Take Them Fishing

6 ways to take your toddler fishing (and not hook them in the back of the head)

Few people question the value in taking kids outside – fresh air clears minds, encourages activity and wears them out.

And fishing is a no-brainer when they’re older. As soon as they’re big enough to hold a spinning rod and lob a hook into the water, they can try and catch something.

But what about until then? Does having kids mean you only dream of casting to 25-inch brown trout until they’re hold enough to do it themselves?

Of course not.

M's first fishing trip

M's first fishing trip

We took our daughter fishing with us for the first time when she was five weeks old, but still two weeks away from her due date.

It certainly wasn’t a week-long backpacking trip, but was fishing nonetheless. It can be done, and it can still be a good time.

So to answer some of the questions we inevitably get from new parents, soon-to-be parents, or people who just plain wonder about the logistics, here are our tips on taking that infant, or toddler, out on the water.



* Invest in a good pack: I put this one first because it’s likely the most important. Packs allow you to take them fishing before they can walk, and also keep them away from things like poison ivy and snakes. When Miriam was tiny – under 9 pounds – we kept her in an Ergobaby chest pack. She was still sleeping most of the day, so she just tucked in next to my chest and, on cold days, stayed under layers of coats. Be careful if you live somewhere warm that they don’t overheat close to your body. Look for places to fish that are shady, or fish in intervals.

Once she was large enough to ride in a backpack carrier, we began using the Osprey Poco (find a review of the pack here). It worked, and still works, great. Your kid can see where you’re going and watch the fish. They can also easily take a nap. Quite possibly the best feature is the mesh covering over the top of the pack. It keeps the sun off, and prevents that sneaky back cast from catching your little one.


* Bring plenty of snacks: Hunger is real. For you, but especially for them. Keep your pack stocked with non-perishable snacks that you know they will enjoy. If you’ll be gone over lunch time, bring a sandwich. We all sometimes forget to eat when we’re fishing, but your toddler won’t. I keep a tube of wheat club crackers and Ziplock of graham crackers in her pack as permanent fixtures. They’ve saved us from many attacks of the hangries on the water. Also bring a cup of water. It sounds like a stupid reminder, until you forget.


* Prepare to not fish: We haven’t had a 12-hour fishing day since Miriam was born. And it’s fine. We rarely have 8-hour days. But we do get long stretches in a row if we play it right. If there’s one of you, plan to set the pack down and stack rocks occasionally, or look at bugs or play in the water. If there are two adults, tag-team. Miriam and I will sit in the car on cold days and warm up playing Legos or reading books while Josh fishes, or the other way around. It’s not the same as pre-child, but it’s also still better than sitting on the couch.


* Bring the right clothes: Don’t underestimate their ability to get cold, and the impact that will have on your trip. Dress your toddler the way you would if you weren’t going to be moving. Try a long underwear sleeper or fleece suit underneath regular clothes and a snowsuit for particularly cold days. Don’t forget gloves and a hat. Conversely, if you’re fishing somewhere hot, dress them in light cotton layers that cover their skin but allow heat to escape.

There is a baby in there!

There is a baby in there!


* Be creative: It’s ok that your dog covers his ears when you sing, your toddler probably likes it, and the fish don’t care. If your baby starts fussing, try singing nursery rhymes or any other catchy tune. I used to sing “The Ants Go Marching” so much I murmured it in my sleep. When that fails, and it’s not time for snacks, show them everything that’s interesting along the river or lake that you long ago stopped noticing. Peel bits of bark off the pine trees so they can feel the different textures. Pick a piece of grass for them to wave around. Flip over rocks so they can see the bugs underneath – and have an impromptu lesson on how to choose your fly! They’ll be distracted by more than you think, especially if you present it as fun and interesting.


* Don’t push it: Little rings truer while fishing with toddlers than this: Leave the party while it’s still fun. Do you want them to like being outside? Do you want them to want to go again? Do you want them to try fishing when they’re old enough? Try to anticipate when their patience is waning or when you think they’ve had enough, and head home. Maybe it’s an hour earlier than you would have preferred, or maybe it means you don’t get that one last cast in that one great riffle, but if your goal is to form a little human who likes to play outside, don’t wait until they’re miserable to call it a day.


* Bonus tip: Go easy on yourself. Going fishing with your child isn’t about the number or size of the fish, it’s about enjoying the moment, whether it’s reeling in a 24-incher or pulling apart moss. You’re out there, so good work!

Christine PetersonComment