I recently spent a morning trout fishing on a creek in scenic Crawford County with my 6-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son. Wisconsinoutdoorfun.com blogger Len Harris served as our guide on this trip and offered some suggestions before we left our Wausau home.
Read posts from Len Harris' 'Stream of Time' blog.
Most kids and many adults don’t own waders. Dress in old shoes, long pants and a long-sleeved shirt and prepare to get wet and muddy. Hats, sunglasses and mosquito repellent also are encouraged.
A pair of spinning rods, one outfitted with a Panther Martin or similar lure and the other with a simple hook and worms, is ideal.
Remember, adults will need to pick up a trout stamp (an additional $10) before fishing. Take something to measure your catch. The DNR size limits for species varies and many streams have certain rules. Review these rules in the trout fishing handbook you receive with trout stamp and keep an eye out for any signs or postings when you fish.
Trout mostly ‘turn off’ by 10 a.m., Harris said, so parents should play up the adventure aspect of an early wake-up time with their children. In my case, I used the promise of a brief stop in the Wisconsin Dells on our drive home as motivation all morning. Had we been closer to home, a doughnut would have probably worked.
Most kids have a fairly short attention span, so don’t plan on spending much more than two hours chasing fish.
Harris has permission to access many streams in the area we fished. Be sure to get permission from landowners before you spend any time on their banks. And consider the ease of terrain as you plan your outing with kids. Deep mud, steep banks and other treacherous footing can make for a short trip with young ones.
Harris believes the most important aspect of any fishing trip with kids is that there must be fish to catch. This might mean that you share your favorite trout fishing spot with your kids first. They’ll have a lifetime of fishing to find their own favorite spots, but if several hours and trips are spent catching nothing, they might not see the point of continuing. Remember, from a kid’s perspective, small fish are better than no fish.
Harris drove us from our meeting place at a gas station in Richland Center to what he called ‘the best brook trout stream on this side of the state’ and covered a few ground rules with my kids on the way.
Harris encourages families with kids to limit the number of poles on a trout fishing outing and to take turns. Rotating anglers allows more learning time for those watching and fewer lines means less chaos for parents. Stress to young anglers that it’s fun to fish and it can be fun to watch, too.
Using this method, parents can cast for their kids, if needed. Be sure to keep an eye on all in your party behind you as you get ready to cast.
Harris also spent some time explaining how a fish ‘breathes’ under the water and described the stresses that the weather and our fishing could have on brook trout. He reinforced several times that catching and releasing the trout we weren’t going to keep would need to be a quick process if we wanted the trout to live to be caught another day.
About brook trout
Harris shared a quick lesson on the difference between brook and brown trout. Much of this lesson dealt with whether brook trout can hear. Harris told the kids that we could talk as much as we’d like, but that we should step softly when approaching a bank we would like to fish from.
This seems basic to grown-ups, but children should understand that successful trout fishing will only happen if you are moving upstream. Any downstream movement will only push the trout away from you as you move.
Set the hook
As a very green angler myself, I’ve done a poor job teaching my kids the finer points of setting the hook. Prior to this trip, all my kids fishing had been done with a bobber. As we fished with a hook and worm, they had some difficulty detecting a bite at times. Sometimes it didn’t matter, but fish were lost when my duo was too slow or too wild about setting the hook. Time spent at home before our journey handling a pole in the yard and practicing the short jerk needed to set a hook would have been valuable for us.
There’s more to fishing than just the angling. Encourage children to keep their eyes peeled for a variety of wildlife. We spotted an eagle on the way to our stream. We heard a pack of coyotes yipping in the woods when we reached it. A group of cows passed us. Hoards of grasshoppers shifted at the kids’ feet. Large dew-covered spider webs captured our attention.
Harris spent some time pointing out burning nettle and wild parsnip and explaining the dangers of touching them. Parents should use the hiking time to and from a particular fishing hole to educate their young companions on these and other wild things that can ruin a fishing trip.
As is true in most cases in parenthood, making a game out of memorizing the names of different plants is also a good way to keep kids focused.
After the fishing is over
If you have a few trout to clean, consider letting your kids help. Without scales to worry about, cleaning trout is fairly easy. Harris advocates for using a pair of short scissors instead of a filleting knife. This will allow your kids to take part in the cleaning process with less risk of getting cut. A cut along the trout’s belly from tail to gills and then a few snips around the gills will allow gills and guts to be removed with a twist at the throat and a tear toward the tail. Use both ends of a spoon to remove the blood line and rinse the cavity.
Prepare the cleaned trout by adding some butter to the cavity of the trout and season as desired. Wrap in tin foil on the grill at high heat for about 3 and ˝ minutes on each side. Flake the meat from the bones and enjoy.
Video taken during the Otten family's morning of trout fishing in Crawford County and more thoughts on the trip from Brian Otten.
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