While many hardcore saltwater anglers refuse to admit it, freshwater lakes and ponds are where the vast majority of fishermen got their start. Fortunately, no state in the country offers as many accessible and fertile venues to take a kid fishing than right here in Florida.
Although the Sunshine State is home to 7,700 lakes over 10 acres in size, there are also many smaller lakes, ponds and canal systems in nearly every county that harbor a wide variety of freshwater game fish, including four species of black bass, an assortment of panfish, catfish, bowfin, shad, pickerel, carp, gar and more. While many of these species rarely exceed a few pounds, kids don’t care. All they want is action and an opportunity to go fishing with their dad, uncle, older sibling or someone they look up to.
Many of these landlocked waterways are very easy to access with ample parking. Truthfully, even if the body of water is on private property and posted, rarely do homeowners mind a child sitting on the bank appreciating nature and learning values that will shape his or her life forever. What’s even better, it doesn’t take much more than a small investment in time to really enjoy the outdoors with a child and open their eyes and minds to the natural wonders of the world.
Heading to a nearby pond or freshwater canal for a couple of hours may not sound super exciting to you—someone who I’m certain is familiar with catching boatloads of giant offshore game fish—but for a young child it’s a world class adventure and an opportunity to see and learn lessons no classroom can teach. Not only will basic fishing techniques be passed on, but you can expect the child to be fascinated by the array of surrounding wildlife, including an assortment of juvenile fish and tadpoles, wading birds, turtles and more.
Florida’s lakes, ponds and freshwater canal systems are also great places to teach children conservation efforts and the value of practicing catch-and-release. Panfish and cichlids provide the perfect platform to teach safe unhooking techniques and to also teach kids how to handle fish in general. It’s also critical parents educate their kids on the importance of cleaning up after themselves, making sure they leave nothing behind.
I will never forget my first fishing experience. I was barely four, and I remember it as if it were yesterday. Sitting side by side with my dad on an overhanging tree branch, we caught six bluegill using nothing more than kernels of corn for bait. After watching that little red and white bobber disappear with excitement, from that day on I was hooked and can’t thank my dad enough for it.
Taking a kid fishing really makes a big difference in an impressionable child’s life. If you introduce them to the sport slowly and gently with no unnecessary yelling or screaming and continue to help them advance over the coming years with bigger fish and more sophisticated tackle, they will ultimately go on to enjoy our precious aquatic and marine environments well into their adolescent years. Many will turn to saltwater canals, surf fishing and pier fishing to get their fix before graduating to boats and the open ocean. With so many negative impacts in today’s society and peer pressure at an all-time high, would you rather have your kid glued to the TV, or fishing at the local pier?
Gear For Kids
First and foremost, for young children under 10 years of age, regardless if the child is fishing from a boat or a bank, a life jacket is a must! And do yourself a favor and stay away from those bulky orange life jackets that kids hate and instead turn to a fashionable form-fitting flotation vest.
For tackle, a pushbutton outfit is the way to go. Pushbutton outfits are simple to operate and allow youngsters to focus on fishing and the great outdoors rather than on frustrating tangles and downtime. It’s important you understand their emotions and limit boredom by teaching skills and keeping them involved in every step. With a small bobber 24 inches above a hook and just two dozen garden worms, your kids will stay busy for hours in any lake or pond.
For older children approaching their teenage years, its time to move up to a light action spinning outfit, which will provide greater castability and increased success. Terminal gear can be as simple as 12 lb. monofilament line, a variety of small hooks and bobbers for fishing live bait, and an assortment of artificial lures, including small panfish jigs, a few rubber worms and a couple of crankbaits. Most tackle shops sell basic tackle kits designed specifically for children with everything they need to have a ton of fun!
Fish for Free*
There’s no excuse not to take a kid fishing. Children under 16 years of age do not need a freshwater fishing license. Additionally, Florida Sport Fishing is committed to supporting today’s youth by providing children 10 years of age or younger with a FREE pushbutton rod and reel outfit so every kid can enjoy the sport we love so much. Email [email protected] for details.
*While supplies last.