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Ron Hustvedt

Ramsey, Minn.

Put the video games on ice and take a kid fishing

Kids love ice fishing when its introduced to them properly in a way that raises the fun and reduces the misery. If you wish to have a future ice fishing partner, the challenge is yours to make it something they want to do again.There are some basic things to keep in mind when taking any number of kids out onto the ice. It’s not just good advice for kids but for all rookies you might fish with this winter.

As a rule of thumb, understand that taking kids on the ice means you are a full service fishing guide, entertainer and coach while at the same time being a fun partner with an open agenda.      

Kid facts

Adults are nothing more than big kids who have learned to play the game of life a bit better (usually). Adults get bored, but not as quickly as kids. Adults want to catch lots of fish, but are more willing to wait than kids. Adults get cold, but not as quickly as kids. Seems obvious but most adults forget these facts.

If the child wants to play, read, or do something else besides fishing, let them. They’ll be watching whether you know it or not. If you show that you are enjoying yourself, chances are they’ll want to try it again.

Kids want to be independent and do as much as they can by themselves. There is a fine line to walk between doing it all for them, and letting them try it and fail. Be accommodating and helpful, but when they say ‘I want to try it’ or ‘I can do it myself,’ let them.

Shelter is essential, especially when the temperatures are closer to single-digits or colder. Renting a fish house for the day is a great option, but sometimes a bit expensive. A high quality portable shelter will keep you warm, provide plenty of storage for gear, and is durable enough to hold up to the wear and tear that only kids seem capable of dishing out. If you can fish on a lake where roads are plowed and someone can direct you so driveable ice, a vehicle can serve as a shelter—just make sure to follow all the precautions. Ice is never totally safe to drive on and conditions change rapdly.   

A numbers game

Unless they are already seasoned anglers, most kids would rather catch five one-pound fish than a single five-pound fish. Kids crave the action of fishing and numbers will have them asking to go again.

Separate your fishing experience from theirs. If you are taking a child out fishing, you are the guide and they are the client. If they get sick of catching little perch and tell you they want to catch walleye, then go for it.

On the other hand, if they want to play on the ice for awhile, this can give you a chance to pop a few more holes and find active fish. Keep fishing hard if you must and when you find the action get the kids on it. Just don’t lost sight of the overall goal, spending time together, so maybe it’s a better idea to put down the fishing rod and play too.

Everything you do in the outdoors has potential for misery–it’s how you respond to it that makes the difference. A child is probably going to get cold at some point in time and want to go home, but if they had lots of fun as well, they are going to want to go again.

Stay warm and dry

 Keeping warm is harder for kids than it is for adults. Keep them comfortable and they will usually stay on the ice longer.

If you have a depth finder or underwater camera, bring it with you. It can help your fishing success and give the child something else to look at besides a hole in the ice.

Short trips are always better than long trips. So start out close to home and plan on being out for a few hours. Have some snacks along and don’t forget the hot chocolate.

Remember that kids sometimes need a lot of processing time and don’t always make up their minds very quickly. If you ask whether or not they had a great time, you might not get the answer you want or they might focus on a minor detail rather than the big picture.

If they don’t give you the answer you want the first time, give them more time. Ask them a month later and they may have changed their mind. If not, give them until next season and ask again. It’s only a problem if you stop asking!

A few extra bucks for first class fishing is well worth it

I spent some time this past weekend organizing photos from the past year and I was reminded of how much fun my kids and I had fishing throughout the state of Minnesota. We logged a lot of miles and even though we didn’t get out nearly as much as we’d hoped to, we had some high quality fishing on those outings.

We fished on Upper Gull Lake near Brainerd and had a great time catching eight and nine-inch bluegills off the dock. We also fished the lake from a boat and caught a ton of chunky largemouth. Motoring down the chain onto the big waters of Gull Lake, we caught a few meals of walleye and my son caught the biggest walleye of his life, a gorgeous 27-incher. 

On the Mississippi River near St. Cloud my kids started off catching rock bass and then we tied into some bruiser smallmouth bass. My daughter has claimed those as her favorite species since they fight so hard.

We fished on Mille Lacs, both through the ice and open water, and my son set another personal best with a 28-inch northern pike. On our latest outing, my daughter got to say she out-fished both her big brother and I with some quality walleye action.

Since both of my kids are still fairly young, seven and nine years old, we don’t spend hours upon hours on the water. Our outings are a few hours long, we have plenty of distractions and opportunities to learn while we are on the water, and we probably miss more fish than we catch. They are learning and that’s part of the process, but I’m very glad to have such a wide choice of waters to choose from and quality fisheries to know that even my clumsy guiding will put them on fish every time.

Minnesota has 5,400 managed fishing lakes and many of them are considered “world class” fisheries. People consider Minnesota to be a dream fishing destination and I’m proud that my home waters are the envy of millions. I’d like to keep it that way, and that’s why I’ll gladly fork over a few extra dollars for my licenses this year.

Something that’s always been interesting to me is that the game and fish fund is primarily funded by user fees, and not taxes. This means all fish, wildlife and law enforcement activities of the DNR are paid for by hunters and anglers.

The DNR states that if the increases are enacted this Legislative session, it will keep the game and fish fund above the water until 2021. That’s long enough to get my kids to the brink of becoming teenagers, and I’ll gladly fork over a few more dollars then as well. If the Legislature passes the increase this session, the next four years will keep the fishing opportunities solid and give my kids and I a good chance to spend more time on the water together.

If it doesn’t pass, I’m not sure what good those extra few bucks will afford me. I might be able to afford an extra lure, or another gallon of gas, but we’ll probably have to spend a whole lot more just to have a quality fishing experience north, or east, of the border.