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Take a Kid Fishing

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) recognizes that recreational fishing is an important American tradition that provides life-shaping experiences for children of all ages.  We want to help make it safe and easy for Floridians to go fishing to ensure this heritage is passed on to future generations.  Few memories stick out in our minds as clearly as catching our first fish, and who we were with when we caught it.  The reason is simple - the pure joy of the experience and being with someone who cares enough to take time to go fishing together.

The future of our resources is in the hands of our youth and in the vision and commitment of the parents, extended family, teachers and friends, who help to mold their ideals and values.  Recreational fishing is an American tradition as old as the country and has long been valued for the peace and tranquility that it can provide to all those who wish to escape the pressures of life for a few blissful hours.  Fishing also provides the opportunity to spend quality time in a peaceful non-intimidating setting talking and reconnecting with family and friends.  As fishing skills develop, a level of self-confidence is attained and organizational and planning challenges are met.

In addition, it is our belief that children and adults who spend time recreating in the outdoors and communing with nature learn to love and understand our fragile environment.  They become more interested in knowing the role that they play in conserving and enhancing our resources.  With that knowledge, they may become better stewards of our resources making more informed choices about their daily activities that affect the environment and helping to influence others to cherish and enhance our natural heritage.

Florida is the "Fishing Capital of the World." The accolade is well-deserved, because Florida is far and away, the number-one recreational fishing destination in North America.   With 3 million acres of lakes and ponds, 12,000 miles of rivers and streams and more than 8,000 miles of coastline, you are always close to good fishing.

The FWC is actively providing opportunities, skills and resources to help parents and guardians to "take a kid fishing."  This website will answer your questions about taking a kid fishing--you'll learn the why, what, when, where and how.   We also provide some options for what to do when you can't be fishing to help your child learn more and remember their last trip.

  • Fishing is a fantastic way to spend quality time with a child interacting with them in meaningful ways--away from the stress and interruptions of everyday life.  Where better than fishing to find out what's on their minds and share your values with them?
  • Fishing is an opportunity to teach kids about the diversity of nature and our dependence on a healthy environment, and how people can improve or destroy habitats that have consequences for both wildlife and people.
  • Fishing is a lifetime sport that will provide many hours of recreation, relaxation and time with family and friends.
  • Fishing is a physical activity that helps develop coordination skills without being overly strenuous or competitive and gets them outdoors.
  • Fishing is a way to spark interest in learning more about how to fish effectively, the fish themselves and nature, by reading, exploring the Internet and discussing their experiences with peers.
  • Fishing is fun!

The biggest thing to know about taking a kid fishing is that it is about spending quality time together.  Try to avoid putting pressure on yourself or the kid by expecting to catch lots of fish or especially big fish--remember they call it fishing, not catching, for a reason.  Fishing provides a great time to find out what the child is interested in and just talk.  But if the subject shifts to fishing, talk about the history of fishing, what fish need to survive and how important clean water and healthy habitats are to fish and people (see links for some simple highlights to inform yourself about these topics).  These discussions can lead to fun expectations, but fulfillment isn't always instantaneous, so patience is the key for both you and the kid.

Fishing Tips

This section includes more detail about the actual skills involved with fishing. Many of the skills are similar if not identical in freshwater and saltwater, but we'll try to point out some of the differences too.

Celebrate Having Taken a Kid Fishing!

When is the best time to  "Take a Kid Fishing?"  Anytime that you can get away with a kid safely (let's avoid lightning storms and hurricanes) is a good time.  However, as you gain experience you will see that some times are more likely to be productive than others.  The following bullet points provide some basic tips.

  • Time of Day--Typically for freshwater fishes especially, dawn and dusk tend to be more active feeding periods and also allow some escape from the heat.  However, anytime of day you can expect to catch fish, if you know where to find them and are patient.
  • Lunar Cycle--Yes, the phases of the moon also play a role in how aggressive fish are and how they congregate, especially around spawning time. The Solunar Calendar helps provide some insights into peak fishing periods based on this information--but remember local variables may play an even more important role.
  • Weather Patterns--Many species of fish tend to fish actively just before a front passes through and then shut down somewhat during the sudden barometric changes associated with the storm front itself.  If the front lasts for a prolonged period, after it passes can again bring enhanced fishing conditions. 
  • Spawning Cycles--Each fish species is prone to spawn at a certain time(s) of year.  Part of this is programmed into their genes, but much of it is triggered by water temperature, lunar phase and their nutrition as well.  For freshwater fishes, we have a chart that shows peak fishing seasons and shows their preferred spawning temperatures
  • Events--License Free Fishing weekends occur throughout the year.  The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission sponsors numerous events around the state  to encourage parents and other responsible adults to "take a kid fishing" and see what they mean when they say "Water Works Wonders."  The first full week in June is National Fishing and Boating Week and is a time when businesses around the state and our Division of Marine Fisheries concentrate many of their clinics.  Watch the agency event schedule for other special opportunities.

LINKS

Freshwater Fishing Peak Seasons
Weather Links
Fishing Lines - An Angler's Guide to Florida's Marine Resources
Saltwater Fishing Clinics 

  • Florida has 3 million acres of freshwater lakes, 12,000 miles of rivers and streams, and more than 8,000 miles of coastline--all of which have fish.  No one in Florida is far from a location where you can begin learning to fish and spending time together on the water.  Obviously though, some places will provide a much better opportunity to catch fish than others.   A big key is structure and changes in the water flow patterns or bottom shape.
  • Freshwater Fishing:  Freshwater fishing is probably more accessible to most Floridians than saltwater and typically offers an easier starting place for a novice angler.
  • Lakes--Most large public lakes have shoreline access often around public ramps or parks, and many even have fishing piers or boardwalks.Catfish and bluegill can be caught with a cane pole from these locations, but using a rod and reel will let you reach farther out to where the fish may be (see how to for details).  With a boat, you can cover more territory and get to areas where there are less disturbances from other anglers.  You may also find more fish, such as larger bass and schooling crappie, but having a boat isn't essential.  Look for vegetation fringes, sunken logs, water inflows,or dropoffs in the bottom (having a depth finder or topo map is helpful for this).  On a hot day, shady areas such as under piers or overhanging trees can be productive.
  • Rivers--You'll still find bass, bream and catfish in rivers, but also some fishes that are more specialized for flowing water like redbreast sunfish.  Again watch for structural changes; bends in the river or bottom contours that create eddies that help stir up prey for the predators are helpful.
  • Ponds--Many people do their first fishing in ponds, especially ponds stocked with bass, bluegill and catfish, or perhaps sunshine bass.  Urban ponds in Jacksonville, Tampa/St. Pete, Orlando and around Miami-Dade are managed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to provide excellent opportunities to "take a kid fishing."  They often host special fishing clinics (especially during the summer) and fishing rodeos.
  • Saltwater Fishing--Being on a peninsula, even one as large as Florida, has its advantages and makes saltwater fishing as accessible to most Floridians as freshwater. Residents can even fish from the shore without a license.
    • Shoreline--Watching where the locals congregate to fish is a good clue for finding fish from the shore. Many fish will gather where there are features that congregate their food items, water flowing into the ocean, vegetation patches, or structure that attracts algae and small bait fish are examples.  There are also numerous public fishing piers in saltwater that have tackle and bait available on site as well as expert advice to help "take a kid fishing."
    • Inshore--Small boats fishing within sight of the shore have access to many fish that shoreline anglers can't reach. Small holes or drop-offs, oyster bars and other features provide the structure to concentrate fish.
    • Offshore--A lot of kids have visions of catching a marlin or seeing a sailfish leap and with proper guidance, equipment and support they can participate in these thrills, but generally speaking, those species are ones for them to aspire to as they grow older and more experienced. Offshore also provides some fast action for mackerels, groupers and other species that are well-suited to young anglers with adult supervision.
    • Fishing Lines - An Angler's Guide to Florida's Marine Resources

 

  • Fishing can be extremely simple and inexpensive and still provide great recreation and opportunities to have fun and spend quality time together.  The most basic needs are a fishing line, a hook and some bait.  The line can simply be wrapped around a can, but a basic cane pole with no reel is easier to handle and normally a better choice.  For bank fishing with a cane pole and live bait (for example, crickets or worms), simple sinkers and a bobber are useful.  Such a kit can be put together for less than $20.  Other rod-and-reel options and suggested gear are listed below.  See the section on HOW TO to learn to use this equipment properly.
  • Rod--The simplest fishing rod is a cane pole.  It can be homemade or bought for a few dollars.  In freshwater, a utilitarian rod is medium-weight, 6 to 6.5 feet long and designed to match the type of reel you want to use.  For spincasting reels a pistol grip with relatively evenly sized line guides on top.  For an open-faced spinning reel, the guides will be underneath, and the rod should have larger line guides near the handle graduating out to smaller guides at the tip.   For bait casting, the reel will go on top, the handle may be straight and the guides are pretty even in size.  Heavy saltwater rods and custom fly rods can get quite pricey, but for taking a kid fishing aren't necessary.  Mid-range rods are often sold as sets with reels attached, and for the novice this is a good way to ensure the rod, reel and line are properly matched.  An inexpensive spincasting rod and reel combo can be purchased for about $20 that will last, or less expensive youth models can be bought for less than $10.
  • Reel--Closed-faced spincasting reels are button-operated and mount on top of the rod.  The enclosed fishing line is less likely to get tangled, making them an excellent choice for a kid's first reel.  Make sure the handle is reversible, especially if your child is left-handed.  Open-faced spinning reels are a little more sensitive, and in the right hands, a comparably priced open spinning reel may be a little farther-casting and more versatile.  However, they are subject to backlashes that create "bird's nests" of your fishing line, so there may not be quite as good a choice for the novice.  Bait-casting reels are the ones that have fishing line rolled on them more like a spool of thread and the spool spins to release the line.  This is the next step up in most circumstances and requires a little more practice to become proficient.  A flyfishing reel simply holds the line, which is manually striped off by the angler and the whipping motion of the fly rod is used to cast the lure.
  • Fishing line--Various types exist, from basic monofilament to braided to new super polymers.  For the most part you want to match the weight of the line to your rod and reel, and to the end-tackle you'll be using.  For bream in freshwater 4-8 pounds is good, for bass 8-20 pounds and in saltwater 8-50 pound test may be needed--around 12 would be good for redfish.
  • Hooks--Hooks need to match the fish that you are seeking based on the size of the fish's mouth.  Sizes are a bit confusing they run from about 30 (the tiniest) to 1 and then start climbing from 1/0 to 12/0 (a big shark hook).  A small bream hook is typically 10-6 (10 being smaller) and should have a relatively short shank.  For freshwater bass, larger hooks (3/0 or 4/0) are very popular and typically have a slightly shorter shank.  For saltwater trout and redfish  2/0 or 3/0 would be good starting points.  As you get more specialized, there are bait hooks with small barbs for helping hold live bait on, and circle hooks, which are highly recommended, because they tend to hook more fish in the lips allowing safer live release, and offset hooks for rigging rubber worms and jerk baits.  Treble hooks are three hooks mounted together and typically used on hard lures, but they have some notoriety about hooking fish in the gills, which reduces the fish's chance for survival when released.
  • Bait--Whatever you use to attract a fish to bite your hook can be called bait, whether it's alive, dead or man-made.  For catfish it might be chicken liver, or a smelly ball of cheese or bread impregnated with scents.  However, most people think of baits as being things like crickets or worms for catfish and bream, or small fish like minnows and shiners for bass, to bigger fish for going after large saltwater fishes.  How you handle the bait is important to keeping them alive, so that they'll be active when hooked. Worms for instance need to be cool and moist, and fishes need to have oxygenated water.  Please don't release any live bait alive when you are finished, since they can contribute to the spread of diseases.
  • Lures--These are the man-made baits that come in an infinite variety of colors, sizes and shapes.  A basic jig is good for most species, if properly sized. A jig is a hook with a heavy weight attached directly to it, around which a skirting or plastic lure or perhaps natural bait (e.g. pork rind) might be attached.  Bass anglers often use soft plastic baits like, worms, crawfish or jerkbaits and rig them to an offset hook with a sliding weight.  Spoons are flat, metal lures shaped somewhat like the bowl of a spoon with a single embedded hook or trailing treble hook and are quite versatile.  Plugs are typically wood or plastic with a cupped front face and lip that makes them dive to different depths.  Spinners have a metal blade that twists as it goes through the water creating flash and noise.  Poppers and flies are typically smaller and often used with flyfishing or ultralight tackle.  Some rules of thumb are bigger baits for darker waters or in heavier cover with gold or silver colors, smaller baits with dark colors such as grape in clearer waters.  An important consideration is the hook size should match the fish you are after, and it needs to be of an appropriate weight for the rod/reel and fishing line you are using.  For 2-4 pound test (ultralight) use a 1/64-1/16 oz. lure; for 6-8 pound test use 1/32 to 1/8 oz. lures; for 10-14 pound test you can go with a 1/8 to 3/8 oz. lure and medium action tackle.  Lures will typically be retrieved using various speeds or interrupted patterns of retrieving and then letting the lure settle.  Experiment with your lure where you can see it to determine how to get the most action from the lure.
  • Floats--Floats or bobbers are typically used with baits rather than lures.  The float should be big enough to suspend the bait and sinkers without going more than half-way under water.
  • Sinkers--come in various shapes as well.  In saltwater, large pyramid-shaped weights are useful in choppy surf.  A bullet or cone-shaped weight is typically threaded over the line in front of soft plastic lures.  A split shot is often placed above crickets or worms and below a float when fishing for bream or catfish.
  • Sunscreen--In Florida sunscreen is essential for both you and taking a kid fishing.  A 30 SPF waterproof sunscreen is a good choice.  On the water don't go less than 15 SPF; 45 or more is probably safer.  Fishing is a lifetime sport, and a lifetime of sun exposure, regardless of your complexion, can lead to deadly skin cancers if you don't protect yourself.  Get kids to start the habitat of applying sunscreen early.
  • Sunglasses--Another very important item to bring and use to protect your eyes and enhance your vision through the water is a pair of sunglasses.  Polarized lenses will significantly increase your ability to see fish and your bait through the glare on the surface of the water.
  • Hats--As with sunscreen and sunglasses, hats are important not only for style but also for safety and comfort on a hot or rainy day.
  • Insect Repellant--Unfortunately, it isn't only fish that like to bite at dawn and dusk, and some of those pesky insects (especially mosquitoes and ticks) can carry diseases.  You don't want to ruin a great family outing because you need to leave early to avoid the bugs.
  • Water--Carry plenty of fresh drinking water for everyone in your party.  It is easy to get dehydrated in Florida's sun, and you sure don't want to have to head in early because you didn't plan ahead.
  • Pliers--Or special hook removers are useful for extracting hooks from the fish's mouth without getting your self injured (depending on the species; some fish have sharp teeth, gill covers or spines in their fins).  They are also important in the event someone gets stuck by a hook.
  • First Aid Kit--Just part of planning ahead, when you're with kids, it's always good to have a few antiseptic wipes and band aids along.  Having some aspirin, or medicine for sea sickness if you are going offshore is also useful.
  • Snacks--We're just helping you plan ahead, watching the fish eat up all your bait can be hungry business.
  • Rule Book--The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is constantly evaluating the health of various fish populations and determining what anglers in particular communities want from their local fisheries.  In order to sustain a dynamic fishery for the future and keep users content, it is an essential part of conservation management that we implement recommendations that spread the bounty among users and prevent over-harvest of the fish populations.  We try to keep the rules simple, but you should always check for the current regulations and bring a copy with you when possible.  Remember teaching kids the "right way" from the beginning is an important part of getting them off on the right track.
  • Camera--A kid's first fish is a big deal.  Make sure you get a photo.  Besides, you can bet you'll see plenty of great natural smiles during a good fishing trip--so preserve the memory, even if you release the fish.
  • Tape Measure--Having a tape measure is important to complying with the law, since there are size limits on many species of fish.  How to measure fish.
  • Towels--It's also useful to bring a few old towels, paper towels or wet naps with you.  Fish have a "slime" layer that is very sensitive and helps protect them from infection. You and the kids you are fishing with should avoid rubbing it off, if you are going to live release the fish, but unavoidably some will get on them and some kids will want to wash it off.  Remember, you want to think ahead to make fishing as pleasant an experience as possible in all ways and use it as an opportunity to teach important lessons about nature and responsibility.
  • Rain Gear--Summer afternoons in Florida have a tendency to turn unexpectedly to rain, and in winter boat rides can sometimes become chilly if the water splashes on you. So rain gear is another possible consideration.
  • License--Fishing licenses confer the privilege of fishing to adults over 16 years old.  Residents over 65 are also exempt, and several other special exemptions apply.  It is easy and inexpensive to purchase a fishing license.  A resident annual license for fresh or salt water is $17 plus handling fees, and they can be purchased online at MyFWC.com/license, by calling 1-888-FISH-FLOrida toll-free, at local bait-and-tackle shops or major sports retailers. All license fees go to support fish and wildlife conservation in Florida, including youth education programs. Many exempt individuals choose to buy a license in order to help contribute to the future of our resources and the quality of their sport.  See Licenses for more details on the type of license you need, exemptions, how the fees are set and what they are used for.