Fishing is fun for the whole family if you actually catch fish! Failing that, it can be boring or downright frustrating. After many unsuccessful fishing trips, I started talking to people on the shore and in shops, watching Youtube videos, and reading about trout fishing. When I tried again, I caught a beautiful bull trout and went on to catch several rainbow trout. While we still have lots to learn, we’ve fixed some of our biggest mistakes, and keep getting better!
1. Decide What to Catch
First things first, you need to know what you would like to catch so you have the right gear, use the right techniques, and go to the right places. For example, most trout lures can be clipped to a snap swivel, but when pike fishing, you need to use heavy wire leaders so you don’t lose your lures (pike have strong jaws and big teeth that can easily sever your line).
I like to go after trout because they look nice, fight well, and taste really good.
|Beautiful bull trout caught and released at Upper Kananaskis Lake, Alberta|
2. Know Where to Go
- Go fishing with a friend who know what she’s doing, so you will have some success. I went to a few places on my own that old fishing forums said were good, but recent flooding had changed the river’s profile and the fishing was no longer good there.
- Try a stocked pond in your area. Your luck will be best shortly after the pond has been stocked, but most of the fish will be quite small. Alberta Stocking Reports with detailed information regarding the number, size and species of fish stocked are available online here.
- In ponds or lakes, good places to cast for trout are off of points, the mouths of bays, where the shoreline drops off, and stream outlets (where streams flow in). Around bridge pilings is another popular place to fish.
|The mouth of this small bay is an awesome fishing spot!|
3. Pick the Right Time
- If conditions are right (or you have a boat and a fish finder), you can haul in fish all day long, but in most places, dawn and dusk are optimal.
- Fish when the fish are feeding. When the water is calm, look for telltale circular ripples formed by fish coming to the surface to feed. You may even see fish leaping out of the water! One calm night, we had constant strikes, and a few escapes before reeling in a couple rainbows (more on how to avoid that below).
- Right before it rains is often a good time too, but seek shelter if it looks like an electrical storm is brewing.
|Sunset fishing is amazing!|
4. Know What Lure/Bait to Use
- Check fishing regulations before you use bait. Bait includes any food item (corn, marshmallows, cheese) and is different from bait fish. If there is a bait ban, you may only use artificial, unscented lures.
- Ask the people around you what they are using. The fishing community is amazingly friendly. Most fishermen I’ve met are super keen to share information (except their favorite fishing holes).
- Try worms. I wasn’t keen on putting live worms on hooks, but the worm and bobber method (put the bobber about 1-1.5 feet above your hook, then put a worm on the hook) is extremely effective! After our camping neighbors told us they had caught 10 trout with worms, we gave it a try and caught 6 fish this way. If there’s no bait ban, dig up or purchase some worms. It’s more economical to dig your own worms as it was $5 for 10 worms at the campground fishing store.
- Check your hook size. Although I was using attractive lures and getting lots of bites, I couldn’t land fish because I was using hooks that were 10 sizes too big (I have a little ocean fishing experience and bought everything too big at first). In Alberta, stocked ponds are typically stocked with fish that are 16-20 cm long, so size 12 or 14 hooks would be preferable.
|Worms – they work if you can make yourself put them on the hook.|
5. Buy Decent Tackle
- Kids’ Gear: When I went to look for fishing rods for my kids, the only short fishing rods I could find were basically toys. You know those Princess fishing rods? Don’t.even.bother. While you CAN catch fish on these (my youngest got her first trout on one), they don’t last. One reel was broken right out of the packaging (the tension dial didn’t work) and the other reel wouldn’t release line. I managed to fix one, only to have the rod break on our next outing. My mom’s solution was to buy an ice fishing rod! An ice fishing rod is extremely tough (you can bend it in half, but I don’t recommend doing that repeatedly) and is short enough that your kids can cast with it easier than with a full sized rod. Plus, you can use it year round if lakes freeze over where you live.
- Parents’ Gear: If you want to keep things simple, get a spin casting (push button) combo; if you’d like to learn something new, try a spinning reel combo. There are lots of videos online that can teach you how to use either. (Don’t start on a baitcasting reel as they are the trickiest to learn). Whatever you choose, research before you buy to ensure you get something that works and don’t buy the cheapest set out there or you’ll regret it. You can catch fish on cheap rod/reel combos, but the cheapo stuff tends not to last.
- Fishing line: Get the store to spool your reel to ensure it is done correctly. It isn’t too difficult to do yourself, but if you do it incorrectly, you’ll be untangling snarls all day instead of catching fish! They will also ensure you get the right type of fishing line for your reel.
- Snap swivels, snaps, leaders, what? Get high quality components, but only what you need. Read the instructions on your lure to see what the recommended set up is. I like to keep a snap swivel on my line so I can change lures easily. The snap is easy to open and close, and the swivel allows the line to not get twisted up when my lure is spinning. If you are not using lures with a spinning action, you may not need a snap swivel, but could still benefit from using a snap (again for easy lure changes). Leaders are good to use when you are going after large, aggressive fish that can bite through the line. Some hooks and bobbers are good to always have on hand too (for trout, I used balsa floats and size 12 hooks).
- Accessories: While you’re at the store, buy a case for your fishing rod and a tackle box to keep lures in order. It’s easy to break the tips off of light rods.
|Toy rod/reel combo vs. Ice fishing rod/reel combo
You can catch fish with both, but the ice fishing set up is far more robust!
6. Watch your retrieve speed
- I used to cast, then reel the line in (retrieve) as fast as possible. Someone watching us said, “The fish aren’t gonna be able to catch that!” and then I paid more attention. Looking into the lake, the fish were able to keep up, but by the time they got almost close enough to bite, I was lifting the hook out of the water. You need to go quick enough that your lure’s action is attractive to the fish, but slow enough that they have time to investigate, then strike. The only way you’ll know is by trial and error. If you’re in a fish-rich location, you will see fish following your lure in. Observe what happens when you change your speed. By slowing down my retrieve, I finally landed a fish.
|One of the rainbow trout we caught with a worm and bobber.|
7. Don’t Overdo It
- The key to a new activity is to ease into it and stop while you’re ahead (stop before the kids hate it/lose interest) so they’ll want to try again another day. We squeeze in a bit of fishing at the beginning and end of day so we can fish at the best times of day and hike or bike in between! After our last camping trip, my girls said their favorite part of the trip was fishing; it made all the line untangling and hook pokes worth it.
- Exception: If you keep catching fish and the kids are having a blast, keep on fishing! 😉
8. Plan Ahead
- Be sure to talk about safety (look behind you before you cast) and spread out! I like to wear a cap and sunglasses to protect my head and eyes from stray hooks.
- Since little kids’ attentions spans are so short you might miss them, learn some basic knots and get as many things ready in advance as possible. The knot I use most is the improved clinch knot as it is easy, quick, and secure. Tie on snap swivels (if you will be using lures) before you head out to avoid line twist and allow for quick lure changes.
- If your kids are old enough, teach them the knots so they can tie their own lures on.
- Bring extra layers and extra clothes as kids will at some point go in the water, intentionally or not. Snacks and extra water are always great.
|“Today was the best day of my life, Mom!”
Miya and her Brook Trout!
I hope these tips help you and your family catch some big ones! Let me know how it goes!