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Go Fish, and Take the Kids In Your Household!

Through the COVID-19 pandemic it’s hard to find things to do with the family and others in your household, especially when the weather is nice.

Have you ever considered going fishing? Kids love it!

A photo from yesteryear of my son, Noah Wagner, smiling with a small bluegill he landed (and released) from a private farm pond in southeast Nebraska. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Look, we all must follow CDC, state and local health guidelines and regulations, but if there ever was a time to legally, allowably wet a line in Nebraska, it is now in the springtime! In fact, May is the best fishing month of the year when it comes to Master Angler Awards issued for big fish catches in the Cornhusker State’s waters.

I land (and  releases) a good-looking walleye from a private sandpit lake in western Douglas County, NE. If adults fish a lot, chances are their kids and grand kids will fish a great deal, tool! Photo by Rich Berggren/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

During this pandemic, fishing is being regarded as a healthy, fresh-air based outdoor activity that lends itself to uncomplicated social/physical distancing (staying at least 6-feet or more away from another person except for those accompanying you in your same household). Social distancing is not usually a problem as anglers naturally spread out to avoid entangling their fishing lines with others’. Also, remember, no groups larger than 10. Frequent hand-washing, by the way, is easily practiced with hand sanitizer or using biodegradable soap at a hand water pump or hydrant. If you plan to buy bait or tackle at a sporting goods store or bait shop, it is advisable to wear a face mask or face covering into public establishments like those.

Fishing lends itself to easy social/physical distancing. Pictured here fishing in the waters of the East Branch of the Verdigre Creek in northeast Nebraska are my daughter – Emma, wife – Polly and family friend – Tre. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

If you give it some serious thought,  all of us Nebraskans have a variety of local or regional places of which to fish. In fact, a number of nearby community spots are available to fish.

My son, Noah Wagner of Omaha, NE, and his longtime girlfriend, Mary Rose Miller also of Omaha, NE, show off a skillet-sized, stocked rainbow trout that Mary caught at Omaha’s Fontanelle Park Lagoon. This was Mary’s first fish! Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

When it comes to recreational fishing, it’s easy to do, easy to learn, easy to teach your children or grandchildren, and easy to gather inexpensive equipment. It’s also the perfect avenue to teach kids about the value of water and our aquatic ecosystems in a way that builds respect and responsible behavior along with indelible, positive memories plus create future anglers.

Fishing is indeed time well spent and establishes bonds that last forever.

For me and my wife, Polly, with older kids, fishing now offers an opportunity to reinforce personal ties with them and other family members. Fishing mixes a relaxing, comfortable silence punctuated with the vocal excitement of hooking a fish.

I, my wife – Polly Wagner and daughter – Emma Wagner – Nichols display a couple nice-sized channel catfish caught (and released) this past summer from a private sandpit lake in western Douglas County, NE. Photo by Nebraska Conservation Officer Rich Berggren of Waterloo.

I will tell you a fishing trip with a child or grandchild in your household is the perfect activity to begin constructing that close relationship and have fun while engaged in it! My wife and I have successfully raised four adult anglers and we are working on my grandson!

Me with my young grandson, Jackson Edward Wagner, on a seawall fishing expedition last summer at a large reservoir. Photo by Polly Wagner of Omaha, NE.

Here are some tried-and-true tips to help you take the folks in your household out fishing:

  • Who needs a fishing permit? Residents of Nebraska who are 16 years of age and older must have a valid, current fishing permit on their person to be actively engaged in fishing and even to help someone fish. And yes, that applies through this coronavirus pandemic. A fishing permit is not required for someone 15 or younger. Nonresidents should check requirements. Fishing permits may be purchased online at OutdoorNebraska.org
  • Safety. Safety should be your highest priority when taking kids of any age out fishing. As stated follow all CDC, state and local guidelines and regulations pertaining to the pandemic. Be mindful of the dangers of being on, in or near the water. Wearing a life jacket is a must for everyone in a boat. For young children, life jackets should be worn along steep, slippery banks. The other big safety concern while fishing is hooks. That risk multiplies when a number of people are casting. Barbless hooks are recommended for use. For older kids, spinnerbaits for largemouth bass are great for casting as the hook is less exposed. Avoid casting with treble hooks until the kids have more experience.
  • You are the fishing guide. It is best for us adults to leave our own fishing gear at home, especially for a child’s first several fishing trips. Be prepared to tie knots, rig gear, bait hooks, make some casts and unhook snags. You may have to take a fish off the hook when your child lands one, but let them know they can touch the fish and lend a helping hand at any time. Always let your child reel in the fish! That is the real exciting part of angling!
  • Patience, little things and fun. Be patient, listen to your child, and enjoy spending time together! Additionally, try to make the entire trip an adventure. Your child may enjoy all of the little things, the little details that go along with fishing—preparing the boat, digging the worm bait, eating a picnic lunch, dipping their toes (or shoes) in the water, or chasing a frog or toad. Exploring the great outdoors is just as gratifying as learning to fish.
  • Make the first experiences count. The first few times going fishing with a youngster are crucial ones. If a child has a really bad experience, it may take a lot of effort to overcome those anxieties and negative thoughts to go again. Once more, make the scenario fun and keep your fishing outings short in duration. Don’t be afraid to call it a day if your young one starts to get bored, the bugs are bad, or the weather is not good.
  • Keep it simple. Set up a small hook with an earthworm, a small non-toxic , steel weight and a small bobber. The bobber serves as a visual on the water and can help keep a child’s attention. Basic medium or light action equipment with smaller reels and shorter rods will serve your youngster well. You do not need fancy equipment!
  • Fish for action. Fishing for abundant species that a child is most likely to catch, no matter the size, will keep their attention and provide them with the incentive to continue fishing. Attention spans for young children are short, about two to six minutes for toddlers, according to childhood experts. These experts also say to not plan on spending more than 30 minutes on the whole with any outdoor trip. Keep in mind some of the easiest known species to catch repetitively from shore are bluegill, green sunfish, black bullheads, rainbow trout, channel catfish and largemouth bass. These fish live in a variety of waters and are not difficult to locate. See some of the better waters to fish for these species by clicking here. If you need more details about fish species swimming in various public water bodies, and to check fishing regulations, read the current Nebraska Fishing Guide.
  • Teach fishing skills. Young anglers need a great deal of assistance determining how to use fishing equipment. Demonstrate to them how rods and reels work and give them plenty of chances to practice. Understand that things will go awry. Probably the biggest mistake that kids make when fishing is not keeping a tight line while playing a fish. Encourage them to keep their rod tip up and the line tight. Also check and appropriately set the drag on the reel so they can manage a bit larger fish if they catch one.
  • Keep it about the kids. If a child decides to play with earthworms in the bait container along the shoreline, get their feet wet, float sticks, or seek out turtles, frogs or toads, let them: it’s all about them having a good time! Teach them about fisheries conservation such as how to properly catch and release a fish as well us picking up any litter found (while wearing gloves) along the bank to be recycled or discarded. If you bring a fish home, explain to your child or grandchild that they are only bringing to the kitchen what is allowable by law and what they can eat for a meal.
  • What to pack. Pack enough items so that you’re prepared for all kinds of weather, eventualities and distractions if fishing gets difficult or the kids get bored. Sunscreen and insect repellent for children are musts. Don’t forget the hand sanitizer. Include a face mask or face covering for you and others.  A pair of rubber gloves are suggested for fish handling and/or litter pick up. Fill up your water bottles and bring them. Snacks and snack breaks can do wonders for very young anglers. Crackers, cheese sticks and cut up fruit all fit the bill. Take along what you think will help make the fishing experience comfortable and fun. Towels, disinfectant wipes, band aids and a small roll of toilet paper should be brought. By all means, your fully charged iPhone or Android should be put in your pocket for emergencies and photos. In all seriousness, a positive attitude is probably the most important thing to take with you. Your enthusiasm for fishing will be contagious!
  • Take Em’ Fishing Challenge. You are invited to accept the Game and Parks Commission’s Take ’Em Fishing Challenge, pledging to take a new or inexperienced angler fishing to keep our Nebraska fishing tradition alive well into the future. How does this work? First, take our pledge to show your commitment to taking someone new fishing this year. You’ll receive a neat pin or sticker. Next, snap a photo of the fishing experience, upload it and fill out a quick form. Then you’ll be registered to win some nice prizes, including a kayak, gift cards to your favorite outdoor retail stores and a two-night stay at a Nebraska state park. Find out more about the challenge and enter it here.
A father takes a quick pic of his daughter who caught a small bluegill at Lake Halleck in Papillion, NE. Photo courtesy of Larry Pape/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

About greg wagner

A native of Gretna, NE, a graduate of Gretna High School and Bellevue University, Greg Wagner currently serves as the Communications and Marketing Specialist and Manager for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission's Service Center in Omaha. On a weekly basis, Wagner can be heard on a number of radio stations, seen on local television in Omaha, and on social media channels, creatively conveying natural resource conservation messages as well as promoting outdoor activities and destinations in Nebraska. Wagner, whose career at Game and Parks began in 1979, walks, talks, lives, breathes and blogs about Nebraska’s outdoors. He grew up in rural Gretna, building forts in the woods, hunting, fishing, collecting leaves, and generally thriving on constant outdoor activity. One of the primary goals of his blog is to get people, especially young ones, to have fun and spend time outside!

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