Are you looking to create more outdoor camping memories with your family and try something challenging and fun? In today’s fast-paced world of screen time and technology, fishing with kids is a great way for a family to relax and unwind, embrace Mother Nature, get some Vitamin D, bond together, and maybe even catch dinner.
I spent my childhood years in the Northeast and spent many mornings fishing with my dad (affectionately known as “Pops” to the grandkids). Some of our favorite family memories with Pops include learning to fish, listening to Pops’ fishing tall tales of wisdom and humor, the time we caught a shark and Pops had to cut the line and kick it back in from the dock, and arriving home with full coolers of flounder for the family to eat for supper.
Years later, I enjoy this transition with my own three kids—even my moody 13-year-old daughter knows how to bait and cast a line (albeit with a smirk on her face and headphones on). To help you get your family out on the water and reeling in some fun, I’ve gathered up what I’ve learned over the years. Here are my top tips for fishing with kids.
The Benefits of Fishing With Kids
Do your kids think tuna comes from a can? Fishing is a great way to teach kids about where their food comes from and the effort it takes to produce it. After a day out waiting for those bites, your kids will be more apt to respect and appreciate Mother Nature, and maybe your kids will think twice before throwing away that tuna fish sandwich.
Fishing with kids also provides a child’s developing mind quiet time away from screens and the fast pace of technology. The slow pace of an activity like fishing can be great for mental heath. Additionally, spending at least 120 minutes outside in nature is associated with considerable health benefits. So put those screens away and get your kids fishing out on the water today!
How to Plan Ahead
The perfect fishing trip doesn’t need to be fancy or expensive, but it does require some planning to make the experience fun and memorable for the kids (and you!). It’s also important to be prepared for any contingencies (boredom, not catching anything, emergencies, or—(audible gasp)—sea sickness). Fear not, I have plenty of tips below to help with that!
Where Should I Go Fishing with Kids?
The best fishing destination depends on your location, budget, and time. If you’re near a body of water, look for a bridge or fishing hole. Talk to locals about the best secret spots—trust me, they will be more than happy to share. If you’re near the ocean, a marina or even a boat charter option is a fun place to start. There are also plenty of campgrounds with access to bodies of water, or with fishing related amenities that help you get set up nearby. For example, on Campspot you can search your destination, and then filter your results by “fishing.”
Get a Permit
Many fishing spots require a permit for adults to fish. Permits may not be required for kids, but if you’re fishing with kids, it’s best to get a permit. Check with the local department of fish and wildlife to find out what is necessary. Most permits can be purchased online for a nominal fee, with proceeds going toward conservation efforts. I have often seen park police, park rangers, and even the Coast Guard checking for permits and issuing tickets or fines, depending on the location, so it’s not something to forget. Set a good example for your kids, play by the rules, and don’t get caught by the “fishing police!”
Make Sure There Are Fish to Catch
What are you catching? The best way to ensure a fun experience fishing with kids is to make sure you’re at a location where there actually are A LOT of fish to catch. There’s nothing worse than forcing kids to sit for hours without a bite. The result is bored and whining kids, or—worse—fighting kids who might end up hooking each other in the eye.
Find a stocked pond or lake to start, a local fishing hole next to your campsite, or if you’re near the ocean, try an offshore fishing charter with a captain who can find the right spots where the fish bite, (and who can also help with baiting hooks). These captains also often provide drinks, snacks, and a lot of fun banter for the family to enjoy. For a novice family fishing with kids by the ocean, a fishing charter adventure might be a worthwhile expense for a seamless and memorable day on the water.
Organize Your Gear the Night Before
Fish bite early, so be prepared to make it an early morning. It’s best to organize your gear and load up the car night before, so you just need to get up and go.
Get Your Bait
Live bait is best (sandworms, crickets). We’ve even used plain old raw shrimp. If you’re near a popular fishing hole, check for a local tackle shop or gas station that advertises “Live Bait.” Also, a marina will often have a small store set up for provisions and bait. Otherwise, it’s easy to get crickets from a local pet store or even shipped live from Amazon. Although live bait is best, you can also order some freeze-dried crickets online if you want to save your stash for future fishing trips.
What Gear Should I Bring?
Here’s my checklist of recommended supplies. Many can fit into a single bag or duffel, along with your tackle box. Don’t let this list overwhelm you—some of these items are optional, can be borrowed from local anglers or tackle shops, neighbors, purchased from Craigslist, or found though your local Facebook groups.
If you’re fishing by boat out on a wider body of water, make sure to bring some appropriate seasickness medication. If you have a child or parent prone to motion sickness, take the medication at least 30 minutes before heading out.
A mild all-natural alternative to Dramamine.
These are acupuncture bands that look like bracelets to help alleviate motion sickness. They also make smaller sizes just for kids.
An electrical wristband that is the gold standard for motion sickness. We love these for cruises too.
Copy of Your Fishing Permit
Don’t leave home without it.
Personal Flotation Device/Life Vests
If you’re fishing with kids anywhere near a body of water, a life vest is recommended, and the kids should wear them. If you’re fishing by boat, a life vest is required by law. Each state has its own age requirements for life vests, so be sure to consult the law before heading out.
The best life jacket is the one you will wear while fishing with kids, so do some research on recommended life jacket options and make sure you’re ready to go.
Poles, Bait, and a Net
The type of equipment you use will depend on where you plan to fish and the type of fish you’re going after. For more casual fishing with kids, if you cannot borrow the gear, I recommend purchasing an affordable fishing set, like the options recommended by US Angler.
You can buy some prepackaged tackle boxes from Amazon, which will save you time and money. Some additional items for your tackle box: kid-friendly hooks or barbless hooks are safer for the fish (if you plan to catch and release), and safer for fishing with kids. A hook without a barb will be a lot of easier to remove from your skin in case of an accident.
I highly recommend using a bobber if you go fishing with kids. They float on the water, and it is a fun and colorful way for kids to watch a fish nibble on their bait.
Rubber gloves for touching the catch or bait, antibacterial hand wipes, hand sanitizer and paper towels or rags.
Be sure to pack sunscreen, SPF shirt or rash guard shirt for the kids, sun hat or other hat, sun protective clothing, and lip balm with sunscreen.
Cooler with Ice for the Fish
If you’re planning to eat your catch, make sure to bring a cooler with ice to keep them fresh! Catch-and-release is also a fun option, and no extra cooler required.
Cooler with Ice for the Humans
Plenty of water and snacks are needed for a fun day out in the sun.
First Aid Kit
A first aid kit is always a good idea when hooks are involved.
You’re going to be on the water or near water, so bring at least one towel. Kids. Water. Someone is going to get wet.
Portable Speaker (Optional)
Don’t forget to bring music to listen to and a speaker to help pass the time.
Extra Phone Charger Battery
I always bring an extra battery charger because being out for a few hours in the sun can deplete your phone battery, especially if you’re listening to music with the kids or taking lots of videos for fun memories. I’m a stickler for safety and like to make sure I have my phone always charged and available.
A Sense of Humor and a Lot of Patience
Fishing with kids can be an unpredictable adventure. Some kids will immediately become intrigued with touching the worms and bait and want to get their hook in the water immediately, while others will scream their heads off, freak out, and refuse. Some kids will immediately appreciate the atmosphere and nature focused activity, while others will immediately declare its “booooooring.” Some kids will love bouncing over the waves on a boat, while others will turn green (this goes for spouses too!). Some tenderhearted kids will catch a fish and sigh “oooh poor fishy,” while others will cheer and fist pump “Yessss, dinner!”
Embrace any setbacks with a smile, first aid kit, and a backup plan. Regardless of how your kids fall on the fishing enjoyment spectrum, you will be guaranteed a couple hours of memories and Instagram worthy pics!
Top Tips for Fishing with Kids
Here’s what I recommend focusing on for the best experience with your kiddos:
Keep Expectations Low
Don’t plan on hauling in a week’s worth of fish to feed your family if you’re fishing with kids. It’s all about enjoying the experience together. Be happy to get a couple of bites. Enjoy the time together learning about how to fish, the gear, the location, and appreciate the scenery around you. I also recommend preparing a back-up plan if fishing with kids doesn’t go as planned. A nearby park or a playground for a picnic with the snacks from the cooler is a good Plan B.
Don’t Stay for too Long
Like most things in life, if you’re fishing with kids, you want to quit while you’re ahead. Plan on fishing for two hours at most, maybe three to four at max if you rent a boat or take a captained charter. If the fish aren’t biting, there’s a good chance the kids will get bored. Leave on a high note, and you can always return with a newly impassioned little angler.
Keep it Simple
I recommend taking a fishing charter with a captain to start or that you find a place that’s well stocked to encourage your kids to enjoy the experience.
Make Fishing with Kids Fun and Memorable
Fishing with kids can become part of a new family tradition if you design the day to incorporate some fun family rituals. Stop for donuts beforehand or early morning drive-thru breakfast (with coffee!). Pick out matching fishing shirts reserved for this special occasion. Get funky colored zinc sunblock to wear just for fishing outings. Plan a special surprise snack during the day. Discuss what type of fish you might catch at your destination. Make a fun bet to see who catches the most!
Keep Safety in Mind
If you’re fishing with a group of kids or multiple family members, make sure there is sufficient distance between each child or family member to practice casting. You want to make sure no one hooks an eye!
Top Campspots for Fishing with Kids
There are so many terrific destinations around the USA to go fishing with kids. Use Campspot to search your neck of the woods and beyond. Here are a few recommendations:
Triponds Family Camp Resort – Dorr, Michigan
This family campground has a stocked pond with bluegills and bass and no permit required. Little anglers may keep the bluegills but must catch and release the bass. Bait is conveniently for sale at the campground’s store.
Sun Outdoors Marathon – Marathon, Florida
This campground offers 300-feet of waterfront access in the Florida Keys. Considered an “angler’s paradise,” they offer boat slips, nearby boat rentals, a fishing area, nearby lobster fishing, fish cleaning station, and large community grill for cooking your catch. There are opportunities to fish offshore, inshore, and in reefs, wrecks, the Atlantic, and the Gulf for Mahi Mahi, Yellowtail Snapper, Tarpon, Blackfin Tuna, Black Grouper, and Blue Marlin.
Lake Okeechobee RV Park – Okeechobee, Florida
Immerse yourself in the Florida wilderness at this family-friendly campground. With nearby hiking trails and opportunities for manatee sightings, there’s plenty to be explored. You can also take your kids catch and release bass fishing on the canal.
J&S Fish Camp – Okeechobee, Florida
While this campground does not have boat rentals available, they do partner with Lake Okeechobee Bass Fishing to provide bass, crappie, and bluegill fishing charter adventures. Live music and food trucks will make this a fun addition to your family’s trip list.
Van Hook Resort – New Town, North Dakota
No boat? No problem at Van Hook Resort. This Lake Sakakawea campground is a well known hot spot for Walleye fishing and in addition to boat access, you can also fish from the shore of the campground. They also have loads of family-friendly amenities like basketball and volleyball courts, horseshoes, and a picnic pavilion.
Copper John’s Resort – Lakeview, Arkansas
The charming cabins at Copper John’s Resort are sure to be the relaxing stay your family needs. Enjoy fly fishing and trout fishing on the White River in the Arkansas Ozark mountains. Catch brown, rainbow, brook, tiger, golden and cutthroat trout with your kids.
Fishing with kids can be a rewarding adventure, and a fun naturalist family activity to do from coast to coast, from inland rivers and ponds to the offshore reefs of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Start small, keep it fun, and before you know it, your family just might get “hooked!”
Jenn Lewis is a working mom who enjoys camping, boating, fishing, and crabbing on the Chesapeake Bay, Potomac River, and the Eastern shores of Maryland and Virginia with her three kids (ages eight, 11, and 13) three dogs, and one husband. She grew up fishing with her own dad in Groton, Connecticut, where they would wake up at five and be home by eight with at least a dozen flounder for dinner, memorable banter, and countless stories to share.
Photo credit in order of appearance: Adobe Stock – Cherries, Adobe Stock – Wordley Calvo Stock, Adobe Stock – Afshar Tetyana, Pexels – Cottonbro, Pexels – Alexandr Podvalny, Pexels – Stephen Andrews, Tripods Family Camp Resort, Sun Outdoors Marathon, Lake Okeechobee RV Park, J&S Fish Camp, Van Hook Resort, Copper John’s Resort