Many anglers retreat to the water to find solitude, separate themselves from the craziness of the world and ideally catch a few fish. This is relatively easy to accomplish prior to becoming a parent but as children enter your life and claim the spotlight, finding time to fish can be challenging and combining the two is nothing short of daunting. While far from easy, taking the leap and fishing with your baby or toddler can be highly rewarding. It will be one of the more mentally challenging things that you set out to do but if you put yourself in the right mindset and are willing to experiment and make sacrifices, you’ll find yourself fishing more frequently and planting the seed for a future fishing buddy. To help and encourage new parent anglers to take this leap, we pulled together some tips that we’ve learned along the way and also tapped on some angler parents that have seemingly mastered the art of fishing with their little ones.
Obvious but easy to overlook tips:
- Protect their eyes: Sunglasses are a MUST to protect your little one from burning their eyes and from rogue fly hooks. Whether your child is strapped to your chest, back or sitting on the bank with supervision, a misdirected fly can cause big problems if it hits them in the eye.
- Minimize wading: Regardless of how long you’ve been fishing, you always run the risk of taking a spill while wading. Wading with a baby/toddler on your chest or back not only throws off your balance a bit, it increases the consequences of a misstep. Play it safe and stick to the banks whenever possible.
- Over prepare for the elements: Regardless of sky conditions, pack and apply sunscreen. Baby and toddler skin is very sensitive and even a few hours on the water with partly cloudy skies can lead to a sunburn and several sleepless nights. UV protected sun shirts come in baby/toddler sizes now, so use them! Layering your child will also help extend your day as you can easily adjust to changing weather.
- Snacks on snacks: Like you and I, babies get “hangry” too! Over pack on snacks and break them out whenever they get hungry, cranky or bored. You’ll buy yourself 10-30 minutes of peaceful fishing.
- Tag team the day: Fishing solo with your child is very doable but doing it with your partner or friend is a lot easier and arguably the easiest and most effective way to fish with your child. This allows you to take turns fishing while the other entertains your child on the bank.
Less obvious, game changer tips:
- Start ‘em young: The earlier you introduce your baby to fishing, the more comfortable they will be spending a day on the water. Children that grow up strapped to their parent’s chest or back while fishing, tend to be more content observing and sleeping while you fish.
- Kids hate fishing but love catching: Avoid the PhD-level tailwaters and head for the easy streams and lakes with stupid fish. Whether your child is an observer or old enough to throw a line in the water, kids don't care if they encounter big fish, only that they see and maybe touch a fish. Like us, children get bored when there’s nothing going on, so go for a dozen small fish rather than one 20” trout.
- Avoid crowds: While often tough to do without a long drive or hike, do your best to find easily accessible water with less fishing pressure like mountain streams, relaxing sections of rivers, or lakes. Intense anglers can get irritated when a moody or rowdy toddler impedes on their quest for a personal record day. Check out places where kids can be kids when they get bored with hunting fish (kids don't care if they scare fish by throwing rocks in the prime feeding lies or toddling up and down the bank).
- Establish a base camp: Rather than hike into a canyon or remote stream, pick a piece of water where you can park nearby. Bring food, a blanket, folding chairs and even a sun shade. And no, we aren’t talking about obnoxious beach umbrellas. Eno, the same company that makes the packable hammocks, makes a great sun tarp from the same material and it’s perfect for creating a shady hangout. This will establish a comfortable “home base” for you and your child to hang out and take intermittent breaks.
- Get them engaged: What kid doesn’t like bugs? Do the fun stuff QUICK and explore bug life! It's about keeping their attention. Explain the bug life and where/why fish feed...because of what the bugs are doing! Then teach kids to hunt for bugs (because waiting for fish is boring). Bring a bug book, vials for keeping samples, seine nets, and live it up as bug nerds! Watch for the hatch and ask, "which bug is that!?!" Kids get excited when you do.
- Keep it short and avoid harsh weather: Save the long outings for when you’re fishing solo or with your friends, because babies and toddlers wear out quickly in the sun, wind, and the tough weather anglers can encounter. Some days the stars will align and you’ll get a few, amazing hours of fishing in and others, you won’t last longer than 30 minutes. It’s impossible to predict, so mentally prepare for anything.
- Set expectations: Have fun and don't take the day too seriously. Little kids will remember bluegill fishing just the same as hooking one trophy rainbow. Set your expectations on the day outdoors exploring nature rather than counting the number or size of fish you land.
- Play music: To most anglers, this will sound like nails on a chalkboard, but in dire times, playing music on your phone is a great way to calm an upset or bored child. Playing baby music isn’t our preferred way to fish either, but it beats listening to crying. Keep the volume just loud enough so only you and your little one can hear. There’s no need to subject other anglers to “babyyy shark do dooo do do do doo, baby shark.
Tips provided by: Rueben A., Betha (IG: @bethawentfishing) & Max P. (IG: @pavelosophy).