Introducing youngsters to any outdoor activity, including the sport of ice fishing, doesn’t require a degree in rocket science; just an enthusiastic mentor and some willing students.
Take my latest adventure, for example. I took a half-dozen eager pre-teens on a day-trip for yellow perch and crappies. By its end we had a good catch of fish for the table—and I’m pretty sure, at least a couple hooked-for-life ice anglers.
Though it’s really simple enough, there are a few things you can do that will help you ensure a successful day, and an experience that will have your young anglers looking forward to the next trip.
1. Plan To Succeed
Quick success breeds interest and excitement in novice anglers. So, do your best to put your youngsters on fish right away; at this stage, size and quality of fish take a back seat to steady action. Rather than planning a trip for walleyes that may only bite in the morning or evening, head to a lake where you know panfish are plentiful and cooperative. It might mean taking time to search out bait shop or online fishing reports, but the effort you put in before the trip will pay for itself many times over.
Likewise, keep an eye on the weather forecast as you plan the trip. While bitter cold and wind may not deter you from taking to the ice, don’t subject young anglers to harsh conditions right off the bat. Instead, aim for a day when the weather will be mild—above freezing if possible. You’ll not only eliminate the discomfort factor, the novices won’t have to contend with frozen line guides, ice-encrusted line or any of the little distractions that can frustrate even veteran fishermen.
When the big day arrives, make sure your charges are outfitted properly with layered clothing, boots that don’t leak, warm hats and gloves, outerwear that repels water, and if the ice is slick with little or no snow cover, perhaps even ice cleats. Getting wet and cold will cut a kid’s trip short in a very big hurry, and leave a negative impression that will be difficult to overcome later on.
2. Keep It Interesting
Once you’re on the ice, the goal is to help young anglers learn and embrace new fishing skills while they catch fish. And the key is to hold their attention. I started my group out sight-fishing for perch in shallow water, for instance. They were able to watch how the fish reacted to their jigging presentations, and how perch attack a bait. They even learned that they could pull an offering away from a small perch in hopes that a larger fish would move in. The kids were fascinated, plus it was a fantastic learning experience for them.
Later, when we targeted fish in deeper water, the kids were able to relate the signals on a flasher screen to the fish behavior they’d witnessed with their own eyes.
How you approach introducing other skills, such as properly baiting a hook, reading a GPS chart, operating a hand-auger, or erecting a shelter depends on a youngster’s age, stature, desire to learn and their existing proficiency level. Younger anglers require more hands-on supervision, of course, while older ones may only need you to show them the steps one time. Always, however, make sure they know that they can ask for assistance at any time.
3. Provide A Diversion
No matter how hot the fishing is, there’s a good chance that your companions might need a break. The diversion could be something as simple as chucking a football around for a while between angling sessions, or perhaps a brief shoreline exploratory excursion.
Food is always a welcome distraction on the ice. You could pack snacks and a camp stove to make instant hot chocolate. Or, go all out and cook hotdogs for a full-fledged mid-lake picnic. The main thing is to expect that kids might want to step back from the fishing experience for a few minutes at some point—and be ready for it.
4. Answer When Nature Calls
Even just a few hours on the ice can result in the need for a restroom break. And keep in mind that younger kids sometimes let things escalate to a Defcon 1-type situation before they speak up. An easy way to head off any such emergency, especially when you have a group of kids in tow, is to establish a designated loo in the form of a small portable shack—complete with a 5-gallon bucket, bag liner, tote-able toilet seat and a roll of TP. If this sort of set-up doesn’t fit your style, that’s okay. Just be sure to have a plan of some type to answer Nature’s Call; you’re almost sure to need it.
5. Know When To Go
Finally, when you take a kid, or a few of them, fishing, always keep in mind that it’s their trip. Take your cues from your companions, and if it looks like they’ve had enough, don’t fight it. End the day on a high note, and they’re sure to be up for a return trip in the future. Certainly, there a lot of things to anticipate and prepare for when you take young anglers under your wing. And if you swing-and-miss a few times, don’t worry about it. Your enthusiasm for ice fishing and the outdoors in general is bound to be contagious, whatever the outcome.