Teaching a child to fish could be one of the best things you could ever do for them. It teaches everything that is wholesome and good, and may occupy them enough to keep them out of bad things like drugs, gangs, etc….It teaches an appreciation for nature and the outdoors, conservation and good stewardship, as well as self-reliance. I could go on and on.
There are a few things to consider when teaching children to fish. First off, their attention span is not very long, and their brain works extremely fast (this is just an average, not for any particular individual). They need to get gratification fairly quickly to stay interested in anything, at least initially.
If things get too complicated, they will lose interest. Children have not yet learned to be afraid of many things, and have an insatiable curiosity, so you have to watch them all the time, lest they walk up and hand you a water moccasin, or a clump of poison ivy and ask “Daddy, what’s this?”.
When I was a toddler in Tx., I was fascinated by scorpions, and never failed to find some to play with. So keep a close eye on young children. The outdoors are full of surprises for young and old alike. Another consideration is water safety. I have always been an advocate of teaching children to swim as young as possible.
My children could swim very well at age three. They don’t have to be able to break any records, just get back to shore if they go in. If they don’t swim, it may be a good idea to have them wear a flotation device, even if fishing from shore.
And be prepared for the usual cuts, bruises and abrasions that children are prone to get.
For really small children, You need to be as low-tech as possible, while maximizing the fun. Any angler can tell you that means one thing bluegills and a cane pole. Dig some worms, or buy them at the bait shop, rig up and go get ’em. This way, the children won’t have to worry about learning to cast, operating a reel, or anything else but pulling in fish.
I specified worms, because they are harder for the panfish to steal. Crickets can be purloined in an instant. This is a good time to start teaching them how to rig their own pole, and tie knots, bait the hook, etc. But don’t be turning them loose with a fillet knife just yet. That will come much later.
When they have been well broken in on bluegills, you can move them up to crappie, especially during the spawn. Stay with the cane poles for now. Start teaching them how to find more elusive fish. When they are proficient at crappie, it’s time to move to the next stage.
Almost everyone can remember their first real fishing outfit. Mine was the venerable Zebco 33. I was 5 years old, and had been using cane poles for several years. I caught a 15 pound carp my on cane pole.
Obviously, I couldn’t lift it onto shore, so I beached the fish, then physically dove on top of it, and drug it all the way on land, to the sounds of our barking dogs, my brothers and sister screaming for our parents because they though I would be eaten by my catch, and pandemonium in general.