A fishing trip is much more than just going to catch fish. The excitement of getting the boat ready, packing a lunch, going over the checklist, picking out lures for the tackle box, buying worms, etc., is all part of the fun. The fishing experience teaches a child about patience, makes them aware of the sights and sounds of the outdoors, and provides a great sense of accomplishment from baiting a hook to catching that first fish. We all need to take the time to bring our children outside and teach them about taking ownership in caring for the natural environment. Help our Illinois youth get excited about fishing—if you can pass on your knowledge, you will be continuing a great tradition of exploring Illinois lakes and rivers.

Here are some ways to teach young people of all ages to fish and have a successful fishing experience:

Fishing License

Anyone under the age of 16 in Illinois does not need a license to fish.

Note: The adult accompanying a child fishing does not need a fishing license if he/she does not participate in fishing at all. Usually the adult casts, sets the hook, and/or helps the child reel in, in which case, that adult would need a valid Illinois fishing license.

"Leaves of three, leave it be!"


Many fishing related accidents can be avoided with some forethought. Act on the side of caution, watch over children diligently, and teach by example.


Always teach and practice the Anglers' Code of Ethics. Our lakes and rivers belong to everyone and we all must do our part to preserve them for future generations.

Where To Go?

Morning trips are best as the fish usually bite better and it is not too hot.  A good place to teach a beginner is from a dock. This provides enough room to show kids how to put their worm on a hook, teach them proper casting, and observe other anglers. Sunfish often hang out around docks, making this a great way to view swimming fish and observe how fish are attracted to a lure.

To locate family friendly lakes in your area, see our lake selector page.

See our listing of family-friendly fishing events.

Child-Sized Equipment

Small hands can handle a kid-sized rod and reel much easier. For young children, toddler to preschool aged, a beginner fishing rod and reel combination can be found in the sporting good area of most department stores at a low price. Do not, however, choose the prepackaged rod sets with comic heroes on them for school-aged children. Instead, choose an ultra-light rod and reel.

The Starter Kit: Fishing Supplies for Kids Common Pitfalls When Fishing With Kids

Source: Fix.com

The Best Bait

Getting kids excited about fishing usually means actually catching a fish.  Fortunately, most kids are happy with any size and kind of catch.

Note: Live bait does require a barbed hook. With younger children, you can instead use lures and debarb your hooks.

Beginners Bait Guide (Download)

Casting Technique

Kids love to cast by themselves, and let's face it, casting is the most fun part of fishing for kids (until they catch a fish!). A few simple casting techniques should be all you need to get your fishing buddy casting on their own! If you've got your preferred method, teach your child that. Here a few pointers:

Teaching the Basics of Casting Techniques

Source: Fix.com

I caught a fish! Now what?

In the excitement of catching a fish, here are some basic guidelines for the young angler:

Keep the Whine Monster Away

Fishing can be an exciting activity when there is a fish on the line, but in between those moments, it is necessary to patiently sit quietly, which can be tough for a child for long periods of time.  Here are some tips for keeping kids happily fishing.

damsel flydeer scatrat snakedragon flypainted turtle

From damselflies, to deer scat, to rat snakes to dragonflies, to painted turtles — there are so many things waiting to be discovered while you and your child look for signs of wildlife and critters that are connected to lakes and streams.

Keep an Angler Diary

Want to begin a great tradition? Start an angler diary with your child. Each time you go fishing, keep track of your catch, record conditions and what lures were successful, and take notes about the trip. Angler diaries are a great way to keep learning how to become a better angler: what fish were biting during the spring? What lures worked best on cloudy days? Did fishing early in the morning at your favorite lake make a difference? It is also a wonderful way to remember those special stories.

You can make your own journal, or download our Angler Diary Form and keep them together in a special binder. Add a few photos, and you have a wonderful lifetime gift for years to come.


Print out our checklist so your little partner and you can work together to get ready for your big outing! (download checklist)