7 Tips for Taking Your Kid on a Canadian Fishing Trip

Do you dream of taking your young son or daughter on their first fishing trip to Canada? Here are seven suggestions on how to help the adventure run smoothly.

7 Tips for Taking Your Kid on a Canadian Fishing Trip

What’s your first childhood memory? Your favorite? The one that best encapsulates your youth?

I wonder, sometimes, how my children will answer these questions when they’re grown.

For me, family and fishing memories are intertwined. Experiences at the lake, on the dock, in a boat — always surrounded by my parents, sisters or cousins — are among my favorite childhood memories. I hope that becomes true for my kids. To this day, many of the best conversations I have with my parents occur in God’s great outdoor cathedral in pursuit of fish. Then again, maybe it’s not fish that we’re after.

I have included my first born, Joe, in as many fishing excursions as possible, as early as possible. For Joe’s 5th birthday, I took him on his first Canadian fly-in fishing trip to Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge, a second-generation family run, luxury lodge 90 minutes north of Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Our entire Aikens experience was a home run. My goal was to catch fish, secure quality father/son time and create lifelong memories, and this trip knocked it out of the park.

The author treated his son Joe to a Canadian fishing adventure at Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge to celebrate the boy's 5th birthday.
The author treated his son Joe to a Canadian fishing adventure at Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge to celebrate the boy's 5th birthday.

Along the way, I gained some lessons — seven to be exact — and perspective about family fishing trips with kids. I’m sharing them below, with the hope that they might help make your next family fishing adventure equally memorable, for all the right reasons.

1. Bring Grandma or Grandpa

What’s better than fishing with your son or daughter? Letting Grandma or Grandpa join in the fun, too.

On this trip, I brought my dad, and his presence greatly enhanced our trip and added a nice dynamic — especially for Joe, who loves playing with and showing off for Grandpa. Dad was the consummate grandpa throughout our trip. He watched Joe one afternoon while I went fishing with our guide; he put Joe to bed solo one night so I could head to Aikens’ on-camp bar for a night of live music; he sat in the backseat of my car for part of the drive to keep Joe content.

As fortunate as I was to be able to share this adventure with Joe, I was equally blessed to experience it with my dad and make it a lifelong, three-generation memory.

Kids love spending time (even dinner time) with Grandma or Grandpa, and having another adult to help with supervision and activities is a great idea.
Kids love spending time (even dinner time) with Grandma or Grandpa, and having another adult to help with supervision and activities is a great idea.

2. Get a Guide

All things begin equal, my dad and I typically prefer fishing without a guide. When you have a kid with you, things aren’t equal. At Aikens you can choose to fish guided or unguided; looking back at the trip I’m very glad we selected the former.

My recommendation: Don’t underestimate how much effort goes into keeping a kid occupied in a boat, or how valuable it is to have a guide quickly put you on the fish as well as run the motor, re-tie a line and bait a hook. Not to mention clean and cook your fish for shore lunch.

Besides making it easier for Dad and me to actually fish, our guides were incredibly kind to Joe and patient with his never-ending questions. In particular, our guide Nick let Joe pick out (and switch throughout the day) his jig / crawler harness and play with our Lund Alaskan’s aerated live well, a fascinating novelty to Joe.

We loved taking a boat out ourselves in the evenings so we could also enjoy fishing unguided, just the three generation of Capecchis . . . but boy was it nice to have a guide each day.

Kids sometimes learn (and listen) best from adults other than their parents. A guide helps in this regard, and also gets you on fish fast.
Kids sometimes learn (and listen) best from adults other than their parents. A guide helps in this regard, and also gets you on fish fast.

3. Take Time to Swim

Want a recipe for kid fun? Take sand, add water. Mix in sun. Rinse and repeat as many times as you’d like; children will not tire of it.

Bear this in mind when picking your destination: My son Joe said his favorite thing at Aikens was playing on the beach. Aikens Lake is a world-class fishery, but Joe’s No. 1 was the sand and the water.

Going somewhere with great fishing and great beaches made the trip more kid friendly —several afternoons we stopped fishing early and played at the beach. In hindsight, I should have let Joe spend even more time at the beach.

Life's a beach. Enjoy it.
Life's a beach. Enjoy it.

4. Target the Right Species at the Right Time

There is no fish I’d rather catch than a muskie. While I suffer from the questionable mental state afflicting most muskie anglers, I am sane enough to realize that the “fish of 10,000 casts” is not the best quarry for a trip with a 5-year-old. Remember, your child’s first Canadian fishing adventure isn’t about you — it’s about making it fun for Junior. Targeting the right species at the right time is key. (Maybe your odds at trophy walleyes increase in May and October, but how comfortable will 40- to 50-degree air temps be for your 8-year-old? And the cold water will make swimming off-limits.)

In Canada, walleyes are the safest bet for kid-friendly action, so picking a place such as Aikens with abundant walleyes is the way to go. While we perhaps gave up a few big ’eyes by booking our trip in mid-July, it sure was nice (for us and Joe) to fish in short sleeves and hit the beach each afternoon.

I am obsessed with big fish, so one morning we did target lake trout — and lucked out by catching four giant lakers before noon — but the remainder of our time we played the odds and put Joe on readily accessible walleyes.

Action is the name of the game when it comes to keeping kids interested in fishing. A bonus trophy fish like the lake trout below can help punctuate the experience, but focus on numbers and not size.
Action is the name of the game when it comes to keeping kids interested in fishing. A bonus trophy fish like the lake trout below can help punctuate the experience, but focus on numbers and not size.

5. Man (and Kids) Cannot Live on Fish Alone

Ask yourself this question: How many hours per day do you expect your kid to actively fish? What can you do on a rainy day with thunderstorms? It pays to pick a place with fun indoor activities, topnotch dining experiences and alternate entertainment beyond the boat.

I mentioned Joe’s highlight was the gorgeous beach, which speaks to the importance of a destination that offers more than “just fishing,” but equally important for us was choosing a resort with indoor recreation because a 5-year-old kid spends only so many hours outside, even in ideal circumstances.

Aikens provides shuffleboard, billiards and popcorn in a fantastic atmosphere at Big Molly’s Bar. Joe loved playing shuffleboard with Grandpa each day. He also looked forward to delicious meals and having us make multiple fires in our cabin’s fireplace.

It doesn’t necessarily matter what the indoor activity is so long as it’s something that will excite your kids and hopefully keep you entertained as well, so my advice is to investigate what entertainment and on-shore amenities are available before you book your trip.

To avoid burning out a kid on fishing, be sure to spend plenty of time in and around the lodge with other fun activities.
To avoid burning out a kid on fishing, be sure to spend plenty of time in and around the lodge with other fun activities.

6. Get Away From It All, But Don’t Go Too Far

Someday I’d love to fish sea-run brook trout in the Hudson Bay tributaries while keeping an eye out for polar bears. Or chase arctic grayling north of the treeline, or peacock bass in the Amazon. But “someday” doesn’t need to be today with a 5-year-old in tow and a 1-year-old back home who I miss each day that I’m gone fishing.

For this trip, we left my house near St. Paul, Minnesota, at 8:20 a.m. and reached the float plane base at exactly 5 p.m. There’s value in reaching your destination on your day of departure, especially when kids are involved. At Aikens, for example, you can leave from anywhere in the United States in the morning and be fishing by sunset that same day. No other way to say it: That’s cool!

My advice: Go to Canada to get away from it all and make it a grand-scale adventure for your kid … but don’t go so far that you’re exhausting the kiddos with extensive travel time before the fishing has even begun.

Consider travel time when taking a youngster on his or her first trip to Canada. One full day in the car is usually the maximum before kids get restless.
Consider travel time when taking a youngster on his or her first trip to Canada. One full day in the car is usually the maximum before kids get restless.

7. Remember That It's an Investment

On the night of my wedding 10 years ago, my father-in-law cracked a memorable line when I thanked him for paying for our reception. He graciously replied, “It’s an investment, not an expense.” His words took on greater meaning 1 month later when he unexpectedly died. From time to time I think about the significance of his phrase when it comes to various family related “expenses.”

The reality is, I won’t be able to fish with my dad forever. The time and dollars I invest into taking Joe fishing now are planting the seeds for what could be a decades-long pastime for Joe and, hopefully, a lifelong fishing partner and friend for me.   

When I go back to my earliest childhood memories at the lake, it is not the fish I remember but the family moments and the loved ones with whom I shared those adventures. How do you put a price tag on that?

Embarking on a family fishing trip to a world-class destination such as Aikens is not an inexpensive proposition. Then again, maybe it’s not an expense at all. 

Images by Tony Capecchi
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