Skip to main content

Teach 'Em To Fish

Add good parenting to list of why you should take kids catfishing

Teach 'Em To Fish
Allowing kids to get distracted and just have fun at the lake makes the day more enjoyable for everyone. (Don Mulligan photo)

Years ago, while eavesdropping on my then 12-year old daughter’s conversation with her friends, I caught her bragging about a four-pound channel catfish she caught in a fishing derby.

Already like her father, she bumped up the actual size of the fish, and concluded with a fish-that-got-away story. Instead of interrupting and setting the record straight or encouraging a little more humility, I simply walked away, feeling like a good dad. I had devoted an entire day to her in my busy schedule, and it paid off with memories for both of us.

I am reminded almost every week in my practice as a child therapist that there is no substitute for actual face-to-face contact with our children. The notion that quality time can make up for a lack of quantity is simply not accurate. And spending that time together in the outdoors, fulfills many of a child’s’ developmental and social needs.

Catfishing, in particular, provides a lot of precious one-on-one contact. Children do not need video games or $200 basketball shoes. They think they do, but only we know better. What they desperately need are opportunities to learn respect, humility, patience, empathy and about a million other life skills.


To date, I have found no better activities than hunting and fishing to fill so many of those needs. To illustrate, consider the following. Every year around January 25, I ask all the children and adolescents in my office what they got for Christmas.



Click the image to view the photo gallery
Eight-year-old Wesley Mulligan gets more excited about catching a big fish than he does kicking a goal in soccer. (Don Mulligan photo)


Ninety-nine percent of them for the past 15 years have had no idea. They cannot remember, despite the fact that some of those kids received big-ticket items like go carts, televisions, etc. I then follow up with, “now tell me about a time you went fishing or hunting with one of your parents.” If they ever had been, 100 percent of the time they remember every outing in vivid detail.

Generally, children over 4 through adulthood retain memories of incidents that were really good or really bad. The sense of pride and accomplishment a child feels when they pull in their first fish or spot their first deer with their parent present can be overwhelming. These memories help to block out the bad ones.

The pride they feel is a byproduct of their inherent need to please us. So when they know catching a fish is important to dad, it becomes important to them because they feel like they have done a good thing. Like hitting a home run with your parents in the stands, it can be their proudest moment.


But unlike organized sports such as baseball, soccer, football, basketball and others, catfishing provides exclusive benefits and parenting opportunities. Simply put, catfishing and some other outdoor sports are more interactive.

There is benefit to cheering for your child from the stands, but truly important life lessons are more indelibly imprinted when they are learned through close, personal contact. I always got a kick out of the times that my daughter glanced up at me from the basketball floor after she made a free throw, but I could see her adopting my morals and values more clearly after we spent a day sitting next to each other on the bank of a pond catfishing.

Be the influence

Too many parents believe peers are the biggest influence on our children. That is a cop-out, and clearly only the case when we have not spent enough time with them during their formative years.


Consider that 80-percent of parenting is done by the time a child is 14 years old, and the matter becomes urgent. Children who spend more time with their friends at the mall than with their parent in a boat, are more influenced by their peers. When this happens, the rituals and traditions our sons and daughters adopt come from other kids, and usually do not include standing in line at 3 a.m. for a duck blind with dad.

Though kids don’t see them at the time, the values they learn fishing with a parent are difficult disciplines to teach later, and will most likely not be passed on to future generations if not practiced regularly. Outdoor sport-minded parents often feel a sense of selfishness when they point their kids toward their favorite pastime. There are social pressures to sign kids up for multiple sports, and it is assumed all kids will skip a day on the lake to make organized sports practices and games.

Both the guilt and pressure to conform are misplaced. While it is mostly our place as parents to help our children find their niche and get involved in their hobby, it is OK to nudge them toward our pastimes as well. So while I struggled through four years of attending ballet practices, I also made sure my daughter knew how to call geese, track a deer and sit still in the turkey woods.

Because I planted the seed early, the outdoor sports are now a place of peace and escape for both of my otherwise distracted children. When a child is complacent or disinterested in an outing, it helps to include him or her in the set-up and preparation. When done light-heartedly and made fun, the resultant anticipation is almost as good as the event.

It also creates more opportunities to talk and interact with a child regarding something other than the standard, “how was your day,” or school. In fact, working together toward a common goal is one of the best ways to bond with anyone. Still not convinced catfishing is the best way to create lifelong, positive memories for children? Then do what I do.

Ask any child what he received for Christmas last year, and then ask him to tell you about the biggest fish he ever caught. Compare his reaction, length of response and facial expressions to both questions, and you'll never feel bad about taking a kid fishing again.

Besides being a full-time outdoor writer, Don Mulligan is a licensed, practicing child and adolescent therapist in Indiana.

Get Your Fish On.

Plan your next fishing and boating adventure here.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Action and Power Ratings- How to Choose the Right Bass Rod

Action and Power Ratings- How to Choose the Right Bass Rod

Most fishing rods feature both an action and a power rating, but what do those ratings mean and how do you use them to select the right rod for different scenarios? In this video, outdoor writer and tackle specialist Shane Beilue breaks down the difference between a rod blank’s action and power and discusses what the various ratings of each mean.

Hobie MirageDrive 360 Kayak Propulsion: Amazing Control and Power

Hobie MirageDrive 360 Kayak Propulsion: Amazing Control and Power

The Hobie MirageDrive 360 pedal propulsion system is the pinnacle of kayak control with more efficient fin designs, glide technology and allows the boat to be moved in any direction.

Hunting Elk with the Ruger Hawkeye Long Range Hunter in 6.5 PRC

Hunting Elk with the Ruger Hawkeye Long Range Hunter in 6.5 PRC

Michael Cassidy and Paul Pluff talk about their elk hunt in New Mexico using the Ruger Hawkeye Long Range Hunter.

Understanding Reel Retrieve Ratios and How it Affects Lure Presentations

Understanding Reel Retrieve Ratios and How it Affects Lure Presentations

Increase a lure’s effectiveness by pairing it with the ideal reel speed.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

Here are the 10 most common spinning and baitcaster reel performance problems and how to fix them.10 Most Common Reel Performance Problems The Garage

10 Most Common Reel Performance Problems

Anietra Hamper - July 16, 2015

Here are the 10 most common spinning and baitcaster reel performance problems and how to fix...

Dozens of different bait types are commonly used for catfish, including these great options.12 Great Catfish Baits Catfish

12 Great Catfish Baits

Jeff Samsel

Dozens of different bait types are commonly used for catfish, including these great options.

As most catfish anglers know, blue cats, channel cats and flatheads will eat darn near anything that fits in their mouths.5 Ways To Catch Catfish on Lures Catfish

5 Ways To Catch Catfish on Lures

Keith Sutton

As most catfish anglers know, blue cats, channel cats and flatheads will eat darn near...

The colder waters of early spring are prime times to use these proven bait rigs for stripers.3 Proven Bait Rigs for Stripers Striper & Hybrid

3 Proven Bait Rigs for Stripers

J.B. Kasper

The colder waters of early spring are prime times to use these proven bait rigs for stripers.

See More Trending Articles

More News

A family kayak fishing trip to get out of the house nets huge pike.Monster Fish: Connecticut Woman Ties State Northern Pike Record Records

Monster Fish: Connecticut Woman Ties State Northern Pike Record

Game & Fish Staff - September 03, 2020

A family kayak fishing trip to get out of the house nets huge pike.

See what made the Old Town Sportsman Autopilot kayak the show's top pick.Who Won ICAST 2020 Best of Show? ICAST

Who Won ICAST 2020 Best of Show?

Game & Fish Staff - July 17, 2020

See what made the Old Town Sportsman Autopilot kayak the show's top pick.

President Donald J. Trump put himself into the nation's history books for one of the most significant pieces of conservation legislation to ever be signed into law.President Trump Signs Great American Outdoors Act into Law News

President Trump Signs Great American Outdoors Act into Law

Lynn Burkhead - August 05, 2020

President Donald J. Trump put himself into the nation's history books for one of the most...

It's the first record blue certified over 100 pounds in the Peach State.Monster Blue Catfish Smashes Georgia Record Records

Monster Blue Catfish Smashes Georgia Record

Game & Fish Staff - October 20, 2020

It's the first record blue certified over 100 pounds in the Peach State.

See More News

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

Buy Digital Single Issues

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Game & Fish App

Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Game & Fish subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now