by Keith “Catfish” Sutton
The most fun fishing trips for children are those the grown-ups properly planned.
Tomorrow should be a good day to take your children catfishing. Grab a few poles, some bait and some tackle. Sit on a pond, lake or river bank. Try for a big one, but catch as many as you can, even if they’re small.
Maybe you’ll land a bunch. Maybe you won’t. But one thing is certain: whether you catch catfish or not, if you plan things properly, you’ll create some special memories for you and your family.
If you’re new to this game, you may not know the best ways to go about that planning part. I have six grown sons, and when I first started taking the oldest boys fishing, I made lots of mistakes. They weren’t big mistakes, but our fishing trips might have been more fun had I known then what I know now.
So please allow me to share what I learned so you can avoid the same mistakes and start having fun from the get-go. If you’ll follow these simple tips whenever possible, your catfishing trips will be full of smiling faces and laughter. That’s the best outcome any of us could hope for.
Just for Kids
I was in my twenties when my first son, Josh, was born. When I started taking him catfishing with me at age six, we both would fish, and I would get frustrated because 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 have fun and be successful. That’s their only job.
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 their interest remains high, don’t test your children’s 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 some worms. Catch some small sunfish. Net some minnows. Grab some crawdads. All these bait animals are common, easily caught, easily kept and irresistible to catfish.
You also can help your kids create an effective homemade bait with just a few inexpensive ingredients. Have them cut some hot dogs in pieces about a half inch thick. They should then place these in a zip-seal plastic bag and add a tablespoon of minced garlic and a packet of unsweetened strawberry Kool-Aid. Cover with water, shake and refrigerate until you go fishing. Cats love these dogs! And your kids can learn to bait their own hooks while using them.
In our home, we eat lots of fresh catfish we caught ourselves. So when I started taking my young sons fishing, they usually wanted to keep some fish we could prepare for the dinner table back home. For them, eating the fish was as important as catching the fish, thus we always fished where we could take home plenty of small catfish we could clean and eat.
We also taught the boys the value of selective harvest. Even though big catfish are legal to keep in many areas, it has always been our practice to keep smaller cats—1 to 5 pounds—for eating and to release all larger catfish so they can put smiles on the faces of other anglers who might catch them. Teach your children lessons like these early in their fishing careers, and they will be true conservationists.
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 catfish of one sort or another 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 channel cats, bullheads, little flatties and/or eating-size blues.
When your day for fishing arrives, you should also be sure you pack plenty of snacks, sandwiches and cold drinks for your youngsters. Eating outdoors can be a fun part of the fishing experience. Hungry kids whining that they’re starving are not.
For a real treat, take along a camp stove or campfire grill, a skillet, some cooking oil, some cornmeal and some salt and pepper and cook a shore lunch of fresh fish right by the water.
Also be sure to pack a life jacket for everyone, including grownups. Start early teaching your kids the importance of wearing a personal flotation device each and every time they’re on the water. And be sure to wear yours, too. Parents should set the example for their kids.
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.
Should the opportunity present itself, plan a family fishing trip to some special locale everyone is sure to remember. I wasn’t financially able to take my wife and kids to exotic destinations, but with the help of fishing friends who shared their homes, camps and boats, we were able to enjoy many special trips we’ll never forget, including houseboat adventures on local lakes; floating and camping on the Mississippi and Arkansas rivers; and river rafting junkets on mountain streams. Older kids, especially, will appreciate the opportunity to visit somewhere special where new scenes and new adventures await.
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 shooting 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.