Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child

In Montana, it's a sin to not take a kid fishing. Thankfully, most Montana communities are blessed with ponds and streams managed and stocked specifically for kids. Sadly, I see few kids or parents taking advantage of these great “daycare centers” because today's fast-food society promotes on-demand entertainment and simple fixes.

But the reality is that fishing can be the “Super Nanny” of daycare. It's free time outside that promotes self-discovery, exploration, and unstructured play. It's when kids learn. And it takes some preparation, planning, and thought. But where would you rather put your energy: yelling at kids or helping kids having fun?

Here are some things you can do to get your kids into fishing:

-Keep the tackle and gear simple and cheap. Closed-face reels tend to tangle less. Single hooks mean fewer boo-boos. Worms always work as bait and are fun too.
-Show kids how to use the rods and gear a couple of times. Don’t worry about being perfect. If they can figure out a video-game controller, they can figure out a fishing rod and reel.
-Start at a pond, not a river. It is much easier for kids to learn how to fish in ponds. The East Gallatin Pond and Bozeman Pond are both stocked routinely with huge trout.
-For young kids, the adult or experienced buddy should do the casting. To be cautious, barbless hooks are easier on the fish and fishermen.
-Treat the fish and environment with respect. This is the perfect classroom for teaching ecology. If you kill the fish, guess what’s for dinner?
-Acknowledge your child's attention span. Fishing is really just an excuse to be outside. Chasing ducks, throwing rocks, and playing is OK.
-Bring a change of clothes and a towel. You know how kids and water mix. Sunglasses improve underwater vision and protect the eyes.
-Be patient and teach patience. Kid-related instruction takes time, and mistakes are teaching opportunities. Set a good example, and remind your child that the fish need a chance to find the bait. Show your child that, as in life, rewards are often worth the wait.
-Fishing is not just for boys. Traditionally, men have been charged with outdoor education, and those traditions are often passed on from father to son, but girls often out-fish boys (what else is new). Single-parenthood is not an excuse for not getting outside.
-Pay it forward. Once kids learn how to fish, the rule is to pass it on.

Teaching a kid to fish is a great gift, especially when quality time always comes at such a premium. It's a way to show your kids that there is life beyond technology, that physical activity is enjoyable, and that mentorship, stewardship, and outdoor adventure are important. But the biggest thing you can teach your child about fishing is that it's supposed to be fun!

Looking to get your little ones outside, but can’t seem to motivate them? Check out Bozeman-based The site offers trail games, camping and hiking tips, experiments, instructional advice, and a slew of activities and inspiration for thwarting the ominous nature deficit disorder by getting kids out of the house and into the outdoors.

Studies show that kids who spend time outside do better in school, are less likely to have ADD or ADHD, and grow up to be invested in the environment.

The site offers activities of varying difficulty levels that can be done in a neighborhood park or deep in the wilderness. Parents don't need outdoor experience to facilitate the activities, and experienced outdoors-parents might just deepen their open connections to nature while fostering a connection for their children.