How to keep kids hooked on fishing? Catch some big fish

Take a kid fishing and they may find that catching a real, live fish can be an exciting contrast to the programmed reality of scrolling through social media – at least, for a while.

But how do kids stay hooked on fishing once they reach the panfish plateau?

“There are a few ways kids can get to the next level and have fun catching a variety of species,” said Jeff Ledermann, angler recruitment, retention and education supervisor with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “As fun as it is to catch lots of panfish, there’s more to fishing than the fishing pier.”

First, consider trying to catch other species. Bass put up a good fight and the angling tactics to catch them are not that different than panfish. The catch-and-release season for bass in most of the state begins on the Saturday, May 13, fishing opener. Bass harvest season begins Saturday, May 27 (in the northeast, you can keep bass starting at the opener).

Taking beginner anglers in a boat can be another step up from the pier. Many fish roam the tops and edges of the plants, so Ledermann recommends drifting and trolling along the weeds with a small “beetle spin.” Trolling a mini spinnerbait with a blade on one end of a wire frame and a small jig head (1/16th ounce) and plastic tube jig or grub on the other end is ideal for new anglers.

“All they need to do is cast it back or let out several feet of line and hold on. Let the boat or wind do the work and set the hook when they get a bite, and reel them in. This technique is especially effective on crappies, but all kinds of fish from bluegills to bass to northern pike can be caught this way and there’s no messing with live bait,” Ledermann said.

Ledermann also recommends spinnerbaits – what he calls “the magic lure.”

“When kids get better at casting and old enough to handle larger equipment, 1/4- or 3/8-ounce spinnerbaits are a great all around bait,” Ledermann said. “They are less likely to hook plants, rocks, trees or fellow anglers. And especially early in the year when fish are shallow, they are a great bait for northerns and bass.”

Another exciting way to fish is casting topwater lures like artificial frogs in the lily pads. For kids that are not as skilled or old enough to cast these bigger rigs, Ledermann does the casting to likely spots for bass and lets the kids have the fun working the bait back, setting the hook and reeling them in.

“With topwater fishing, you need to bulk up with heavy duty rods, reels and line (20 pounds) so you can horse fish out of the plants, but catching that first big bass out of the slop is a memory that will last forever,” Ledermann said.

Of course, for young anglers who’ve never fished before, start with the basics. Find lakes with panfish, a fishing pier, bathrooms and a playground. Keep it simple and focus on the kids as they catch fish with light line, a small hook, sinker and worms. Find fishing locations on the Fishing in the Neighborhood page.

Visit the Fish Minnesota page to find fishing regulations and data on more than 4,500 lakes and rivers in Minnesota.