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If recreational fishing is to maintain its position as the largest recreational participation sport in the province it will have to be by way of a younger generation. It might be cliché’ to say our future is in the hands of our kids but it couldn’t be more true in an industry that requires substantial revenue to be maintained. Even revenue from MNR Fishing Licence dollars for instance, goes directly to a Special Purpose Account (SPA), where funds are earmarked for research, rehabilitation, stocking programs and so much more to help sustain and manage our fisheries. MNR is acutely aware of this fact and realizes they too need to do their part to try and increase licence sales by recruiting new anglers.

In Ontario, with the vast majority of overall provincial revenue going towards the health and education ministries, there is relatively little remaining for smaller ministries like the Ministry of Natural Resources. Furthermore, it is extremely unlikely that Provincial Governments will increase funding to OMNR even to maintain current standards. Therefore, the end result is the more licence revenue funds directed towards the SPA, the more money there will be directed towards fisheries resources that benefit all anglers.

mike and son's bass If the next generation of recreational anglers is left with the task of fuelling the budgets of future fisheries and becoming the stewards of our waterways, it is this generation’s job to recruit them now! We all have a responsibility to help them develop that natural inherent love for the sport and an understanding of how valuable this incredible resource and way of life is.

Award winning outdoor writer and fishing rights advocate Wil Wegman tells us that, “Study after study shows that getting kids hooked on fishing at an early age is critical if we want to recruit lifelong anglers. Just ask ten of your fishin’ buddies how old they were when they began fishing and most will tell you it was before they were ten.” 

Caring for the Resource:
Today, many stocking and rehabilitation projects require volunteers to partner with government agencies to maintain and improve our fisheries. The youth of today seem more aware of the environment than ever before and are very willing to pitch in and help.  It doesn’t take much to plant a seed in the minds of our youth when a single fun filled day can be the start of a lifelong passion that will hook them for life.

Ice Fishing and Kids
In many parts of Canada we can have as much as half a year of ice fishing opportunities.  Even in southern Ontario, the first three months of the year involve hardwater fishing.  Ontario has developed the Family Fishing Weekend in February (Feb 12-14, 2011) as a licence free family ice fishing weekend to help recruit new anglers. There are free Family Fishing Events that are gaining popularity every year.

The Bridgenorth Winter Panfish  Festival on Chemong Lake at BEL Rotary Park in Ennismore, ON near Peterborough saw over 1,000 participants last year and promises to be bigger and better in 2011 on Feb 12. Other events will be held across the province, including one on Lake Simcoe out of Sibbald Point Provincial Park near Sutton on the same day from 10 to 1pm.
A day on the ice with the kids is an inexpensive and healthy way to have fun in the great outdoors and to maximize your winter enjoyment. “However studies show that an increasing number of kids are not enjoying traditional outdoor pastimes like fishing because they are literally hooked on the thrill of indoor video games instead,” said Wegman. He wrote an article for BASS TIMES recently, called “ Videophilia Impacts Fishing Numbers”  that reported on the increasing number of kids choosing to stay indoors and play video games instead of going out to enjoy nature-based activities..

“Some kids therefore may need some urging to literally get off their butts and be exposed to outdoor sports like ice fishing, said Wegman. “I’ve noticed that today’s kids are fascinated by the electronics we use on our boats and on the ice. I prefer to use my Lowrance Ice Machine or the new High Definition Units in LCD display when the younger set is around because they almost look at the screen like a real-life video game. fisher girlThey can see their lure being worked in the water with every lift of their ice rod and when a ’real’ fish appears on the screen and chases the lure their excitement becomes contagious, he said.    

It does require a little planning to ensure a successful day on the ice and what better place to gather information to prepare for such a day than angling parents who have been there and done that with their kids on the ice. 

Bryson Kindy holds up a nice lake trout that would later become dinner.


Kids perch fishing(Left) 11 year old Keara Brunet and 9 year old brother Joshua (right) get ready to head home for a perch fry

Time on the Water tasked fishing message board readers with the following question :

How do you prepare for a day on the ice fishing with kids?
The response was overwhelming and if you think anglers are passionate about fishing, it takes a back seat to their passion to help kids get hooked on the sport. Here are the top ten tips offered by the pros:

  1. First and foremost the day has to be about fun. If this is the first time you take the kids on the ice fishing, don’t plan on fishing yourself unless it’s to demonstrate or teach. The first day has to be about them and them alone so panfish like perch or sunfish are the perfect target.
  2. Helping them get bit and catching fish is important – so panfish are indeed perfect for this task – sometimes though, even these little fish don’t cooperate. Praise them for their abilities when they do catch fish but don’t make a big deal if they don’t- or no one else in the group does either. Stay positive about the sport.
  3. Involve them in the planning process if for no other reason than to show there actually is planning involved. Let them be part of preparation and packing what they need for the day.
  4. Take lots of snacks. Everyone wants their kids to eat healthy but this is a reward and celebration day. You can wean them away from junk on subsequent outings. If possible bring a camp stove or burner and all the ingredients to make hot chocolate, soup or even an-on-ice fish fry! There is something about actually preparing it on the ice that is very special.
  5. Dress them for the weather and any possible changes. If you do not intend on renting a hut for the day bring a portable hut with a heater. They have to be comfortable and dry so include some dry socks in case they step in the hole and get a soaker. The perfect scenario would be for each of them to have floater suits when on the ice but that is a huge commitment, so if you’re not renting a hut plan on a location close to shore with proven safe ice. Don’t worry about being away from the crowd. Often there will be other kids around having fun as well and half the fun of ice fishing is the sense of winter community.
  6. Encourage them constantly and don’t impose any time limits. A full day on the ice is a long time for kids. Some parents even take skates and clear an area for the kids to skate to break the day up. Think of alternate things to do if they get bored.
  7. Encourage them to bring a friend to share the experience.
  8. Have fun! Don’t try to make the first trip too educational.
  9. Use good equipment … there’s nothing worse than a reel constantly tangling or line so thick that your panfish lures can’t even do their job. Use good sonar if you can afford it and teach them how to use it- chances are, they will soon be showing you features you never knew you had.
  10. Leave them wanting more. Talk about the next time out and what you can try differently – another technique, location or species

Here’s what one father had to say:
“When I take my kids out (ages 3 and 5), I get them involved in the whole process. We all pack our own knapsacks with our favourite treats and tackle boxes for the day. We then load all the gear in the truck or portable and away we go.

The key is to keep them occupied and as comfortable as possible. They do get bored fast, so I keep the fishing trips short. Forcing them to stay out when they are cold or the fish are not biting could scar them from the whole idea of fishing.

At their age, it’s more about going through the motions, not actually fishing. It takes a lot of patience and perseverance when taking them out at an early age. My father took the time to do it with me. Over the years I have turned out to be a fairly successful angler; in time, I'm sure my children will be just as good, hopefully better, than the old man”

As long as they have fun, they will talk about it for days. How they helped out, the ride (boat, four wheeler, snow machine), and the fish you catch. They surprise me with how much detail they remember about their fishing trips with mom and dad. I can’t think of any better way to bond as a family, can you?

Asking the Experts
We asked experienced parents for their fishing stories too which we will publish at a later date. Some were quite funny though – like this: A little 5 year old girl who asked her father what she should do with this. Her father didn’t look close enough and thought she was talking about her candy bar so he told her to just put it in her pocket.  So she did. When they arrived home much later the young girl asked, “how much longer to do want me to keep this little fish in my pocket daddy?”

A successful day on the hard water doesn’t have to be about all the fish you caught or even the great perch dinner after an exhausting day. It is more about everything you did that day that makes them ask if they can do it again next week. For instance building a snowman out on the ice while the fishing was slow,  can not only help keep the kids busy and prevent them from being bored, but will add to the overall memory of the fishing trip. 
You never know, one of the items on next year’s Christmas list could be their own fishing rod instead of the latest combat video game. Keep in mind that few family activities create such fond memories as fishing together.  If your children’s best childhood memories focus on days spent fishing as a family chances are they will pass their passion for the sport on to their kids in the future.  “Fishing allows that direct connection to the great outdoors and instils a sense of responsibility to help protect it,” concludes Wegman.  
Finally, helping your kids get hooked on fishing now can help you acquire lifelong fishing partners … who will in all likelihood be the ones to take you fishing once you’re old and gray … but still anxious to wet a line. Does it get any better?

Paul Spencly of the Barrie Bassmasters Juniors helps with a tagging and fizzing project on Lake Simcoe. Junior Bassmasters must perform and document two conservation projects every year in order to qualify for the B.A.S.S. Junior Worlds held annually.







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