• Published:May 8, 2017
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Take a kid fishing, grow the sport.

Those words are a common fishing-industry theme that tugs at the heart strings with surface-level appeal but often falls short on the practical application. Most anglers readily support the notion, but the long-term success depends greatly on effectively introducing young people to the sport of fishing and lighting a flame within them that will stay lit for years, and hopefully be passed on.

In most cases, getting a kid hooked on fishing is as much about the don’ts as it is the dos. Specifically, don’t leave new anglers with a negative impression of the sport. This is the premise behind Family Fun Fishing — a term Capt. Billy Miller uses to describe a relaxed, action-filled approach that ensures just the right balance of instruction and experience.




Recounting numerous charter customers that left their spouse and kids at home, Miller decided to make a change. “I came up with a game plan for the day that could accommodate everyone on the boat and make it the most fun and catch the most fish as possible,” Miller says.

From Father’s Day, to birthdays, to simple quality time with those closest to you, fishing offers that heart-warming opportunity to blend fellowship and camaraderie with the great outdoors. To that end, Miller offers these insights for creating a Family Fun Fishing experience.

MINIMAL TRAVEL
“When you’re fishing with young kids, you want to fish close to the dock -- 10 minutes max,” Miller says. “With youngsters under or around four, they’re only going to make it about an hour and a half. So, if you run 30 minutes away from the dock, by the time the kids are ready to go back, you’re going to burn them out on a long boat ride.

“If you bring the kids back wanting more, they’ll want to continue going. If you wait until they’re tired and worn out, you’ve ended the day on a bad note,” he advises. “The key is to get the kids to want some more.”

KEEP IT SIMPLE

Adults might be willing to wait on a good fish and put in their tie to elicit a strike, but the little ones typically lack such patience, or even the comprehension of why all that extra work is often necessary.

“Don’t get carried away with trying to do too much. Good old-fashioned fishing works best,” Miller says. “The main deal is keeping the kids busy.”

“Any young kid will tell you, when you put your hook in the water, a fish is supposed to bite it. They don’t want to sit there on the edge of the mangroves waiting for a 40-inch snook to bite tomorrow. At a young age, they just don’t understand that kind of stuff,” he says.

Miller’s parents, Capt. Bill and Debbie Miller started taking him fishing when he fit in a picnic basket, so the Tampa, Florida guide has enjoyed doing the same for his daughter Dylan. The 2.5-year-old may lack the focus to work on a speckled trout bite, but let Dad chum up some pinfish and she slings ‘em like a boss.

When families charter his boat, Miller’s tried-and-true game plan involves anchoring over deep grass flats in four to eight feet of water, chumming heavily and gathering a fish bowl of species behind the boat. With the usual mix of speckled trout, Spanish mackerel, bluefish, jacks, ladyfish, lizardfish and small sharks, everyone has a good shot at catching something and diversity keeps the day interesting.

THE RIGHT FIT

If Miller thinks his guests are up to a challenge, he might invest some time in larger sharks, cobia, or tarpon, but for most family-fun fishing trips, he leaves the stout tackle at home. Novice adult anglers can handle a full-sized light-tackle spinning outfit, but you’re wise to equip young children with smaller rods -- maybe a sturdy push-button spincaster like the venerable Zebco 33.

“Get your kid a fishing rod that they can manage,” Miller said. “If you give a 40-pound little girl an 8-foot spinning rod with a 40-size reel, she’s going to be worn out. So, you want to downsize your tackle with smaller, lighter rods,” Miller advices.

DON’T OVERDO IT

“If you can get live bait nice and easy, that works great, but if you can’t, just use live shrimp,” Miller said. “Because the main thing is, most families don’t want to fish all day long.”

Start your day with short runs. You may have a killer spot 45 minutes away where you can guarantee twice the fish. But if your anglers lose interest 15 minutes into the run, you’ll have to overcome half an hour of buzzkill before anyone reengages.

Once the fishing starts, Miller says, pay close attention to energy and enthusiasm levels. Make sure everyone stays hydrated and sun-protected (sunscreen, hats, Buffs for the neck and face) and if smiles and laughter yield to yawns and impatient fidgeting, it’s time for a transition. That may mean a short run to look at dolphins or wading birds, or it could be time to wrap up for the day.

TEACH THEM

Classic adult mistake: rig, deploy, set the hook, hand the rod to a kid, let them crank a few times and then yank their fish overboard. Miller’s routine offers plenty of help -- as much as customers need/want -- but there’s also plenty of teaching.

Of course, basic casting technique and reel operation rank high on the list, but even things like tying and baiting hooks might interest young anglers. If they do, Miller will teach them whatever they want to learn.

“Whenever you’re doing something, kids are watching. So, don’t just tie a hook on. Sit down and show them how you do it,” Miller said. “If they don’t want to pay attention, then get them next time. But if you try to show them every little piece of the day, they enjoy it more. They want to get involved and be a part of it.”

Most important, Miller said, is the delivery: “Don’t talk to kids like they’re stupid, talk to them like they’re a person. If you do that, they’ll listen and understand.”

And here’s a truth Miller never forgets not every adult has had the opportunity to learn angling skills. That’s why he keeps it relaxed and low key.

“I get parents all the time who want to fish, but they’re working and they really don’t know much about fishing,” Miller said. “That’s why I started doing this. You don’t have to know anything. The kids come on the boat and my deck mate and I take care of them and everybody has a good time.”

APPRECIATE THE ENVIRONMENT

Miller said that one of the most important lessons of each Family Fun Fishing trip is conservation and fish care. How do you properly handle a fish before releasing him? How do you know if you should keep a fish or not? Such truths are the necessary complements to angling know-how.

“Don’t just say ‘We let that fish go because he’s too small;’ explain why he’s too small,” Miller says.

So, do we need to introduce more kids to fishing? Yes, we certainly do. But this is more than an opportunity to teach someone how to tie a knot and cast a bait. It’s a rare opportunity to nurture the enjoyment of a wholesome activity while instilling the principles of environmental stewardship that’ll help ensure these natural resources remain available for their children.

For Family Fun Fishing trips, visit captainbillymiller.com..

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