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7 ways to make the most of family fishing trips

by Keith Sutton | May 17, 2015 at 12:00 a.m.
Chris Elder of Mount Ida nets a nice Lake Ouachita crappie for his son Dustin. A fishing trip with Dad or Mom can be great fun, especially if the adult lets the child do the fishing while the parent assists.

When I was just 10 years old, my grandmother took me, my younger sister and our two young cousins on a fishing trip that remains vivid in my mind even after 50 years.

It was just a day trip, but Banny, as we called my grandmother, spoke of visiting the Carp Hole for several days prior to the actual event. Our anticipation built each time she mentioned it.

“All of you are sure to catch your biggest fish ever,” she said. “Of course, you have to land them first, and that won’t be easy. They’re huge! Some are so big they might even break your line or pole!”

When it was time to go, each of us was given two fully rigged cane poles. We stuck them out the windows of Banny’s car, and off we went to the spot outside town the locals had dubbed the Carp Hole. The name was appropriate, for the water there bristled with 5- to 25-pound common carp.

Banny helped us bait our hooks with worms and showed us how to flip our fishing rigs to the best spots. Then the action began. As soon as our bobbers hit the water, they shot out of sight. All four of us kids hooked fish almost instantly. We walked backward up the bank to drag each golden, whiskered fish out of the water. Then Banny would help us unhook our catch, rebait and watch, smiling, as we went at it again.

Several cane poles were broken during the day’s skirmishes. Some of the carp were true monsters, including a 28-pounder my little sister landed. When we finally left the Carp Hole, each of us had caught dozens, which were given to a neighbor who canned the fish to eat.

I did not realize it then, but my grandmother planned that fishing trip for one reason. It wasn’t about catching fish to eat or seeing who could catch the biggest or most. It was about making memories. She simply wanted to enjoy a day with us we would never forget.

That goal certainly was achieved. I’m 59 years old now, and I remember that trip like it was yesterday.

I have six sons. As they grew from toddlers to young men, I tried to follow my grandmother’s example. Sometimes we’d spend a few hours fishing on local ponds or lakes. Other times, we’d plan weeklong camping adventures or out-of-state journeys to fun fishing destinations. Always, though, I planned these trips so we could spend quality time together none of us would forget. What I learned while doing this can help you, too, plan some unforgettable family fishing trips.

Just for kids

I was in my 20s when my first son, Josh, was born. When I started taking him fishing with me when he was 6, we both would fish, and I would get frustrated. I always had to stop fishing myself to bait hooks, untangle lines and remove fish. Unfortunately for young Josh, I hadn’t yet learned that a fishing trip with kids should be just for kids. Adults shouldn’t fish. They should devote their time to helping the youngsters be successful. Banny knew this. Now I do, too.

Keep it short

It’s also best not to fish more than an hour or two the first few times you take your kids. A youngster’s attention span is short. Fishing is fun for a while, but unless fish are biting constantly and the children’s interest remains high, don’t test their patience, and yours, by spending long hours on the water. Keep it short. Make it fun.

Tackle of their own

If it’s not beyond your means, give each of your children a fishing outfit they can call their own. Rod-and-reel combos made especially for youths usually are inexpensive, but even a cane pole will be cherished. It also costs very little to prepare a small tackle box with their own hooks, bobbers, sinkers and lures.

Catch your own bait

You can buy bait at a bait shop, but letting kids catch their own is more fun. Dig worms. Catch grasshoppers and crickets. Seine some minnows. Grab some crawdads. All are common, easily caught, easily kept and irresistible to a variety of sportfish.

When catfish are the quarry, your kids can make bait at home. Have them cut some hot dogs in pieces about a half-inch thick. Put them in a zip-seal plastic bag, add a tablespoon of minced garlic and a packet of unsweetened strawberry Kool-Aid. Then cover with water, shake and refrigerate until you go fishing. Cats love these dogs!

Choose the right fishing hole

For youngsters, a fishing trip without fish can be terribly disappointing. Certainly, we don’t catch fish every time we go. But if we plan ahead, it’s likely we can find a fishing hole where sunfish, catfish, rainbow trout and other easy-to-catch fish are plentiful. For younger kids, it’s not the size of the fish that matters, but the quantity caught. Do your best to visit a lake, pond or stream where there’s likely to be fast action for plentiful varieties.

Swimming, frogs and skipping stones

One important lesson I had to learn when fishing with my sons was that a fishing trip shouldn’t be just about fishing. When you put children in an outdoor environment, they quickly become distracted by the many other fun things to do. Don’t discourage their explorations. Make them part of the overall experience. Go swimming. Skip stones. Take a hike. Look for shells. Catch some frogs, crawdads or other critters. Plan plenty of time for activities besides fishing, and your trip will be more memorable.

Say ‘cheese’

When you’re out there fishing and playing with your family, be sure to shoot lots of photos or video. Worry not that the pictures

aren’t perfect or the video is

unsteady. Keep your camera running anyway. Someday, when they’re as old as you, your children will sit down and look at them, and as memories of the good times come back, they’ll smile. That’s as much as any of us can hope for.


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