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Fishing With Kids

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School kids on a fishing charter in New South Wales. Photo credit Henk Tobbe @vk2gwk on Flickr.When you hear the words “fishing charter”, the first thought that comes to mind isn't usually children. Parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles looking for kid-friendly activities worry about long trips, rough waters, sharp hooks, adult-sized gear, and whether kids can even handle a large fish in the first place.

But you might be surprised — it turns out kids of all ages can enjoy a fishing charter. All that's needed are a few special preparations, and some minor adjustments to your game plan. You can give those your budding anglers the trip of a lifetime while getting them hooked on a sport that's healthy, educational, and fun.

Why Fishing Charters?

Fishing in itself is a great activity for kids of all ages. It helps kids learn where food comes from, gets them up close with nature, and lets them explore new places while practicing proper safety. It can be an opportunity to teach them about ecosystems, and foster an interest in different kinds of local fish species and how they live. The act of casting for and catching their very own fish gives kids a big sense of accomplishment, too!

A benefit of hiring a fishing charter is that with a charter, you have someone else handling the technical details while you get to spend time with your children. Experienced captains know how to lend a hand with anglers of all ages. Most charters can provide fishing equipment suitable for kids such as childrens’ life jackets, short fishing rods, tough rod holders, and barbless hooks.

Many charter guides will teach older kids with more patience and skill how to implement more advanced fishing techniques. When you contact a charter company to book, let them know the ages and skill level of your family and ask them what they can provide for your kids.

How Old Should Kids Be For Sea Fishing?

How old is old enough when it comes to taking kids out on the ocean for fishing? Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. You have to take the physical ability, maturity, and behaviour of each child into account, and sometimes there's nothing you can do except give it a try.

Still, don't sell kids short: A number of studies show that children start showing advanced motor skills and coordination as early as 7 years old, plus a calmer temperament to go with it. 7-10 is not an unreasonable age range for kids to be out catching their first haul, and with the right kind of boat, children even younger than that can be perfectly happy out on the water.

Fishing With Kids Under Age 5

Children under the age of 5 generally don't have any ability to cast or reel, but can be plenty excited by fish and the boat itself. They can help mom or dad hold the rod when the line is calm, look at sea life up close, ask questions, and learn more about the ocean's ecosystem.

But young children have short attention spans, so make sure to bring plenty of distractions and snacks, and make sure that someone can be watching them at all times. Charter boats that have heated and covered cabins are good for keeping young kids comfortable reading books, playing games, or taking a nap. Make sure your boat also has an easily accessible on-board washroom to lessen the chance of a potty emergency.

Fishing With Kids Aged 5-7

Small kids are happiest with a steady flow of action, and can have a blast catching large quantities of smaller fish even if they aren't suitable for eating. At this age kids can hold a rod and learn to cast, but their motor skills and patience might still have a ways to go. As they gain experience, they’ll be more likely to trade quantity for quality when it comes to their catches.

This age range is a good time to get kids familiar with fishing gear, and introduce them to slightly longer cruises in the 3-4 hour range. The amount of assistance they will need can vary a lot over this time period, so make sure to stay on hand if it’s their first fishing trip.

Fishing With Kids Aged 7-10

By about age 7, kids' motor skills are developing quickly and many children are able to handle lightweight gear on their own, though adult assistance is needed for heavy tackle or fish. At this point they can be introduced to extended trips further out to sea, and may have the skill to begin catching fish suitable for the dinner table.

Fishing With Kids Aged 10-15

As kids grow into their preteen and teen years, they tend to have more patience and better coordination. Young teens are usually capable of handling standard adult fishing gear and tackle, and grow confident with more experience. At this age they may be operating at adult or near-adult fishing levels and can be left with minimal supervision.

Fishing With Kids Aged 16 or Older

Once kids reach age 16 or older, they should be fully capable of handling all fishing gear, including heavy tackle, gaffs, and large fish. These young people should be able to get a quick grasp of the basics and appreciate the finer points of fishing tactics and strategies.

Prepping For Fishing With Kids

Depending on the age of the kids in question, some extra preparation may be needed to help a fishing charter go as smoothly as possible. Aside from the usual steps that all anglers should take, keep the following points in mind:

  • There's no need to stay out all day. If your kids have never been fishing before, a 3 hour charter during a high fishing season is often long enough to catch something without exhausting everyone.

  • Make extra sure to let your charter know if you'll be bringing children under the age of 6. It helps them make sure they’ll have the right safety equipment on hand.

  • Many charters will put crab pots out on request. Bring them up at the end of your fishing trip so the kids can see everything inside and learn a few facts about crustaceans. They’re also a good backup in case you don’t catch anything.

  • Scheduling a charter that leaves early in the morning can increase your chance of catching fish and give kids a chance to sleep while travelling out to the fishing spot. That way when the kids wake up, you can have everything ready to go.

  • Don't eat a heavy breakfast the morning of your trip, and make sure everyone is feeling good and well-rested. Charters can always be rescheduled, and it isn't worth spending a day on the water if anyone is sick. Even if everyone’s feeling well, pack some anti-nauseants or seasickness medication just in case.

  • Space on a boat is limited, so think carefully about what you pack for your trip. If you need a stroller, one that folds up and can be stowed out of the way is the best choice.

  • Bring plenty of drinks and healthy snacks. It can be hot and salty on the water, and everyone should stay hydrated. Toddlers especially will appreciate having some of their favourite snacks as a treat.

  • Pack comfortable sunglasses for each kid coming on the trip. The sun reflecting off the water can strain young eyes, even on cloudy days. Soft-soled shoes will reduce the risk of slipping on a wet deck, and windbreakers or other warm layers are recommended to protect against cool breezes, even on hot days.

  • Wet wipes and hand sanitizer are always worth packing, to keep hands clean while handling fish and dealing with sticky fingers.

  • Make sure that someone will always be available to keep an eye on any toddlers or other young children. Your captain or guide should go over all safety measures with your family, but you'll want to make sure kids know where not to put their fingers.

  • Prepare some games and educational material beforehand. Fish identification apps, books about the ocean, and even playing cards for some “Go Fish” are all good choices. Avoid games with small pieces that can get lost, and make sure any apps will work offline — there's no WiFi on the ocean!

  • If you've had a great day fishing and your kids had fun, tip your captain! They work hard to make sure everyone is happy.

Keep Boredom At Bay

No matter which captain or parent you talk to, they'll all be able to agree on one thing: Nothing will turn a kid off fishing faster than being bored. Fish don't always cooperate with keeping kids occupied, and you need to be prepared if there aren't any bites.

Food distractions are a great option for some kids. Taking snack breaks, planning meals around slow periods, or even setting up an on-board picnic will help kill time and keep kids fuelled throughout the day.

For activities other than the usual books and games, you can try teaching your child how to tie knots. Knots are like puzzles for many kids, and learning how to tie a fishing line into a palomar or improved clinch might hold their interest. You can also hand them a long-handled dip net and let them scoop for shrimp and other small critters.

Talk about the world around you to engage kids in the environment. Make observations on the clouds, the tide, the weather, ocean birds and other sea life.

If you have experience with charts and navigation, ask us about the trip beforehand and see if you can get the details you need to show kids how to track your progress out to sea. Spot buoys and landmarks along the way, and bring a pair of binoculars so that someone can be on "lookout" duty for other boats. Having kids fill out log books or a holiday diary can also be a good distraction.

Finally, don't forget the ship itself! Most captains are happy to explain the workings of the boat to curious kids, and even let them have a turn at the wheel — a great photo opportunity.

Be A Positive Coach

It's common that kids demand too much of themselves, especially when it comes to gaining skills and new experiences. Losing even one fish can be crushing, so it's important to reinforce that it wasn't their fault. When coaching or supervising, go over what could have been done differently but also confirm what they did right. Above all, give plenty of praise. Congratulate them when they make a catch, or even for cranking hard on the reel and trying their best.

When it comes to actually reeling fish in, look for a charter that adjusts their style for kids. Captains or guides should explain everything clearly and offer suggestions on how to help kids drop the line, with calm coaching and simple language. Kids should get assistance working the rod, and gentle and patient reminders on what to do. Charters will also generally handle all of the fish and clean the ones you decide to keep.

Last of all, remember that a fishing charter is meant to be a holiday for the whole family, not just the kids. If all else fails, you should at least have the memories of a fun day out on the water with all of Vancouver Island’s beautiful landscapes and wildlife at your fingertips.

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