Hardwater Fishing with Kids

Submitted by Joe Doucette, Elko Fly Shop

It’s winter, the kids aren’t getting outside enough and they are driving you crazy. Take them ice fishing for a great day of fresh air, exercise, and family fun. The one rule if taking the younger crowd with you is that the fishing trip is for them. This means that the rules will be a bit different than when going fishing with your buddies.

Ice fishing with young children in many ways is easier than its warmer cousin soft water fishing. There is no casting! After a hole is cut in the ice, it is just a matter of dropping the hook and line straight down into the water column. It is okay to fish as a large group with the fishing holes cut just a few feet from each other. Being on the ice makes it easier to keep an eye on the kids while they are playing if they become bored with fishing. But there are some simple rules to follow to make it fun for the little people so they want to come back again.

Pick a day when the weather will make it more enjoyable. Not much wind, hopefully sunny and not too cold. With today’s weather apps it shouldn’t be too hard to do. Don’t let the children know about the trip until you are sure of the weather. Younger people will not always understand when you promise to take them and then have to back out because the weather isn’t conducive to a good day of family fun.

Kids cold weather clothing, even snow gear, isn’t as good as that made for adults. Make sure they are dressed in layers that is appropriate for the weather. Don’t put the outer layers on while driving to the lake as they will sweat and that will make them colder once they get outside. Bring lots of extra clothes and foot gear. Feet get cold quickly so get them a set of snow boots with good soles. Faces will get a double whammy from the sun as it bounces off the snow. Make sure to have sunblock. 

They are probably going to get wet if they catch a fish or two, and even if they don’t, they love to play in the snow so will still probably get wet. Bring a couple of towels. A smaller one for drying hands off after catching fish and a larger one for drying wet children off. The larger one can also be used as a shield in case they need to go to the bathroom.

Speaking of going to the bathroom. If not fishing close to bathroom facilities, there are a few options for portable toilets available at most sporting goods stores or in sporting goods sections of department stores. If you aren’t fishing in a portable ice fishing shelter, a towel or blanket can be used to give them privacy. 

Bring lots of snacks and hot drinks. If the fishing is slow, snacking is a great way to fill the time. Hot drinks help keep them warm. The ice at Wildhorse is generally thick enough in January and early February to build a fire. Let them cook hot dogs over a small fire or make s’mores. Buy a new plastic tackle box, wash it well and use it to pack snacks in. Call it a snackle box and let the children decorate the outside with indelible markers and stickers one evening before the trip. Nuts, dried fruit, granola bars, hard cheeses, salami, pepperoni and fruit make for great energy snacks to fill the snackle box.

Let’s talk fishing. In Nevada, adults and children 12 or older need a fishing license. Each person may have two fishing rods in the water at a time, but they need to be attended. Remember, this trip is about letting the kids have fun. It doesn’t matter which rod hooks a fish, let one of the little ones “catch” the fish. If fishing with more than one child, have a plan in place for who gets to reel in the first one and then give each child an equal chance after. Picking numbers out of a hat lets them see the choosing is fair. It’s okay to lose a fish. Praise them for how hard they fought it. Remember, the really “big ones” are the ones that get away. 

Children don’t care how big or small a fish is, they just love catching one. Whether it is a 20-inch trout or a 4-inch perch, EVERY fish is a trophy when you are five. Or six, or seven or fifty-seven. LOL. Take lots of pictures. Children love to have pictures of themselves with a fish to put up on the wall or refrigerator. With today’s cameras and printers, this is much easier to do than 20 years ago. 

It is much easier to take the children fishing if there are two adults. One who oversees the actual fishing and one to wrangle the kids. In some families it is obvious which parent will do which job, in others it may work better to switch off and give the wrangler a break. 

The kids are there to have fun. Some youngsters take to fishing like fish to water (pun intended) while others may not have much interest until a fish is caught. If a child wants an active role, let them hold the fishing rod, do some jigging or help to bait the hooks. Let them take turns scooping ice out of the holes. This gives them something active to do that doesn’t take any skill. If a child just wants to play, let them. But when it is their turn to reel in a fish, call them in and let them participate in the fun.

Children’s little hands often drop things. Ice scoops, fishing rods and even toys may end up being dropped down the holes and end up at the bottom of the lake. Have some light rope and tie items that need to be around the fishing hole to a chair or other item so that if dropped can be retrieved. There are rod holders that will not only hold the fishing rods off the ice, but help keep them from being dropped or pulled into the water by a large fish. Use some electrical tape to tape the rods to the rod holder. 

Patience is a virtue. Kids are going to make mistakes. Losing a lure or even an ice fishing rod isn’t anything to get upset about. As the children get older, they can take a more active role in tying knots, baiting hooks, and other chores associated with the sport. 

Depending upon a child’s aptitude, some may be participating at a younger age than others. Often though, children young children in grade school are able to handle many of the chores associated with fishing if given a chance. They will be proud of their accomplishments. A mistake is only a mistake if they don’t learn from it. It is not uncommon for a child to make the same mistake many times before they learn from it. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, patience is a virtue. 

Finally, when the kids are done, it is time to leave. Always head home with them wanting more, not bored. The idea is to have them want to go ice fishing with you again. When done right, hard water fishing with the kids will build great memories, a love for the outdoors and a fishing partner for life. 

Elko Fly Shop is the only full service fly shop in eastern Nevada. During the winter they carry a full line of ice fishing gear including rods, augers, lures, baits and other ice fishing supplies. They are located at 310 Silver Street.