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How to Take Your Kids Fishing in Florida for the First Time? (Full Guide)

You’re visiting or living in Florida and you have some kids of your own running around the house, or you have visitors incoming from the north and you want to put them on some fish. You may be asking, “How Do I Take Kids Fishing for the First Time?”

2 year olds, 3, 4, and 5 year old kids can go fishing – you just have to present it to them in the right way. The FUN way!

I remember fondly as a child my first few times fishing in Pennsylvania as I was growing up. The first time was around 5 years old. I went with my uncle and his girlfriend in his Mustang. This was about 1971, so the cars back then were powerful and of course he had a Hurst shifter and was trying to impress his girlfriend with how I couldn’t reach the money on the dashboard because every time he shifted, I’d fly backwards in the seat. Anyway, just to give you a feel for the era!

Keys to Taking Kids Fishing in Florida for the First Time

  1. KEEP IT FUN! If a child isn’t having fun, or doesn’t anticipate that it will be fun, you’ve already lost. Talk about the fishing trip for at least a week or more and give your child some time to think about and ask questions about what is going on. Show the boy/girl some photos of you or someone you both know who is catching fish and make it sound like fun! Kids don’t necessarily like to eat fish, so I don’t know if I’d talk about that much.

    Ideally, you can find a friend to bring along to make it extra fun. Their parents will appreciate it as well as long as you make this fishing trip fun and easy-going. Don’t be focused on catching bigger or more fish, if you get one – talk it up!

  2. KEEP IT CHEAP and SIMPLE! Zebco reels and rods are probably your best bet for fishing with kids because they are not intimidating like bigger gear or gear that is hard to operate. They’re certainly not foolproof, but they do take the mystery out of it by hiding the spool. Nobody should be teaching a five to ten year old how to cast a bait-casting rod in the mangroves for their first fishing trip!

    To be honest, if you can put some line on the end of a long stick and catch bluegill or crappie for an hour, that might be the best time they ever have fishing. Don’t worry about getting nine kinds of baitfish, nightcrawlers, shrimp, and cut squid. Just get something simple like worms and a small hook and get out there and do it. It’s probably best if you’re NOT also fishing. Better for you to keep an eye on the kids and make sure to resolve any problems quickly.

  3. MAKE SURE YOU’RE GOING TO CATCH FISH! Though children may have a good time even if they’re not catching fish, it’s going to make their entire year or lifetime if they actually DO CATCH FISH. You have to ensure that happens by taking them to a place that has plenty of small fish that are easy to catch. In my case, my uncle took me to a little pay lake with millions of bluegill.

    If you don’t have a pay lake around you, you should find a little pond that has crappie and go fishing there yourself with some worms and the same setup you’re going to give the kids when you bring them. Make sure it’s very easy to catch fish, or go somewhere else. Florida has MANY little bass lakes all around the interior, any of which can be great for catching crappie.

  4. TARGET CRAPPIE or PINFISH. Many people have this idea that their kid should catch a big bass or trout or catfish or tuna fish on their first trip. Kids don’t care which fish species they catch, so just make sure they catch something. Target crappie. They’re easy to find, easy to reach – even with a long stick and a hook on 4 feet of line. They’re fun, they pull a little bit. They hook easily. They bite often.

    Please just target something like this or pinfish if you’re fishing saltwater. If you focus on bass or one of the other fish mentioned, it may take hours to catch a fish. You need to be catching fish within 15 minutes, ideally.

Best Freshwater Fish for Kids to Catch in Florida?

Florida Panfish: Black crappie, bluegill, Redear sunfish, Flier, Redbreast sunfish, Warmouth, and the Spotted sunfish.
Florida has many panfish besides the black crappie. All are fun to catch. Know the law about keeping fish, or just let them go.

Black Crappie! Also called “Specks” and “Speckled Perch” and “Calico Bass”!

Black Crappie (Pomoxis nigromaculatus) are small, plentiful, fun-fighting fish that any kid can catch with ease in Florida freshwater.

For kids, beginning fishing by catching a small fish is fine. It provides all the excitement with less of the disappointment of broken line, snags, and even lost gear as a child may not hold onto the rod tightly enough to keep a catfish or some other larger fish from pulling it into the water. Or, the child may just be clumsy and lose his uncle’s new fishing rod in a stream after slipping on ice! (read story here).

Small boy holding up a Florida black crappie he caught on rod/reel from a boat on a lake in central Florida.
Small boy with Florida black crappie fish caught from a boat. This kid won’t soon forget fishing!

For Florida crappie fishing for kids, just buy a simple rod and reel made for kids at any Walmart, or get one of our more reliable recommended rod/reel combinations below.

Kids' fishing kit for Florida freshwater fishing for small fish like crappie, sunfish, and other panfish.
Kids’ Fishing Kit – has everything you need for fishing in Florida freshwater for Crappie or other Panfish.

Choose from a black/red rod and reel or a pink set. Both come with 27-piece accessories like hooks, sinkers, bobbers, and lures.

Check Kids’ Fishing Kit availability HERE >


Fishing for speckled perch in Florida freshwater ponds, lakes, and rivers is not too hard at all. You’ll need some lightweight fishing line like 4 lb. test. You’ll need some small pinch-on sinkers (lead weights) and some small hooks. You’ll also need to add a bobber (red/white) or other colored round floating bulb that goes under the water when a fish is biting or hooked. With crappie, no real hook set is necessary, so your child can just start cranking on the reel handle and reel the fish in.

There are many small fish that resemble crappie (speckled perch). Here are the others: bluegill, redear sunfish, (shellcracker), flier, longear sunfish, mud sunfish, shadow bass, spotted sunfish (stumpknocker), warmouth and redbreast sunfish. The Florida legal limit on this group of fish is 50 per day.

The legal limit for Black Crappie per day per angler is 25 crappie caught per day.

Color Florida Black Crappie identification image from the side.
The Florida Black Crappie has a really interesting pattern and color scheme.

Crappie Fishing Tips

  1. Look for Cover. Crappie and all Perch like to have some kind of cover overhead, so fish next to leaves, lillies, and drop minnows or worms next to submerged trees and other cover. Fish from 3 to 8 feet deep. Going deeper can net you the bigger crappies.
  2. Worms or No Worms? If your child is not eager to put the worms on the hook, do it for them the first couple times then see if you can help them do it the next time. Gradually introduce them to it. Don’t force. The grime of worms is a big turn off to some kids. Minnows may be a better bait option, but harder to find in some cases.
  3. Artificial Lures Snag! Use minnows or worms for bait, and avoid lures if at all possible. Lures snag often and they’ll frustrate the children (and you)!
  4. Fishing from a boat or pier on a lake would be ideal. Fishing from the side of a lake will pull the hook and fish through the plant growth and many snags can result.
  5. Crappy are GREAT EATING. Within limits. This is a low-mercury containing fish, so you can eat it once per week (6 oz. cooked) without any problem.

Best Saltwater Fish for Kids to Catch in Florida?

Florida pinfish identification photo showing vertical bars and overall yellow white color on lateral (sides) and darker dorsum.
Florida pinfish – sometimes much darker than this, rarely lighter in color.

Pinfish!

Pinfish (Lagodon Rhomboides) are found all over the beaches and even at some depth around Florida fishing piers. They are very easy to catch and can provide hours of entertainment for children and adults if you’re into them.

Taking kids to a saltwater fishing pier in Florida is probably a very good bet for some non-stop action that may even give you a surprise catch or two. I remember dropping my Sabiki rig over to catch some small pinfish as baitfish at the Sunshine Skyway Fishing Pier in St. Petersburg on Florida west coast and pulling up, of all things, a little seahorse! This happened a few times. Kids would go crazy if they caught one of those, right? I did, and I was a full-grown man!

If you’re trying to catch pinfish from a pier, or from the beach, just get some frozen shrimp at the store and put tiny pieces on a Sabiki Rig (you can get them here). Or, you don’t even need shrimp on them to catch fish, but adding very small shrimp bits ensures quick action.

Check availability of Sabiki Rigs at Amazon here.

When fishing for pinfish from a Florida pier, any rod will do, but you should use a very small diameter line if possible. Of course, if you’re using a Sabiki rig, they provide the thin line for you and it works great. Just tie it directly to whatever weight line you have, add some sinkers and sink it to the bottom and wait for the bites.

Sabiki rigs hook instantly, so please don’t try to set the hook or you’ll rip the hook through the soft mouth. Just reel up slowly when you notice the rod tip bending. Super-easy for kids!

The cool thing about a Sabiki rig is that you can catch two or more pinfish at the same time. It’s almost not fair. You’ll have to decide for yourself whether you want to use a multi-hook Sabiki rig to catch multiple fish at a time, or not. I can think of an argument against it, like it’s too much too soon. Maybe tie a very small hook on to one line and rod and a tiny piece of shrimp and let the child catch one fish at a time. Later on you can show them the craziness of catching two to six fish at a time with one drop over the side of the pier.

For the fishing rod, you could use the same one recommended above for freshwater crappie fishing, but saltwater fishing is tough on reels and rods. We recommend the following rod/reel for kids.

Once you have this rod and reel, you just need line – probably 15 lb. test line (below) and the Sabiki Rig recommended above.

Pinfish Fishing Tips

  1. Tip Sabiki rigs with shrimp bits. The smell and extra texture will draw in more pinfish than just the white plastic triangles that come with the rig. Don’t use big pieces of shrimp or you’ll tempt other fish to grab it that can break the 7lb test of the Sabiki rig.
  2. There is no limit on them, but they don’t really get big enough to make it worth your while to pan-fry them.
  3. If you’re not using them to catch bigger fish on another rod, you can probably sell them to someone on the pier! They’re always in demand and the pier charges a lot of money for a dozen. 🙂 You’ll need an aerator and to change the water every hour.

My Son’s First Time Fishing at the Sunshine Skyway Fishing Pier, St. Petersburg

I was eager to take my 3 year old fishing, so I got him his own little rod and reel and set him up with the Sabiki rig I can’t seem to stop talking about here. We drove down from Tampa to the Sunshine Skyway fishing pier (north end) and set up some chairs, got a bucket of water for the fish (I also threw out some pinfish as bait for bigger fish while he caught the smaller ones).

I let him drop the rig over the railing and before even a minute was over, he had two little pinfish hooked and his eyes lit up like he couldn’t believe what was happening! We spent the next 2 hours catching pinfish and the occasional ladyfish and puffer that grabbed the small bits of shrimp we sometimes put on the small gold hooks.

There’s something magical about pier fishing. It’s the ultimate way, in my opinion, to introduce your child to learning how to fish. It’s fun, it’s easy, there’s a restroom and snacks. The SUV is parked right there beside you so you can bring whatever you want and take naps in it when it’s raining or you’re tired. It’s SO convenient.

If you want in-depth tips for Florida Pier Fishing – check out our full guide on it. You’ll learn how to fish from piers like a pro.

Bottom Line?

Take your child and friends fishing. It will be awesome, even if it isn’t. Kids love seeing new things, and even just seeing the birds, the pelicans, the fish in the water, and fish that other people are catching around you is enough for them to have a successful day. Use the tips above to catch some pinfish or crappie and you’ll have sown the seeds of excitement about fishing for a lifetime. I remember all the fishing trips I had as a child, and though some of them were awful, like my brother almost drowning in the trout stream, most of them were the best thing I’d every done up until that point.

Fishing for kids is not only fun, but in this crazy world we live in, it’s teaching them a way to provide sustenance for themselves and their family if it ever comes to that. At the rate the world is going, we may be going exactly that direction. HOPE NOT!

Tight lines! Send me some photos of YOUR KIDS enjoying their time fishing. It will make my day!