Setting them up for success!

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As a parent with four kids, one of the things that I enjoy most is being able to take them out and let them experience all the great joys of the outdoors. I am an avid bow hunter, and over the years have taken my kids out and set them up to be successful in harvesting game. To do that, I feel that making it safe and enjoyable for them is first on the list. The second and often overlooked key is putting the right equipment in their hands to help them be successful. The same is true in kayak fishing.

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One thing that I quickly learned when first taking my kids out in their own kayak, is that the whole experience should be focused on them. The definition of success in terms of a day on the water with kids or new kayak fishermen, is much different than when you are out there fishing for yourself. My goal when taking them out is for them to want to do it again. Tangled line, lost poles, lures 20 ft up in the trees and multiple trips to the bank for skipping rocks, swimming, snacking or bathroom breaks, are definitely going to be on the agenda for the day. How you respond to these events will help determine if they will either be bugging you to do it again, or pouting because you want them to go the next time. Taking the time with them early and teaching them how to be self sufficient on the water will really pay off in the future when you realize you are now fishing with them and not just following them around and doing everything for them.
Over the years I have taken my kids to many different locations to kayak and fish. They have enjoyed all of them, but if you were to ask them what is their favorite, they will most definitely tell you they like the moving water of small rivers and streams. There are a lot of reasons for this, but the biggest in my opinion, is the constantly changing scenery of floating down a river. This keeps their interest, much more than paddling around all day in a big lake. The other reason is the amount of fish that seem to be available in the rivers and streams. More often than not, on a day on the river my kids will catch fish, whether it be small mouth, large mouth, bluegill, rock bass or catfish. Spending a hot summer day on a big lake paddling around in the sun not catching fish is a recipe for an unhappy kid. Another thing that I like to do when kayaking streams and rivers, is to take along a minnow seine and let the kids get out and seine for minnows and crayfish. Many slow days on the water have been saved by having them catch minnows and crayfish in the riffles and pools of the creeks. It is like a mini treasure hunt where you can teach them what all the bait is and why certain bait works better at different times.

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When my kids were small the best way for them to catch fish was to get them a pole and a bobber with a worm and let them catch as many fish as possible. That worked great, but over the years they wanted to catch fish like Dad does with all the cool plastic baits and fancy lures that they see in my tackle arsenal. We all know that turning a kid lose with a big crank bait with razor sharp treble hooks is a definite recipe for disaster. What I have done over the years is to start my kids out with small inline spinners. At first I would tie on a white or chartreuse rooster tail and turn them loose only to have them lose them as fast as i could tie them on. The treble hook is not very forgiving for the new angler, both in getting snagged, and getting out of fish after the hookup. I then moved to small standard spinner-baits and the results were great. Small 1/8 oz spinner-baits like the Strike King Minni are perfect for the new angler. In fact, they catch a lot of fish both big and small, and are much more forgiving when tossed into a tree, or when they are forgotten, and allowed to settle to the bottom. These are great baits for new anglers to hone there casting skills with while still being a very effective bait year round.

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Once my kids become more self reliant with there casting and fishing skills, this is when I have started to introduce them to plastic baits. This is the point that I have really watched my kids evolve into competent anglers. Teaching them to drag a Ned Rig across the bottom and watch the line and feel for the bite brought a whole new challenge to them, and to see them finally get the hang of it is so rewarding. They then start to catch more quality fish when cranking a spinner-bait around isn’t getting the job done. The first step in this transition to the world of plastic baits was teaching them how to rig the bait. I remember a few years ago setting my kids down in the living room a few days before we headed off for a week of camping and fishing and teaching them how to Texas rig a senko. I would have them tie on a worm hook and rig the senko Texas style. After checking it over, I’d have them do it over and over again. They became quite proficient at it and even began competing against each other to see who could do it faster. When we hit the water, I made sure they were each set up with bags of senkos, hooks and jig heads, along with an assortment of spinner-baits. They began to really feel like they were doing it on there own.

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When its time to transition them to a more advanced plastic technique, I would recommend using a jig head that I myself use a lot these days. That is the Owner Ultra Finesse Jig Heads. This head allows you to rig most all plastic baits weedless while still fishing them like a standard jig head, minus the exposed hook. These come in a wide variety of weight and two different hook sizes. Some of things that I have in all my kids tackle bags are these heads, in a 1/0 size, with a few bags of either 412baitco 3.5 inch free minnow or Zman TRD. Rigging these weedless on the owner head, you can literally catch anything anytime. With this bait, my kids have really excelled at learning how to feel for the fish and how to set the hook at the right time.

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I have had a lot of people ask me over the last few years what kind of kayak they should get for their children. I tell them all the same thing, any kayak that they can paddle is good, but I would recommend a sit-on kayak over a sit-in, every time. The reason for this is the amount of time the kids like to spend playing in the water. Getting in and out of a sit inside kayak all day is going to result in a kayak full of water that will constantly need dumped out. The sit on kayaks have much better platforms for kids to play off of and fish out of. Also it is very easy to outfit the sit on kayak with rod holders and a tackle crate to give the kids there own personalized fishing setup.

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I hope some of these tips will help you get your kids out on the water with you. There are so many distractions these days that keep kids sitting in the house on the computer or in front of the TV. I challenge you to get them out and teach them to love and respect the outdoors. Spending time with your kids on the water is time they will forever remember, and if you do it right, you will have a fishing partner for the rest of your life.

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