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Taking Kids Fishing

Taking Kids Fishing

Taking kids fishing is a great activity that not only gets your family outdoors but gives them something to do while they’re out there! Fishing with kids takes a little bit of practice and a lot of patience, but the memory of catching a fish for the first time lasts a lifetime.

We have been taking our kids fishing since they were very young and we have a few tips and tricks to help your family get out there too.

Taking kids fishing is really fun!

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Taking Kids Fishing: Tips For Success

A man and a boy fishing by the side of a river.

Set Realistic Expectations and Be Flexible

Taking kids fishing requires flexibility and a lot of patience. My 9 year old can cast his own spin reel now, but he still gets hooked up on the bottom frequently. My 6 year old, who is still learning to cast, often gets hooked up on bushes on her back cast, and then gets hooked on the river bottom. Lots of deep breaths, mama!

Plan for Short Family Fishing Excursions

We never ever plan to fish for very long. Even when we are fishing from a boat, there are plenty of times when no one is fishing at all. If the fishing is good and kids are actually catching fish, they’ll last longer. If the fishing is off, they only last 30 or 45 minutes.

Prepare to Do Other Activities

Children resting on a rock near the river after fishing.

When taking kids fishing, it’s a good idea to be prepared for secondary activities. I pack nets for catching tadpoles or small fish in the water, bikes if we are close to a dirt road or other good biking area, books, and of course – all the snacks.

If we are going to a lake or pond I like to bring the kids sit-on-top kayaks. Not only can they fish from the kayak, but once they’re done with the fishing they can paddle around.

Plan Family Fishing Trips with Kids in Mind

A boy wearing a life jacket fishing next to the river.

Find a Kid-Friendly Fishing Spot

This is a really important component to a successful day of taking kids fishing! Whether you choose a lake, creek or river, make sure it’s a spot well-known to have abundant fish. It’s also important to make sure your bait or tackle is what the fish are eating.

Kids don’t care so much about matching their fly to the native hatch; it’s more about catching lots of fish. There’s nothing wrong with using a bucket of worms in order to make it a great day of fishing with kids!

Many local ponds and reservoirs are stocked with fish – this is a great place to start kids out. An internet search for the “Fish Stocking Report” on your state’s fish and game website will tell you which bodies of water are stocked with native fish.

Set Realistic Expectations and Be Flexible

Fishing with kids can be exhausting! A boy taking a nap on a fishing boat.

If you are fishing a lake or pond that is stocked with fish, chances are good your kids are going to catch something. Choosing to fish a moving body of water could be trickier fishing and may be better for older kids with more patience.

When taking kids fishing, if the fishing is not good, best to move to a different location or choose a different activity altogether. Kids will get bored quickly if they’re standing around not getting any bites.

Fly Fishing vs. Spin Fishing – What’s Better for Kids

A kid wearing a life jacket fishing from the edge of a boat.

Fly Fishing

Fly fishing uses a weighted line to cast an artificial fly into the water. The fly is cast into the water using a specific technique that requires more skill than casting a spin rod. Catching a fish on a fly rod requires the angler to “match the hatch”, in other words, tie on an artificial fly that looks the same as the real bugs that fish are eating.

Spin Fishing

Spin fishing uses the weight of the lure to cast the bait into the water. Casting a spin reel is fairly easy and once you get a bite you use the handle on the reel to pull in the line and get your fish.

Many companies make spin reels with a button that you press when casting, as opposed to having to flip the bail to let line out. There are kid-specific fishing poles. I distinctly remember my Kermit the Frog fishing pole from when I was about 5 years old. I caught so many fish on that thing!

Pros and Cons to Both

Fly fishing requires focus, patience and a whole lot of determination (these things don’t come naturally to my kids!). But that’s not to say kids can’t fly fish – but it might be better to get them “hooked” on fishing by first starting out with a spin rod.

Once they’ve mastered that they may want to learn to fly fish. For my kids, they weren’t really ready to cast a fly rod until they were about 9 years old. For us, fly fishing started with regular fishing.

Fishing Gear for Kids

Two kids pick out fishing tackle out of a tackle box.

Fishing Pole

When taking kids fishing it’s a good idea to get them their own kid-size fishing pole. Using an adult size one is going to be frustrating for them to cast.

Don’t worry about buying your kids an expensive fishing pole when they’re just getting started. Many sporting goods stores sell smaller, kid-friendly fishing poles for less than $30.

The THKFish Kids Fishing Rod from Amazon is a great push button fishing pole for toddlers and very young kids. For an older child who can handle flipping the bail the Zebco Junior Spinning Reel is a great inexpensive Amazon option. For tweens and teens we really like he Ugly Stik since they come with an excellent warranty.


The type of tackle or bait you need depends on the species of fish and the area you plan to fish in. My advice is to call a local fishing shop, tell them where you’re going and ask what tackle to use.

Whatever they tell you to use for bait and tackle – buy lots of them! Kids are going to get stuck on rocks, break flies off (or fling worms off) and you don’t want to cut short your fishing adventure because you’ve run out of bait or tackle.


One great thing about taking kids fishing is it doesn’t require specific clothing, especially for young kids who are just getting started. Fishing vests aren’t necessary unless your child plans to set up their own line with flies or lures, and fish independently.

I usually plan for kids to get wet when taking them fishing. Water shoes, quick dry shorts and a sun shirt will keep them comfortable, but really, you can fish in any type of clothing and have a great time.

Teaching Kids to Fish

A boy holds his fishing pole up so a man can unhook the fish.

Practice Casting at Home

Before taking kids fishing, teach them to cast. This can happen in a big open area like a backyard or park, or an empty parking lot. Use a leader no longer than 10 feet or so and tie something lightweight on the end – not a hook!

Baiting the Hook

We primarily fly fish with our kids, but we are not afraid to put a worm on a hook either. My kids actually love putting a worm on a hook and they’ve surprisingly never really hooked themself more than a little poke. Using worms is a great way for kids to be more independent when fishing.

Using artificial bait or tying on a fly requires considerably more fine motor skills so we usually do this part for our kids. They help pick out the bug but we tie it on.

Fishing from the Shore vs. a Boat

Taking kids fishing from a boat is really fun, but it requires more skill and the likelihood of someone (you!) getting hooked is high. Our kids love to go out on the river in the drift boat, but the outing is as much about boating and being on the water as it is about fishing.

Fishing from the shore is the easiest way to introduce kids to fishing. Not only can you move easily to a different area but you aren’t confined to a small space with a hook flying around your head (scary!)

The other benefit to fishing from the shore is it’s easy to switch gears to another activity if the fishing is not great. Or your kids can do something else while you keep fishing!

Fishing Etiquette for Kids

A boy holds a trout he just caught from a driftboat on the river.

Do Kids Need a Fishing License?

The short answer is, it depends on what state you live in. In many states, kids under 16 can go fishing without a fishing license. Some states (like Arizona) require kids 10 and over to have their own license. The only way to know for sure is to research your own states fishing license requirements.

I discovered a great site,, that lists all 50 states fishing license age requirements.

In many states it’s perfectly fine for an adult who does not have a fishing license to help a kid bait the hook, cast and take a fish off. But generally the adult who is reeling in the line is required to have a license.

Being Gentle with the Fish

It’s important to teach kids how to be gentle with a fish that’s been caught so that when released, it doesn’t die. Minimize the time that the fish is out of the water – which means you might not be able to snap a picture unless someone is ready with the camera.

Make sure kids wet their hands before touching the fish or grabbing it to get the hook out of its mouth. And when holding the fish – no squeezing.

If it takes more than a couple seconds to release the hook, the fish can get fatigued. While still holding onto it, place it in the water with its head facing upstream against the current and wait for the fish to wiggle free. This is better for the fish than plopping it back in the water.

Catch and Release Practices

We practice catch and release, meaning we return the fish back to the water. If you plan to keep the fish that you catch, make sure you have a string to keep them on while maintaining a cool temperature in the water.

When keeping a fish, it’s best to clean and gut it right away (before going home). Older kids can be taught how to clean and gut a fish – but be careful because knives are sharp and fish are slippery.

Polite Behavior Around Other Anglers

Teach kids to look around and behind them before casting. If there are other anglers in the area make sure kids give them plenty of space to fish.

Take any kids near water and they’re bound to find something to find in. Throwing sticks or rocks in the water while others are fishing nearby is a big no-no. Same goes for dipping in sticks or anything else that will disturb the water and scare away fish.

Safety Considerations

A girl looks at a fish.

Wear Lifejackets Near Water

When we fish from a boat, everyone in the boat wears a life jacket at all times. My kids will wear a life jacket when fishing from the shore of a river or creek with deep, cold or fast moving water. If they are fishing from the shore of a lake I don’t worry as much because they can swim and are right next to shore.

Pinch Down Barbs or Get Barbless Hooks

Anyone who has spent time fishing has gotten hooked and it is no fun! A kid getting hooked is a good way to ruin the day though. We buy barbless hooks, or we pinch down the barbs, so that if a kid does get hooked it’s easier to extract.


A kid and a man fish from a rock at the bank of the river.

Taking kids fishing is a really fun way for the entire family to spend time outdoors. Compared to many outdoor sports, it’s relatively inexpensive to get into. Yes, it does require some practice and a lot of patience (from kids as well as parents) but catching a fish is one of the most exciting things ever.

It’s easy to pack a couple of kids fishing poles in the car and have just one more activity for kids to do if you’re spending the day near water. And with a little luck and a lot of patience you might just hear your kids yell “Mom! Fish on!

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© 2023, Tales of a Mountain Mama. All rights reserved. Republication, in part or entirety, requires a link back to this original post and permission from the author.


  • Sarah Toal is a Colorado native who now calls Jackson, Wyoming, home. Sarah, her husband Evan, and two kids August, age 7, and Harper, age 5, spend their (long!) winters snowboarding, and (short!) summers riding bikes, floating on the Snake River, and hiking. Follow our adventures and general family chaos on Instagram: @sartoal