Photo by Federico Giampieri, Unsplash.

August 1, 2022

5 Tips to Stress Free Fishing!

Fishing is a pastime that brings families together as this is an activity that can create memories and stories that can last over the years. It is astonishing that an activity that is relatively low in time and monetary cost can create an experience that will allow multi-generational friends and family to come together and spend quality time together. Here are five ideas to help make your next fishing trip easier for you and your children:


On a table rests a small white styrofoam box that holds earthworms in soil to transport to a good fishing spot. Below the image is text explaining the importance of cleaning up after a day fishing.
Photo by Gio Bartlett, Unsplash.

Whenever possible, use live bait. Although children love the various shapes and colors that can be found among plastic baits and lures, most children do not have the knowledge or experience to present these artificial baits in a manner to make it look authentic and appealing to fish. As a result, the fishing is slow and boredom can creep into your fishing excursion. To increase the fun and reduce boredom, providing the fish with edible bait gives the young anglers an opportunity to set the hook and land a fish. Worms are great bait for a variety of fish and waxworms also are a great choice for panfish. Remember to keep bait cool and in the shade, when possible, to prevent cooking them in the package.


Young children have shorter attention spans and expecting them to sit quietly while you wait for that big flathead catfish is going to be a bad experience for all involved. By no means should you leave them at home but be prepared with other activities that engage your children, such as a book to read or pages to color. Plan your first trips to be shorter and focus on the child’s skills to cast and be safe around the water. This will pay-off in the long run. Or better yet, set them up to fish for panfish while you wait for a bite from a catfish.


A photo of sections of candy gummy worms pierced on metal hooks resting on a dark green flat surface.
Photo by Van Grissom.

To help you (notice the emphasis on you) have more fun and avoid spending the entire trip baiting hooks, have hook baiting practice! Here is a great method to teach baiting a hook for panfish. All you will need is a package of candy gummy worms and some large paper clips. Cut a few candy worms into pieces that are roughly a half inch or up to an inch in length. Next, straighten the paperclips and shape them into fishing hooks. Sitting at a table without any distractions use the sock and foot analogy to explain that the hook is our foot, and the worm is our sock. Begin on one end of the worm and slowly roll our “sock” onto our “foot” while being careful of our “sharp toenails.” You all will have a good laugh while spending quality time together and, almost as importantly, you all get to eat the rest of the candy worms.


Three photos of children proudly displaying their fish they caught successfully. Below the photos is text explaining tips on teaching young anglers how to fish and to respect the environment.
Left and middle photo by Augie Jimenez. Right photo by Sidney Rootz.

Setup your poles and tackle the night or day before your outing. Nothing fancy is required. A basic panfish rig, using either a spincast rod and reel combo (push button) or even a cane pole will suffice. Attach to your line a size 8 hook or smaller and add a bobber and 3/0 sized split shot. A larger hook means you can only catch big fish and there are not many of those out there. Moreover, it is possible to catch large fish with small hooks, but the opposite is not true. Young anglers have a much better experience catching a lot of small fish rather than none while waiting for one of the big ones. Go small on the bobber, using a small one-inch bobber, instead of larger buoy sized fish indicator. The smaller bobber size will allow even small fish to move the bobber under water so that you know you have a bite. Be careful not to use too big of a split-shot weight; try a 3/0 sized split shot as it is one of the best sizes for panfish and you should only need to use one. If your weight sinks the bobber then your weight and hook combination is too heavy. Remember, the fish should pull the bobber under, not the sinker.


Finally, once you have arrived at your fishing location, spark the imagination of the young anglers by asking them to think like a little fish. Remind them that small fish don’t want to be eaten and will hide. Have the children look at the structural cover of the lake or pond to determine where small fish are more likely to be found. For instance, that tree that fell into the lake near the bank would make an excellent “hiding place” for a small fish. This teaches the young anglers to think about where they are going to cast rather than casting far out to the middle where there aren’t many fish. Once they have fully bought into having an idea of fish habitat, remind them that, when hungry, large fish also will occupy those same spaces.

An angler proudly holds up a large catfish he successfully caught while standing in a boat on a lake. In the background is a shoreline with trees.
The author poses with a successful catch. Photo courtesy of the author.

Following these steps will help ensure that your family fishing trips are fun and stress free. FISH ON!

Van Grissom works for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources as the angling education coordinator for eastern and western Illinois. As a science educator, Grisson’s goal is to instill in youth attending his workshops the love of fishing, conservation and appreciation for the natural world.

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