This weekend, June 7-9, marks the annual Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF)-sanctioned free fishing days, meaning that anglers can fish without a fishing license (on those days only) in public waters across the state. Keep in mind that all current fishing regulations still apply.

VDGIF staff will be present at numerous locations throughout the state over the course of the weekend to help beginning anglers get oriented with tackle, rods, reels, and information. On Saturday, June 8, for example, personnel will be stationed at Darden Towe Park in Charlottesville and Lake Shenandoah in Harrisonburg from 10 AM to 4 PM offering their knowledge and assistance. For more information visit the VDGIF Facebook page, or call your local VDGIF regional office at (540) 899-4169.

Free fishing days provide the perfect opportunity for getting a curious non-angler and/or a kid outdoors exploring. Consider these suggestions for successfully introducing a kid to the fun of fishing this weekend.

Be Flexible

What does the world really gain from recruiting more responsible and passionate anglers to the sport of fishing? In my mind, the answer is a growing number of conservation-conscious citizens—spokespeople for natural resources.

So, while it may make you happy to have your son or daughter or niece or neighbor find the same passion in fishing as you do, the end goal of taking a kid fishing should be purely to get them outdoors and observing the natural world. If you’re walking along the riverbank and happen upon a pod of frog eggs, a salamander, or a group of puddling butterflies, celebrate the experience and foster the interest, if there is one. He/she may not find a lifelong passion for fishing that day, but they may discover a love for such species and a sense of stewardship that will make the world a better place.

Relax and Lower Expectations

Most kids don’t have the world’s longest attention spans. Patience can be a challenge. So avoid approaching a day of fishing with a kid with high expectations of catching a lot of fish and some big fish. It’s probably not going to happen. Avoid forcing them to fish all day for the sake of fishing, and, as aforementioned, allow the pursuit of those rabbit holey interests, like that four-leaved clover and that dead dragonfly on the bank. Teach them to skip rocks, or look at aquatic macroinvertebrates under the rocks in the river .As long as they come away from the experience with a positive feeling and a sense of wonder, they’ll likely look forward to doing it again, and one day, they may be interested in fishing hard all day.

Keep Them Involved in the Process

I’ve found in my own dealings with kids—both guiding and otherwise—that it’s easy to try to dumb things down to the point of just telling them what to do without providing them active involvement in the process. To keep someone with a short attention span appeased during a long day on the water, constant engagement is key.

Explain what you’re doing, why you’re rigging a certain way, and answer every question, no matter how little and seemingly insignificant. Explain what you’re looking for in terms of habitat—why you’re casting where you are—and have them look for those areas. On my guided smallmouth trips, even with older clients foreign to smallmouth bass fishing, I try to train “bass vision”—the skill of spotting good bass habitat and putting a fly or lure there. I’ve found young kids take fast to those kinds of teachings, which will only make them self-sufficient on the water faster.

Start Easy and Celebrate Every Fish

As simple as it may sound, if you’re taking a kid fishing for the first time, your mission (in terms of deciding where and how to fish) should be to get any fish on a hook as quickly as possible to keep them engaged. This means foregoing throwing lures at largemouth or trying to teach the kid to fly cast. Find a pond with some bluegill or small bass in it, grab a can of worms from the convenience store, and get to pulling fish in. There’s plenty of time for baitcasting gear and trophy hunting down the line.

Moreover, keep in mind that any fish to a new angler, and particularly to a kid, is exciting. Celebrate it to the fullest. Don’t belittle a small fish because there are bigger fish in the pond. It won’t get you anywhere.

Keep these suggestions in mind this weekend as you introduce a new-comer to the excitement of fishing in Virginia. If you’ve been wanting to take a new angler, or if you’ve been wanting to try fishing yourself, free fishing days is the perfect opportunity. Don’t miss out!

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