The Napanee River is serene when we pull into the parking lot at Conservation Park: a family of turtles basks in the early morning rays, a Great Blue Heron waits patiently at the bottom of the falls for his breakfast to arrive and a light breeze rustles the leaves in the trees which line the riverfront trail. It’s a picture-perfect and peaceful scene, that is until our family of four tumbles out of the car, my son and daughter noisily arguing about who will catch the biggest fish. Their rods and tackle boxes clatter to the ground in their rush to snag a spot to start casting.
To go fishing with kids is to toss away any expectations of a peaceful day on the water, a lesson we learned when we started fishing with our children five years ago.
Being new to the area and unsure of where to take my kids fishing, I turned to competitive bass angler and father of two, Ben Clapp for advice. The Bay of Quinte resident grew up chasing bass and walleye on the Bay alongside his brothers and father. Clapp’s passion for the sport is shared by his daughters, Claire, 5 and Norah, 3, who fish off the same dock he did as a youngster.
“Fishing has always been a passion and tradition for our family, something that I wanted to pass down to my daughters as soon as they were old enough to hold a rod,” says Clapp. His daughters spent the winter practicing their casts in the basement with a plastic training weight until fishing season opened.
Of course, not all kids are as keen. Even my own kids will complain that they are bored, hot or hungry if the fishing is slow. For that reason, Clapp suggests that readily available species, like perch, sunfish and rock bass are the best to go after when introducing kids to the sport. As a bonus, these smaller fish don’t require a specific technique or set-up and can be caught off docks and along the shores throughout the Bay of Quinte region. Napanee’s Consevation Park and the docks at the end of George Street in Belleville are among Clapp’s favourite spots to take his family. Resources like quintefishing.com can help parents find shore spots near them.
That said, perch can only capture a kid’s excitement for so long. Once their attention spans (and bladders) grow, older kids can fish for longer periods of time and for more challenging species. Clapp prefers the shallow flats near the shores of Lake Ontario, where his daughter Claire can see the fish and practice her casting accuracy.
“Even if it weighs only a pound, a smallmouth bass fights like a fish five times that size!” says Clapp. That thrill gets kids hooked on fishing (pun intended).
But getting kids excited about fishing is only part of the sport: parents need to teach their children to be good stewards of our lakes and rivers. Through conservation and responsible fishing practices, we preserve our fisheries for the next generation of anglers.
“My father taught me about stewardship of our fisheries by taking me down to see the walleye spawn at the falls on the Napanee River. Here we could see the walleye migrate up the shallow rapids and spawn, and he would explain the importance of this and why we don’t target fish during the spawn,” Clapp says, who has continued the tradition with Claire and Norah.
Following the Ontario Fishing Regulations set out by the Ministry of Natural Resources is the best way to protect our fisheries. And although we are always tempted to keep a trophy fish, we are a proud catch and release family. As Clapp points out, you’d be surprised how old that 10 pound walleye or 5 pound bass is.
At the end of the day, fishing with kids isn’t about the size of the catch (even though that’s what my kids insist matters most). It’s about amazing outdoor memories made, and if you do that right, a generation from now it will be you and your grandchildren chasing bass on the Bay – even if their boisterous noise scares the fish away.