When I was young, fishing was a reasonably regular activity. My father was a well-known fisherman, so I was out on the bricks before I hardly knew what a rod was.
My wife also grew up fishing as a child. If she wasn’t eeling at her local wharf, she was attending Bill Hohepa’s fishing camps on Kawau Island. It was therefore inevitable our children would grow up to become as addicted as we are. Sure enough, fast-forward 20 years, and our two children are frequent participants on our weekly land-based fishing trips. So, if you would like to get your kids out on the bricks, too, but don’t know where to start, here are a few things to keep in mind...
Always have two locations in mind, as the weather can change with the flick of a switch. By all means aim to fish your ideal spot, but keep a sheltered, easily-accessible bay in reserve in case the weather is not suitable.
Try to sort the necessary preparations in advance to minimise stress later on, and include your children in this process if possible. For example, a fishing-tackle/bait shop can be an exciting place for kids; there are often baitfish species they may have not have seen before and the mind-boggling lure selection (soft-baits, stick-baits and poppers) may leave them with their mouths hanging open!
If you prefer to use fresh baits, take the kids with you to catch them. Fortunately, my son is a already regular on our local wharf, where he stocks up on kahawai, piper, mackerel and mullet. He then takes them home and packs them in sealed bags ahead of our rock-based adventures. There is nothing better than seeing the huge sense of pride and achievement on your child’s face as they land fish on baits they have caught themselves.
Try to think of every possible scenario that could occur on your fishing adventure and pack for it. When taking our kids out, a typical day-pack contains fishing gear, bait, snacks (plenty of them), drinks, rain jackets, sunscreen, bug repellent, a first-aid kit, towels, toilet paper, and a dry bag with spare clothes and hats. Like most children, my two are ‘puddle prone’; I cannot recall a single time they have stayed dry, so the spare clothes are a must. Occasionally we take a pop-up tent, too.
Big walk-ins do not combine well with little legs. I speak from experience when I say your children will not appreciate clambering over boulders and other structural challenges to get to your favourite fishing location. Instead, start by picking a nearby location with minimal obstacles.
If kayaking to your destination, make sure you pick a day where the swell is not an issue and the weather is on your side. Remember it’s about building up their confidence and keeping safe. You don’t want to have waves crashing upon the sides of your kayak or threatening to tip you up while landing.
Safety is key when land-based fishing, and a PFD is a must. Our children wear theirs at all times, not only in the kayaks but also while on the rocks.
A full wetsuit is well worth investing in. It is great for protecting against cuts and scrapes from barnacles and other sharp bits and pieces, works as a barrier against the cold, and also provides added buoyancy should anyone end up in the water.
Suitable footing really makes a big difference, too. As comfortable as jandals are, when it comes to the bricks, they are an injury waiting to happen. Gumboots can be dangerous, too: if your child ends up in the water, they fill to become makeshift anchors.
In a similar vein, always carry a first-aid kit, as accidents can happen (and are guaranteed every time you do not take one!).
If you want to teach your child the how-tos of fishing, I suggest starting with simple things, such as how to hold the fish they catch correctly. A lot of adults still struggle with this skill, so if your children can master it at a young age, they will be set for life. It’s also important to point out little things that can become painful issues, such as fish spikes, teeth and super-sharp snapper gill plates that are famous for slicing thumbs!
As your children’s confidence grows, get them to cut their own baits and start baiting their hooks. An effective way to do this is by baiting up your own at the same time so that they have a step-by-step guide and can mirror your movements.
Be sure to point out the little things. Although it’s old-hat to us, kids love to hear about the importance of the trace being half-hitched around the end of your bait; why there’s a barb on a hook; how baitfish are often eaten head-first; and what certain fish prefer eating. The more intrigued your children become, the more they will want to learn.
Teaching your child to cast is a biggie and very worthwhile; just casting better and further can keep kids occupied for long periods of time.
The most effective casting method I have heard of was used at Bill Hohepa’s fishing camps. It involved connecting a tennis ball to the end of the line so the budding angler could practice on the lawn before heading out. It has been said that a sidearm casting action is easier and safer than on overhead cast for children just starting out.
• Make sure the youngster has enough room to cast freely, their feet positioned comfortably apart, with the dominant-side foot pointing in the intended casting direction.
• Show them how to open the reel’s bail-arm and trap the line on the tip of their index finger, with around 25-30cm of line left hanging from the rod tip. The other hand should be holding the butt section.
• Get your child to bring the rod back while holding it above his/her waist.
• Get them to swing the rod forward with a firm flick of the wrist. Remember to point out how the line should be released and that their rod should end up pointing where they want their bait to land.
• Show them how to flick the bail arm back over afterwards.
• Remember, encouragement and praise is a must; it takes time, but they will get there.
Show them how to hold the rod properly afterwards, demonstrate what a bite feels like and how to strike and set the hook.
As your children’s knowledge grows, you will be able to teach them the more advanced fishing techniques, such as tying the trace to the line, along with various knots and tackle setups.
Keep in mind that what might be a regular occurrence for us can provide a huge adventure or memorable experience for kids. Simple things such as rock pools full of kina and little fish will keep kids occupied long enough to get all your gear set up.
Later, maybe you can show them how kina can be used as berley, and explain how, in addition to being a favourite food for fish, some people really enjoy eating them as well. Offer your children the opportunity to try it for themselves!
There will be other sights too, such as spotting a seal on the rocks, crabs hiding in crevices, or maybe dolphins swimming past – these can be really memorable moments for children.
Recently, our son Kobi was lucky to see an orca up close as it swam right past the ledge we had just jumped on. He has held onto that moment ever since, and will tell anyone who asks how the orca was in close because it wanted to feed on stingrays.
Finally, it’s not just about providing your children with great experiences: in addition to raising fishermen of the future, you will get a real buzz from sharing these times with them, too.
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