumpy about the good old days, I’ll mention that my Mom was a worrier. What Mom isn’t? And yet, she gave me the freedom to walk deep into our twelve-acres of forest and further into the surrounding land. I rode my bike on the road (yes, without a helmet), and I climbed to the top tier of the tall trees in our front woods. (Maple trees are perfect for a ten-year-old kid.) I also played in the small ditches and streams nearby. My boys do the same now, and sometimes they have a fly rod in hand.

These pictures are still two of my favorite memories. They’re from the day Aiden caught his first wild brown.

READ: Troutbitten | Aiden’s first solo brown trout

Things that help . . .

Here are a few points to help worrying Moms and Dads feel a lot more at peace about fishing with kids.

If you fall, get up!

This is where it starts. It’s been my message to my sons since they were toddlers. My boys were never the type to lay on the floor after running full steam into the corner of the coffee table, because I stressed one message from the beginning. I’ve said it so many times that my wife just rolls her eyes now.

“If you fall, get up.”

Simple right? But that immediate instinct is what keeps kids safe in a trout stream.

We might assume that a kid who falls down while wading will react by trying to get his feet back under him. But it helps to teach him this point, over and over.

Wading Belt

If they’re wearing waders, then a wading belt is a must. The belt seals off everything from the waist down, at least for a few moments. It keeps water from pouring in and dragging them down when they do fall.

Traction

The stability for my boys improved dramatically once I enhanced their traction. Studs, felt or both make a world of difference for all of us, and better traction lends new confidence to new wading anglers.

The Grip Studs that I wrote about last week are my favorite option. The short, auger style shaft doesn’t go all the way through the thin soles of kids’ boots. And Grip Studs hold tight in my boys’ wet wading sneakers as well.

Gluing carpet to the boot soles is another option. Any carpet remnants will work, but low pile with a tight weave works best. Use rubber cement or Goop. That’s what my uncle did for me when I was young. It works, and it stays on for some time, depending on your attention to detail during the application.

Sunglasses

The most pertinent danger out there is a stray cast. I always have polarized sunglasses on my boys when they’re on the water with me. An unexpected hook in skin is one thing, but a hook in the eye may cause permanent, life-altering damage.

Go Barbless

Why not crimp down every barb on every hook? When the hook does find an unwelcome target, the barbless version backs out with fewer sobs and tears.

Joey

Knees — Thighs — Belt

My boys ask me all the time: “Hey Dad . . . knee deep, thigh deep or belt deep?”

It’s not about how deep the water is. Rather it’s about how deep I allow them to wade. I judge the conditions; I consider what I know about the area and about their wading skills, and I set the rule.

“You can only wade up to your knees here, buddy.”

Easy enough.

Clear Water

As much as I trust my boys on our home water, I still don’t take them out when the water is running high or muddy. They need to see their next step. (And that’s another good reason for the polarized lenses.)

Shallow Water

The real challenge is in finding the right water. It must be shallow enough for small kids to wade. But it should be set up so the trout aren’t easily spooked by the young angler’s approach.

I spend a lot of time thinking about sections of river that suit them. And in some rivers there aren’t many, to be honest. The best spots are places where they can wade in shallow water and cast to something a little deeper and darker, only ten feet away.

The range of water a kid can effectively fish grows with them. And soon enough their stronger, taller legs and arms have them wading rough water and picking off trout that were previously unreachable. It’s a lot of fun to watch.

And it starts with you

If you are confident in the river, then your son or daughter can be confident too. That goes for safe wading and for the fishing itself. Because, the best advice for anyone hoping to take a kid fishing more than once is to be a good angler first. If you know the water, you can wade it safely with your child. And if you know the habits of trout and a few techniques to catch them, you can catch trout with any kid.

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Fish hard, friends.

READ: Troutbitten | Category | Fishing With Kids

 

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Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky
T R O U T B I T T E N
domenick@troutbitten.com

 

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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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More from this Category

Fishing With Kids — “Born to fish big”

Fishing With Kids — “Born to fish big”

Parenting is mostly guessing and then hoping you were right. My design all along has been to get the boys beside a river as often as possible.

Will they be fly fishermen at fifty? Will they take on fishing as a way of life? Will they need it as something to help them through difficult times? I don’t know. But I’m giving them that chance.

Joey waded through a knee-deep riffle, toward a bank side boulder that he’d never reached before. We’d fished for two hours with the fish count as zero as the skies unloaded a hard rain into the river. I waited underneath the half-shelter of a large sycamore and watched my son from twenty feet away . . .

Legendary

Legendary

Hours earlier . . .

I walked behind Dad to the river. I kept my head down through the steady morning rain, watching water drops grow on the brim of my hat and then fall in rhythm with each step forward. On a muddy side trail I followed Dad: my boot tracks into his, my wide and awkward gait to keep up, the sucking sound of mud and rubber separating with each step, and more water rushing in to fill the hole behind — then the splashing of my own half-sized boots into his full-sized tracks.

We walked until our path finally ended underneath a stand of spruce trees at the edge of the river. Dad looked back . . .

A Fish Out of Fresh Water

A Fish Out of Fresh Water

I’d been to LBI at least a dozen times but never cast a line into the salt. Sure, I found the prospect of hauling fish from the surf intriguing, but I suppose I’d always stopped at the reality checkpoint — I live five hours from the ocean, so how often can I really fish water with tides? And while most people enjoy dabbling in things once in awhile, that approach is really not my bag. A short run with something leaves too many questions wandering around and bumping against each other in my brain. And without returning for a follow up experience, the questions remain frustratingly unanswered. I’m a researcher at heart, and I want those answers.

But my two boys are old enough now to be researchers themselves. And once they knew we were traveling to LBI, New Jersey for vacation, they looked into where to fish, what to fish and how to catch the biggest fish in the sea.

We were casting bobbers into a pond with spinning tackle when Aiden first brought it up back in June.

“Hey Dad, when we’re at the beach, we have to buy squid and bunker. We need bigger hooks too, because these ones are too small.”

I perked up and turned toward the small raspy voice of my seven year old son.

Even When it Rains

Even When it Rains

Sure, some guys say you’ll catch the river beast only in high water. And most general trout fishing books contain a section that puts a positive spin on high water, detailing tactics that are sure to fool trout even with a river in flood stage.

I used to go out in such conditions because I believed that stuff. I thought once I brushed up on my muddy water techniques I would land the biggest trout in the river.

Boys and Dads

Boys and Dads

I opened my eyes to full daylight. And the first sound I heard was rain in the gutter behind the bedroom window. I’ve learned to gauge the amount of rainfall by the dripping sounds of water inside an aluminum tube. Without pulling the window blind, I understood that the storm was steady. Somehow, I also knew it would continue all day.

Down the hall and on my way to the coffee pot, my nine year old son caught up to me, and with his characteristic excitement for everything in life, he asked, “Dad, can we fish today?”

I have a self-imposed rule for parenting. There are three things I always say yes to: baseball, music and fishing. When either of my boys wants to throw a ball, strum a guitar or sling a fly rod, I do everything I can to make that happen . . .

I want to, but I don’t want to

I want to, but I don’t want to

My favorite eight-year-old looked at me exasperated, with his signature furrowed brow and troubled eyes. He animated the short speech with both hands and turned up the volume on his words. “Well Dad, I want to, but I don’t want to.”  Ahhh yes. That’s my son, because I’ve felt like that my whole life.

His tortured answer was a reply to my easy question: “Should we fish today?” But life decisions are hard for a boy so full of ideas and new plans for each day. I know it. I feel it. I remember it.

At that age, I hadn’t yet learned about the bargains we make with time — that we may do this thing now and the other thing later, accepting that upon fruition the second thing may be only half as grand as we’d hoped, if only because it wasn’t done first. These decisions are desperate when you’re eight years old.

He’s stuck right in the middle of two eras — old enough that the adults aren’t regulating every facet of his life, and yet not quite adept at wielding the freedom of choice. It’s overwhelming sometimes. I see it. I get it. I remember it . . .

What do you think?

Be part of the Troutbitten community of ideas.
Be helpful. And be nice.

19 Comments

  1. Domenic, this is a fantastic piece. As both a dad and a grandpa, I echo your take on the focus being getting them on the water for an adventure, rather than just fishing. Poking around and exploring are just as important at that age, but when they see you hook up, or when they catch their first fish, then the passion and interest grows. I also think there is a window of opportunity when they are young and naturally interested. Wait too long, and they will miss that natural curiosity and exploring phase. Good on ya for getting your kids out in nature. It matters.

    Reply
    • Thanks, buddy.

      Reply
  2. I sent this to my wife! I need all the reinforcement I can get (to get her cool with me taking out my 8 yr old wading/fishing). Love it.

    Reply
  3. Great stuff. My boys are 2 and 3, and I really looking forward to getting them on the water in the next few years. Will keep this article in mind!

    Reply
  4. The first time I ever took my kids to a river, we arrived in the early evening. They were begging to fish, so I let them wade out a little way with me since it was their first time and they were so eager – a feeling I wanted to let germinate. But as the light was fading, within a few feet of the bank both of them were extremely nervous and soon fearful – suddenly the river seemed dark and scary to them. I immediately regretted the decision. I think we forget that they weigh less than half what we do, and the water gets high fast for them. I think what you’ve said here is very good advice. I’m a huge fan of letting them live and learn, and I say to mine often, “take the risk, just make sure to use the team of support around you.” But, as the lead member of that team of support, you have to know when and how to remember what it felt like to be their age.

    Reply
  5. My parents gave me the freedom to fish by myself at an early age. Don’t fall in. 3 kids had drowned at the local community fishing hole. The day that changed my life was the day I fell in. And I stopped waist deep. Heart racing panic until I realized everything would be ok.
    Talked to George Daniels at Denver fly fishing show and took the moment to praise this Troutbitten blog. Hope to meet in person one day.

    Reply
    • Thanks Bob.

      Years ago, I took a young 11 year old kid under my wing as a fly fisher. What a go-getter he was. One time the wind was blowing hard and it was cold. His Mom told me, “Yes, he can go fishing with you, but just be sure that a tree doesn’t fall on him.”

      HA!

      So we went fishing.

      Dom

      Reply
      • I just reread this article but had not seen your reply until now. Love your writing and tips.

        Reply
  6. Great advice on fishing with kids here Dom. This advice will help a kid grow and develop into someone who has self discipline and respect for people and the resource. And, love the outdoors thru fishing and other pursuits too.

    Reply
  7. Any recommendations on brand waders for young people? Would like to get my grandchildren involved, but they grow quickly. Thanks for all your great tips and wonderful writing.

    Reply
  8. This is such a great article! I enjoy reading so much of your material, but this hit home for me.

    Almost everywhere I go I carry at least 1 fly rod and fish for anything that swims with it. I also have a daughter that is now 4, that I carry almost as many places.

    I had her fishing with me at 2, and before she turned 4, I had her in a pair of waders wading beside me. On her second outing, she witnessed me catch a p.b. wild brown – 26 1/4. (Good luck charm maybe..?)

    But as you mentioned, water safety is so vital. And she knows the rules well. She also carries a walking stick that helps a lot, and then hears the words – “watch where your feet go” at least 47 times a trip.

    Oh what great memories, can’t wait to teach her how to cast a Mono Rig!

    Reply
  9. The Knee, Thigh & Belt expectation is priceless. Simple and Effective.

    Reply

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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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