From all indicators, he absolutely loved it!

That would describe my young grandson’s first fishing expedition. I loved it, too!

So, have you, the avid angler, taken a youth or a newcomer out fishing in the last year or so?

Hmmm …

Well, let me tell you that there are now more incentives than ever before to introduce someone new or someone who hasn’t been out on the water in a while to the lifestyle of fishing. In fact, the incentives offered are part of a new and exciting Nebraska fishing challenge called Take ‘Em Fishing.

Very simply, we at Game and Parks are encouraging licensed, experienced anglers, perhaps like yourself, to enter the challenge by taking a pledge to introduce a newcomer to fishing online here. Then, you’ll receive a neat pin or a sticker, and you plan to cast some lines with that person who has never fished or who has been away from fishing for sometime. Next, you share your fun fishing photos online with us and can become eligible to win an array of nice prizes, including a boat, kayak, overnight stay at a state park and much more!

Sounds really cool, doesn’t it? It is!

Click this link for full details on the challenge that runs through September 15.

When you give it some thought, the lifestyle of fishing has so, so many benefits for us.

Take kids, for example.

Young Jackson Edward Wagner points to a largemouth bass he helped his grandfather (your blogger) catch from a private lake near Lincoln, NE. Photo by Noah Wagner of Omaha, NE.

For young kids like my grandson, Jackson Edward Wagner, exposure to something means everything. It’s the make up of young children to touch the very things in their environment that even their parents find somewhat squeamish.

University of Chicago research shows that touch is one of the most important senses for developing children because it helps them start to comprehend the three-dimensional world of which we live, allowing them to physically interact with objects and figure out how things function.

Furthermore, exposure to nature at young ages is critical in this fast paced, technologically driven, concrete, “indoor” world. That has been proven time and again through numerous studies.

Kids who play outside tend to be healthier, smarter, happier, more attentive, imaginative and confident, as well as less anxious than kids who spend considerable amounts of time inside. It is quintessential for small children to be outside and experience something of nature up close — to touch it, feel it. To get a grasp of it.

A fish represents a classic example of this scenario.

A toddler, Jackson Edward Wagner, touches a small largemouth bass. Photo by Noah Wagner of Omaha, NE.

Obviously, with fish, comes fishing!

I am often asked the question: At what age should I introduce my young child to fishing? My answer: As young as possible and when they and you are ready to try it.

Looking back, when I was a very young boy, I recall that one of my all-time favorite things to do in spring and summer was to go fishing.

There was nothing I loved more than to sit out on the bank of our southeastern Nebraska sandpit lake or along a river like the Platte, and wait for my line to tighten—for the bobber or lure to disappear, for the rod to bend, for the big one to strike!

The enjoyment of fishing came from the entire experience: the wild surroundings of the shoreline, playing with the worms, catching toads, skipping rocks, sitting next to my mom, dad, grandma or grandpa, the peaceful waiting, the thrill of the catch. I enjoyed every single aspect of it. To this day, it remains one of my favorite outdoor pursuits, and I fish most any chance I get. But, more importantly, I have cultivated the love of fishing with my own kids and now have begun to nurture this fine outdoor activity with my grandson.

Maybe the next Jeremy Wade? My college-aged son, Noah Wagner, enjoys fishing, especially for big channel catfish in a western Douglas County, NE sandpit lake. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

How about you, have you introduced the kids or grand kids in your family to the lifestyle of fishing that you deeply enjoy?

The timing is right this year to do that and the Take ‘Em Fishing challenge is your segue.

Jackson Edward Wagner has fun playing with the worm bait container. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

With reference to children, the natural wonder about water and the love to play in it and around it has always been there. Fishing is one of humankind’s oldest pastimes. Historical evidence shows that Neanderthals were fishing by about 200,000 BC.

Kids continue to be fascinated by creatures that swim (as any adult who has taken kids to an aquarium can attest!).

Seventeen-month old Jackson Edward Wagner is intrigued by a largemouth bass caught on hook-and-line and being held by his grandfather (your blogger). Photo by Noah Wagner of Omaha, NE.

Regarding recreational fishing, it’s easy to do, easy to learn, easy to teach your children or grandchildren, and doesn’t involve a lot of expensive 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 memories plus future anglers.

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

Fishing offers an opportunity to share extremely personal information mixed with relaxing, comfortable silence. A fishing trip with a child or grandchild is the perfect activity to begin constructing that close relationship and have fun while doing it!

Fishing has a non-discriminatory facet to it.

Quite simply, the fish a person is trying to catch doesn’t care if their tall or short, big or small, old, middle-aged or young, able-bodied or disabled. If a bait or lure is presented sufficiently, a fish will bite no matter who is holding the other end of the  line.

Although Jackson Edward won’t be able to join me on serious fishing trips for a few years yet, why not expose him to the simplistic essence of what fishing entails?

Here are some tried-and-true tips to help you Take ‘Em Fishing:

  • Safety. Safety should be your highest priority when taking kids of any age out fishing. 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. For older kids, spinnerbaits 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, and even make some casts. 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. Be sure to let your child reel in the fish, that is the real fun 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, buying the bait, eating a picnic lunch, dipping their toes (or shoes) in the water, chasing a turtle, exploring the great outdoors—just as much as they love 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. Again, make it fun and keep those fishing outings short. 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. Having playground equipment and bathrooms nearby is always a good idea as well.
  • Keep it simple! Set up a simple small hook, preferably a barbless hook, with an earthworm and a 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.
  • 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 find. For details about fish species swimming in various public water bodies, and to check fishing regulations, see the current Nebraska Fishing Guide.
  • Fishing skills. Young anglers need a great deal of help 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. Also be sure to check 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 on the shore, get their feet wet, float sticks, or seek out frogs, let them: it’s all about them having fun! Teach them about fisheries conservation such as how to properly catch and release a fish as well us picking up any litter found along the bank to be recycled. 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.
  • What to pack. Bring enough items so that you’re prepared for all kinds of weather, and distractions if fishing gets difficult or the kids get bored. Sunscreen and insect repellent for children are musts. Don’t forget drinking water. Snacks and snack breaks can do wonders for very young anglers. Crackers, cheese sticks and cut up fruit all fit the bill. Sure, we want kids to eat healthy, but I’m not against making the outing special by bringing a favorite treat or stopping by the ice cream shop on the way home. Take along what you think will help make the fishing experience comfortable and fun. Towels, wet wipes and band aids should be packed.  By all means, include a camera. In all seriousness, a positive attitude is probably the most important. Your enthusiasm for fishing will be contagious!
  • Attend a kids’ or family fishing event with your child. The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission holds a lot of hands-on fishing events to teach both children and their parents or grandparents how to fish and let them experience first-hand why fishing is so enjoyable. These events are held mainly during early evening hours at various locations around the state in the spring and summer, feature trained, certified instructors, and provide loaner equipment and free bait for those folks to use during their time on the water. Get more information about such events on our website.
Jackson Edward Wagner discovers that there are earthworms moving in the bait container. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Noah Wagner of Omaha, NE displays a nice-sized channel catfish he caught and released in a western Douglas County, NE sandpit lake. Noah has been fishing since he was a toddler! Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

See you on the water, takin’ em’ fishin’! GW

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