Creating a Catman

By Brad Durick

DISCLAIMER: While this article should be very informative for getting a kid into catfishing it is also a gushing proud dad moment.

Nobody thinks getting kids to participate in the outdoors is a bad thing. If you use social media you have probably come across a meme that says “More tackle box and less xbox.” Or “Kids don’t remember their best days watching TV.”

From the time he was born in 2010, I have hoped to god that my boy, Braden would love fishing as much as I do. He is only five and sometimes I wonder if he will be an outdoorsman and other times I think he really does have the outdoors and Dakota Spirit in his DNA.

Braden has been in the boat with me since he was a baby. I had him helping attempt to reel in catfish since he was three years old. He has never been scared of the fish, in fact he finds a catfish hitting the deck quite exciting. It wasn’t until one of the last trips of 2015 that he actually understood what was going on and reeled in his own catfish. It took five years but I now have a catman.

Getting a Kid Interested
From the time I found out he was going to be born I talked to people with kids who loved to be in the boat. I wanted to figure out what kept a kid interested in coming back. One thing came out time and time again. FOOD, bring lots of food and don’t keep the kid in the boat or on the ice too long. Don’t force it in other words.

Also, let the kid bring a toy to play with in a pinch, stay away from electronics and video games. Kids have enough electronics at home and the point of being in the outdoors is being in the outdoors and taking it all in.

Keep extra bait in the boat and a minnow net or two. Kids always seem to be fascinated with bait. They love to play with minnows and worms. Yes it makes the boat messier but it is well worth it to have a happy kid having fun.

If you fish from shore or on ice you have it a little easier because the kid can get out and run. He or she can look for “treasure” as my boy calls it. The treasure is no more than sticks or rocks to keep them busy until a fish bites and gets their blood pumping.

Letting a kid have as much action as you can (to the point that you may not catch any fish that day) will help the cause too. Let the kid have the action and the excitement. It is the pull at the end of the line that will keep them coming back time and time again.

A buddy of mine has a girl who loves to fish with him. She is now an adult but he always told me that when she went with he had food, lots of minnows and just let her move about the boat as she wished to ensure she did not get bored. The system really worked because they still fish together now.

When I started taking Braden fishing I brought food with and kept my mind clear to just let him do what he wants and hoping to catch and enjoy catching a fish. I had no idea how much food it would take but food was the main ticket of interest. I also found out that other things as prizes at the end of the trip for being good and sticking with it for the time on the water. It seems a nice campfire to unwind after a day of fishing is a great prize.

What Not to Do
There are some things you can do to turn your kid off to fishing forever. One is make the kid sit in the boat with you all day every weekend. They do get bored and have to take fishing in small doses until you figure out what that magical time is and start stretching it a little bit from there.

One gentleman I talked to when I was asking parents about kids fishing told me that his kids hate fishing. He went on to say he was trying to be a pro and needed time on the water so his solution was make those kids go with for marathons so he could fish and hoping the long hours would make them love it too. The plan backfired.

A buddy of mine who I fish with from time to time made a similar mistake. His boy would come with but did not always want to fish. He was happy eating or playing with the bait too. My buddy would get on his case that “we are in the boat to fish so fish.” The boy over the years came fishing with us less and less to the point that I have not seen him on the water for a couple years now.

These were two key lessons I picked up on that I wanted to avoid when bringing my boy up that I am very glad I listened.

My Story of Creating a Catman
I believe that every angler goes through the “ah ha” moment many times through life. I have witnessed Braden go through a few of these already in his short life of fishing. As a dad I find each one amazing.

Allow me to back up a couple years. We do a lot of ice fishing up here in the North Country. Two winters ago Braden was with us on a pike trip where we use tip ups. Day one of the trip he helped scoop the slush from the holes and that was it. From there it was food and treasure hunting. Day two we got our lines set and while he was eating his first bag of fruit snacks of the day, I asked him what was going to happen. He said to me, “When a fish bites we all yell FLAG.” “Then we run” meaning we run across the ice to the flag and catch our fish. This was the first “ah ha” moment my boy had in fishing. He chased every flag that day.

Last winter when he was four years old he not only yelled flag and ran to it, but he grabbed the tip up and pulled the pike up the ice hole. This was “ah ha” number two for my boy and oh did we have a fun winter.

So back to catfishing. This summer (2015) was a busy one and I hate to admit that I was unable to take my Braden out on the river much. When I did ask if he wanted to go he would just say “No, I want to stay home.” I was starting to think my boy was turning off to fishing. Of course I got him out a couple times and he caught a couple really nice catfish but it was tough for him to reel with myself or someone helping to hold the rod. I could clearly tell he was frustrated by this challenge.

In early October, a buddy of mine and I planned a fishing trip to the river. I was still on a great catfish bite and we wanted to take advantage of it. My wife was working the weekend so the only way this adventure was going to happen was to have Braden join us. What we planned was to stop and fish for a few hours then keep driving to my buddies hunting cabin to spend the night. (We were already about half way there when we fished.)

Braden didn’t seemed excited about this idea until we told him that when we got to the cabin we could have a huge fire and he could roast marshmallows. This was the prize at the end part of the day of fishing. I also packed enough food to feed five people instead of three. Lots of fruit snacks and juice boxes in stock to keep that bottomless pit full and happy. We also made sure to have a minnow net on board so he could catch leaves as they floated by the boat.

Early in this trip was different than many of the others in that when he caught his first trophy channel cat he agreed to hold it for the photo. After all there is nothing better than a kid holding a big fish, right?

Shortly into the trip it finally hit me that to make it easier to Braden to reel in fish would be to just push the rod down into the holder and let the rod and reel do the work. I only use Driftmaster Rod Holders, with the ½ steal design. They will not break on a fish. This matched with a solid Rippin Lips rod gave me the confidence to turn the boy loose on the fish. Knowing the gear would not break about the only thing could go wrong would be a knick in the line or a bad hookup and those things happen.

Everything went right and the fish cooperated over a magical weekend as Braden had yet another “ah ha” moment in his fishing career gaining the confidence that he could reel in catfish by himself. He was able to break his personal best three times in one afternoon setting a new record of 21 pounds. Not bad for a five year old that only weighs 47 pounds himself.

He ate sandwiches, lots of fruit snacks and drank a lot of juice boxes and was treated to a big camp fire that night. This entire day created a memory that brought him back to the river for round two of the weekend with little questioning. He was able to catch more large fish and could even take charge of a line while the rest of us were busy netting a fish. He gained the confidence to push the rod down in the Driftmaster and start reeling in his fish.

Getting kids involved in the outdoors takes a lot of time, patience and food. In the end to just see that one smile and get that one great photo makes it all worth it, especially when the kid tells you he wants to go back out and do it again.
If you have kids take the time to introduce them to catfishing. If you don’t find a friend and help them introduce their kids to the outdoors. It is well worth it to create another King of the Catfish (as Braden calls it.) Just be sure to pack the lunchbox full.