Imagine a day that's made up of fresh air and sunshine, no cell phones, video games, e-mail, or blasting TVs. It's just you and your grandchild — fishing poles in hand — in the great outdoors.
If this all sounds way too idyllic, then rise to the bait and gear up for a fishing excursion. Besides being a terrific way to decompress, it's also an opportunity for serious bonding. And who knows, you might even catch dinner for the family! And if you don't, the two of you can tell everyone about the big one that got away.
"Fishing is all about connecting with your grandchildren and creating memories for the future," says Frank Peterson, Jr., president and CEO of the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation. (The website, Takemefishing.org, is jam-packed with information on everything from where to fish to what you will need.) "Fishing is a wonderful way for a grandparent to introduce a child to nature."
If you've forgotten everything you used to know about rods and reels, and lure and tackle, don't worry. There are plenty of resources to help get you started, and with children, you don't need a lot of high-tech gear. In fact, the less complicated the better. It's all about the catch.
"When they get something on that line, all of a sudden, all heck breaks loose," says Peterson. "It's quite an adventure." Keep in mind that while it is an adventure, it's also a learning experience for your grandchild, who may not be used to such low-key pursuits.
"You will definitely need patience, says Mike Frenette, a professional angler on ESPN's Oh Boy! Oberto Redfish Cup and operator of Redfish Lodge of Louisiana, a fishing resort in Venice. "Fishing is a great sport to have fun at, and you want to relate that to your grandchild. Keep it simple. Don't expect [him or her] to be really proficient with different types of rods and reels."
To begin, you'll need some basic equipment, and advance planning can make the experience stress-free. Select an ultralight bait-cast or spin-cast rod and reel combination since these are easier for kids to use, says Peterson. Remember that small hooks equal big catches, he says. You should avoid hooks larger than a size three, keeping in mind that hook sizes run backward, so that size 12 is smaller than size ten. Fish generally won't take to the large hooks, and you'll need to be a little more subtle. A tiny hook will allow small fish to inhale the bait rather than nibble at the hook. Of course, if a fish swallows the hook and you intend to return the fish to the water, you can simply cut the line as close to the hook as possible, and then let the fish go.
As for bobbers, or floats, slip-bobbers work well for kids. Slip-bobber rigs reduce the amount of line needed at the end of the rod, and they're easier to cast. A light line (preferably a six-pound or less test-line) is best for kids.
Now all you need to decide is where to fish. "There are about 12,000 places to boat and fish," Peterson says. Takemefishing.org has a state-by-state breakdown of fishing locales. You might plan a short boat trip to a lake or a creek, drive to a local river, or consider an ocean beach where fishing is permitted. It's probably best to avoid fly-fishing for beginners, Frenette says, as this requires a higher level of expertise and the fly rods tend to be longer and more difficult to use.
Most ocean-saltwater docks have plenty of saltwater catfish, pinfish, redfish, and crabbing opportunities. "All kids love to crab," Frenette says. "You can crab off the dock or off a canal. Keep it as simple as a chicken neck tied onto a string. You'll need a net to scoop the crab up when it is attached to the chicken neck." You can also buy crab nets at local fishing stores, and use a piece of fish or chicken for bait.
Ice fishing is another activity to consider, although Mark Zona, the host of ESPN's World's Greatest Fishing Show says, it's important to consider the temperature before embarking on an ice-fishing expedition. "It's a great tradition to pass on, but you don't just go out and drill a couple of holes when you take a child," he says. "The number-one thing is to have a good gauge of the weather. If it's very cold, don't take them. And keep in mind that kids may be too hyper to sit in an ice shack for too long."
In the end, the important thing is to try to take your grandchildren where the fish are biting. "It doesn't matter what they are catching as long as they catch something," Frenette says.
Are certain kinds of fish easier to catch? Fishing for perch in a pond may be the way to go, Frenette says. "They are easy to catch, they are readily available in freshwater, and kids don't care what they are catching," he says. "To them, a fish is a fish."
Do check with your state about fishing regulations before you cast your line. You may need to get a license (usually $25 or less), and some states regulate the starting- and ending-date for fishing season, and set size-limits on how many fish of a certain species you can take in one day.
"When you buy fishing equipment, and a fishing license, those dollars are used to clean up habitat, restock fish, and reintroduce fish into the habitat," Peterson explains. "So when you fish, you are actually giving back to the environment."
No matter where you choose, keep safety foremost in your mind at all times: Make sure your grandchild is wearing a personal flotation device (PFD). While fishing from the bank of a creek, river, or pond is a little less intense than taking a grandchild out on a boat, it's still crucial for the child to wear a PFD.
And finally, if you're really not the fishing type but want to have an aquatic experience, consider SeaWorld Orlando's Sharks Deep Dive. It is an animal-interaction program, where participants don scuba gear and equipment and have a close-up encounter with more than 30 big, live sharks and a variety of other fish from within an open-water cage. Sounds scary, but it's amazing. The cost is $150 per person, and your grandchild must be at least ten years old. For information, visit Seaworld.com.