Why not take the kids fishing this summer ? You don’t need a boat, writes Craig Worthington: if you do things right, kids can have heaps of fun fishing from the wharf.

Although we know taking kids fishing is a very serious business, a wharf during the schoolholidays provides plenty humour. Often, it would appear, John Cleese was the instructor at the last ‘parent fishing school’ judging by the number of adults attempting to imitate his well-known antics. I confess to having myself been a Cleese imitator a time or two.

The problem is, we all tend to embark on kids’ fishing expeditions with visions of multiple hook-ups and entranced children. But enjoyment quickly wanes and stress levels rise when reality doesn’t match our fishing expectations – or theirs!

Tangled lines, hooks in clothing or fingers, a rod ring crunched underfoot, crying children and fractious parents… It is all so familiar, but it need not be this way.

The secret to taking kids fishing is understanding how their attention spans change as they grow older. Three and four-year-olds (for instance) have the shortest of attention spans, but they actually fish quite well. That is because everything is new and completely fascinating – from cutting the bait to landing a fish.

A child of this age will be interested in everything, but we need to remember that for him/her, these are simply a multitude of separately occurring events. At this age we shouldn’t expect children to connect with the concept of ‘fishing’ as such, but if we allow them to swing their first fish up onto the wharf and put it in a bucket of water, they will be our friends for life.

Hands-on fishing

The five- to seven-year-old age group is the tough one. These kids love fishing, but need constant help and attention and can be quick to lose their focus. Unless there’s instant action on the fishing front, their minds will wander, so good planning is vital to success.

Kaimei Sharpe happy with his snapper caught off the rocks.

Fishing rods for these youngsters should always be rigged before you leave home – and make sure the bait is defrosted and ready to go the minute you arrive at the wharf. It can pay to get the kids busy with some berley preparation when you arrive, or maybe a bait catcher and some bread.

The emphasis is on instant action: they don’t have to be catching fish, but nor should they be idle while Dad farts around tying knots and sorting himself out.

Instant fishing success is important, so pack good bait and good hooks.

For years Kiwi kids grew up using horrible, fat-shanked galvanised fish hooks that were almost impossible to sharpen and rusted quickly when wet. I’m amazed we caught anything on them.

Thankfully, we now use chemically sharpened hooks. Be careful with them though, especially around kids, and ensure they are always hooked on the rod rings whilst travelling. And watch out for kids who think they can cast – it takes the smallest pull on a sharp hook to sink it deep into the wrong piece of flesh!

Sharp hooks might impale a few unwary children, but they catch fish and that’s why they are so important when fishing with kids. Little fish don’t hook themselves as easily as big fish, so the smaller and sharper the hook, the better.

With everything set up, including cracker bait on red-hot hooks, you’ll find your five- to seven-year-olds catching fish and loving every minute of it. They may be all fished-out after only half an hour, but that’s okay – don’t push them into any marathon routines and they’ll want to go and do it all again tomorrow.

I can do it!

When kids get to eight years and older you start to see the true fishing fanatics develop.

There is a lot going on in the brains of eight-year-olds. They’re beginning to understand a bit more about their own independence and this reflects heavily in their desire to go fishing. Being able to perform most fishing requirements unassisted makes them start to relate to fishing on a more personal and exciting level, rather than considering it a hand-holding exercise with Mum or Dad.

With this age group you’ll still need all the tricks you used with the younger ones, and then some. Kids at this age need lots of guidance, but in a way that lets them do things themselves. Little things like pre-cut bait make a big difference. They’ll tell you they can do it themselves, but the results are not always satisfactory, or desirable.

Sometimes a small pair of sharp bait-cutting scissors is safer than a knife for cutting bait. A local father in Russell used to set his boy up with a lump of dough mixed with mulched pipis. Baiting was a simple and safe routine of moulding dough onto a hook. The boy caught lots of fish and was particularly known for his ability to catch parore.

Makes sense, really.

Similarly, with spare hooks and traces: avoid messing about tying up traces on the wharf. Make up spare traces and rigs at home and show your kids how to connect them via simple loop to loop connections. This avoids having to tie difficult knots.

Hooked on fishing

Max Miller with a school holiday trevally off the wharf.

By seven or eight, kids might be eeling by themselves in the local creek or fishing under the care of an older sibling down at the wharf. It is important that they can exercise a level of independence that will make the whole fishing exercise go well.

The important thing to realise with this older age group is tha t suddenly the attention span thing has changed from half an hour to all day. That is because of all the other things that are happening to them. For an eight-year-old, it’s a fishing adventure as well as a social adventure. The fact that there are lots of other kids on the wharf the same age is part of the fun – and they often fish surprisingly competitively!

When fishing with eight-year-olds and older, you can get a decent fishing effort in yourself. So take your gear along and show them how it’s done. With the right preparation you’ll find ‘taking kids fishing’ is damned good fun after all.