How to Fish: Teach Your Kids Fishing in 9 Easy Steps
Do you love natural settings in the great outdoors?
Want to teach your children to appreciate nature (even if you live in the city)?
Grab a pole and some bait, head to the water and take them fishing!
In this article, I’ll show you how to teach your kids how to fish, even if you’ve never done it yourself.
We’ll focus on fishing for catfish, but the concepts can be applied to whatever fish are prevalent in your part of the world.
Why Go Fishing With Your Kids?
Fishing is one of humankind’s oldest pastimes. It’s easy to learn, easy to teach your children and doesn’t have to involve lots of expensive equipment. It’s also a great opportunity to teach kids about aquatic ecosystems in a way that builds great memories.
My father, Bob Fields, taught me to fish as a young girl, and he’s now teaching his great-grandchildren, so I picked his brain to show you how to do it quickly and easily. I’ll also sprinkle in some of Papa’s best tips on fishing as we go along.
Children are naturally curious about the world we live in. They love to play in the water and are fascinated by creatures that swim (as any parent who has taken their kids to an aquarium can attest!).
Some of my earliest memories are of fishing with my parents from the bank of a pond on my grandparents’ farm using a cane pole. There was something irresistible about waiting for those fish to bite, and catching them became addicting!
But beyond just the basics of how to fish, learning to handle fish gently and return them quickly to their environment is a great lesson in compassion—something I have passed on to my own children.
My father learned to fish when he was very young, and often fished with another boy in rural Kentucky where he grew up in the 1940s. His fondest memory sounds like a Huckleberry Finn adventure.
“I guess we were about 12,” he told me recently. “We commandeered an old leaky skiff on a neighbor’s pond to fish for catfish. All we had was a ball of twine, some hooks and a few small jugs. So to rig up our “poles” we tied the twine to tree branches that overhung the pond, looped each line through a jug handle and tied on a baited hook at the end (which we weighted down somehow so it sank to the bottom). We tied up several of those lines on limbs around the pond and sat in the boat to watch. When we saw a branch wiggling or a jug moving, it was time to paddle over and see what we got!”
In this activity, you’ll use a bobber instead of a jug and a pole instead of a tree branch, but other than that, fishing has changed very little through the generations. Here’s what you’ll need:
Small pond catfish are still lots of fun to catch. It’s one of the easiest ways to enjoy fishing with kids, so I’ve broken it down for you in 9 easy steps.
#1: Find a Place to Fish
First you need to find a place to fish.
Check Take Me Fishing to locate bodies of water near you. Type your address in the search bar on the site, and a handy map comes up that shows all the bodies of water near you, plus other points of interest like campgrounds, outfitters, restaurants and bait shops.
#2: Make Sure You’re Legal
Check the regulations and licensing requirements where you live.
The Take Me Fishing website also has a tab to help you find out how to obtain a fishing license in most US states. You can usually buy a license at your local Walmart or sporting goods store.
#3: Gear Up!
Once you have your locations scoped out and the proper license in hand, it’s time to get your gear!
Most (if not all) of the items you’ll need (see list above) can be purchased inexpensively at sporting goods stores, or you can check Amazon for specialty things (like the poles).
If you’re buying online, I recommend you read the reviews before purchasing. B&M is a good pole brand to look for. The picture below shows a 15-foot model—one extended and one collapsed.
Note: This article describes fishing for catfish. Do some research online or talk to people with fishing experience about the types of fish prevalent in your area. The supplies you need may vary, but basic fishing techniques remain the same.
#4: Rig Your Lines
It’s easy to rig a fishing pole. Here’s what you’ll need:
- Extendable pole (fully extended to show the eye—tip at the end)
- A 12-foot section of monofilament line (or cut to the length of your pole)
- One barrel swivel
- One snelled hook
- One split-shot weight
- A bobber
First, tie your monofilament line to the tippet at the top of the cane pole using an improved clinch knot. My dad taught me very early how to tie one of these knots. Use this knot to attach your line to the top of the pole and to a swivel at the bottom of the line.
Once your line is tied to both the pole and the swivel, you can clip on a snelled hook and add a weight. You’re almost done!
Don’t worry if you don’t know what that means! Just watch this short video I put together that shows how to rig your line. It’s easy—trust me!
Check this video out to learn how to rig your line.
If you can find barbless hooks, you’ll have an easier time removing them from your fish without doing harm. Or, you can use a pair of pliers to crimp the barbs on your hooks flat.
Check out this video on how to make barbless fishing hooks.
The last thing you’ll need to do is rig a bobber, which will hold your bait just off the bottom of the lake or pond—right where the fish like to eat.
Round plastic bobbers usually have metal hooks at the top and bottom of the bobber.
Depress the plastic sleeve at the top of the bobber to expose the hook and slip your line in. Let go to pull the line tightly against the bobber and hold it in place. Repeat with the hook at the bottom and your bobber will be held in place on your line (see illustration).
Adjust the bobber on the line to hold the bait just off the bottom of the pond. If your bait rests on the bottom, your bobber will flop over on its side. Adjust it until the top of bobber stays upright.
#5: Bait Your Hook
Chopped chicken gizzards make good bait for catfish because the meat is tough and fibrous, and will stay on the hook. They’re also inexpensive and less messy than sticky earthworms, which have a tendency to wriggle and get lost.
Chop the gizzards into ½- to 1-inch pieces and freeze in plastic bags.
You can also buy live mealworms at a local bait shop. These are smooth, segmented worms an inch or two long. They have an exoskeleton, so they’re easy to put on a hook.
When my youngest daughter was a toddler she didn’t fish, but she loved playing with the mealworms! Most fish love these types of worms too.
Papa’s Tip: For easy cleanup, use a bucket half-filled with clean water as a “rinsing station.” It’s great for rinsing hands after handling bait or cleaning up after you’ve caught a fish.
Bring a package of baby wipes for a final cleanup before getting back in the car to go home.
#6: You’re Ready to Fish!
Now that you’re rigged up, the best way to get your newly baited line into the pond is to hold the pole upright and “swing” the line out in a pendulum fashion until it reaches the spot you want it to be.
Then lower the tip of the pole and your line will fall into the water.
This can take a bit of practice, as it requires a little coordination, but the kids will soon be dropping their lines exactly where they want them! For very young kids, you’ll have to do the baiting and the positioning before handing them the pole.
Papa’s Tip: Not sure if there are fish in your pond? To attract fish and increase your chances of catching some, toss out a little dry cat food to “chum” the water while you’re rigging your lines and baiting hooks.
Once your line is in the water and the bobber is sitting steadily upright, you’ll be able to see when a fish is testing the line. Watch the bobber. When it jerks or wobbles, that means a fish is on the other end!
Catfish are bottom-feeders and tend to “scoop” up the bait and then swim off with it. So you may even see the bobber “swim” away as the fish moves.
Did it move? The first instinct is to jerk the line the moment you see the bobber move, but it’s best to wait a little bit after the initial bobbing, then pull up on the tip of the pole to set the hook in the fish’s mouth.
Once the fish is definitely hooked, you’ll feel tension on the line, and the flexible tip of the pole will bend down with the weight of the fish. How much the fish resists depends on its size and strength. However, even small fish can put up a good fight.
Caught his first fish!
To land your fish you have to raise the pole tip high enough to pull the fish toward you. Younger children will need help with this. The shorter they are, the harder it is to raise the pole enough to land the fish.
It takes practice to feel when a fish is on the line, set the hook and land the fish. If you pull too early, the fish will not get hooked—so encourage your kids to wait until they’re sure the fish has taken the bait.
Once the fish is close to you, hold the line a foot or so away from the wriggling fish until it calms down, and you’re ready for the next step.
#7: Caught One! Now What?
There’s nothing like the feeling of actually catching that first fish! Kids get so excited at this stage—and will want to hold the fish or touch it. However, you should avoid touching the spiny dorsal and lateral fins on a catfish.
Only adults should handle the wriggling fish.
The next step is removing the hook and releasing the fish quickly. This is where your garden glove and a pair of needle-nosed pliers come in.
Papa’s Tip: Record the Moment! Have your camera ready to take a picture of your children with their catch, but be quick about snapping that shot! A fish should only be out of the water a moment or two.
Too much handling of a fish can remove the slimy coating on its skin, which is a protective layer it needs in order to stay healthy. Release your fish as soon as possible with minimum handling to help ensure that it survives.
#8: Remove the Hook
Once the fish is close to you, grab the line. Have your child hold the pole upright so there’s a little tension (but not too much) while you hold the fish and remove the hook.
While you hold the line above the fish’s mouth with one hand, use the opposite hand to grasp the fish’s upper or lower lip between your thumb and forefinger. Wear your garden glove on the “gripping” hand.
Catfish have sandpaper-textured lips that can be quite rough. They’ll often reflexively snap their lips shut, but they don’t have the kind of teeth that will puncture you. Avoid grabbing the fish by the body—its fins are quite sharp!
Now that you’ve got a good grip on your catfish, locate where it is hooked and use your needle-nose pliers to grasp the hook at its base and remove it from the fish’s mouth.
#9: Release Your Fish
Once you remove the hook, keep your grip on the catfish’s mouth, then lower it into the water and gently release it. It has just been through a fight, so it may need a little time to revive and swim away.
Never toss a fish, or let your child “throw” it back. Not only could this injure the fish, but also its sharp fins can cause a very painful spiking injury to you or your child. Always handle the fish for young children until they’re old enough to learn to do it safely.
Papa’s Tip: Releasing your fish is easy on everyone. Just about every child will want to take their catch home, but catch and release is a good way to enjoy the sport without having to kill the fish (and deal with the mess of cleaning them and cooking them).
Encourage your child to be kind and let them know that a released fish can be caught again another day!
Some Final Thoughts…
Fishing with your kids can build lifelong memories. Just remember to keep the process simple and pleasurable.
Try it for 30 minutes to an hour; most children new to fishing won’t have the patience to fish for long. The important thing is to give them the experience, but keep it from getting boring.
When you start hearing “When are we going home?” That’s a clear signal that it’s time to pack up!
It doesn’t matter if you don’t catch anything—just get out there and try it. You don’t have to spend a lot on a fishing adventure, but teaching your kids about nature and enjoying the process with them are priceless.
Papa’s Tip: The best time of day to fish with kids is late afternoon. Pond fishing in the summer can be fun any time of day. However, about an hour and half before sunset, when the air cools a bit, fish tend to be more active. You also won’t have to worry so much about sunburn at that time of day, but bring mosquito repellant!
What do you think? Have you experienced fishing adventures with your kids? Where did you go and what were your big memory moments? We would love to hear your thoughts, so please share them in the comments below!