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Photo: Wayne Lewis.

Reel Your Family Into Fishing

Discover the basics of this classic sport that’s becoming more popular with kids and families.

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It’s no secret that more than two years of a pandemic has drawn families outdoors, away from the confines of our homes toward sunshine, fresh air, and socially distant recreation. And one of the popular outdoor activities that saw a steady stream of curious newbies was fishing.

The 2020 Special Report on Fishing by the Outdoor Foundation and Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation indicates that 1.2 million children ages six to 12 tried fishing for the first time in 2019. According to the market-research company, The NPD Group, Inc., in the 12 months from September 2020 to September 2021, sales revenue of U.S. fishing-equipment (in-store and online) grew four percent to $3.9 billion, marking three consecutive years of growth in the industry. 

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 Not only is fishing a good activity for families, says Andre Egli, Colorado Parks & Wildlife (CPW) statewide angler education coordinator, but fishing has also been widely documented as a pastime that reduces stress. Plus, it teaches kids patience and an appreciation for the outdoors. 

 “There are other things that can interest kids outside of just catching the fish,” Egli says. “They’re surrounded by nature, bugs to look at…birds flying overhead. You might see a deer or elk walking by. All that stuff is just great for families.”

 If you are ready to cast a line, we’ve compiled this information for families who want to become “a-fish-ionados” in Colorado.

First-Time Fisher

So, the kids are begging to cast a line? The Colorado Parks & Wildlife (CPW) website, is the place to start for information on all things angling in Colorado. Here are some first-timers’ tips from Egli:

Licensed to Fish?

Parents helping their kids age 15 and younger won’t need a license. “As long as a kid is the primary person fishing, the parent doesn’t necessarily need a license,” Egli says. If you want to fish alongside your child, purchase a one day, additional day, or annual license through CPW, at any Colorado state park or at sporting goods stores. Annual licenses are valid March 1 through March 31 the following year (13 months). Individuals ages 18 through 64 must also purchase the Habitat Stamp, a $10.59 fee contributing to CPW’s conservation efforts, that will be automatically included in the price of an annual fishing license or third single day. Anglers ages 16 and 17 aren’t required to purchase the Habitat Stamp and will pay $10.23 for a fishing license.

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Know the Rules

Grab a Colorado Parks & Wildlife 2022 Fishing Brochure, in English or Spanish, anywhere licenses are sold, or view one from CPW’s website. The brochure will tell you, for instance, which threatened, endangered, or nongame species must be returned to the water immediately if you catch them, including the Arkansas darter and bluehead sucker. It will also indicate bag limits—the maximum number of fish you can catch in a day. For instance, only one tiger muskie (at least 36 inches long) or 10 brook trout (eight inches long or less) are allowed per day.  

Get Out the Map

Find a good fishing spot at CPW’s online Fishing Atlas, which features all the bodies of water throughout the state. Click on any one for specific fish species, or search by filters including “family-friendly.”

Participate in a Free Event

Although CPW offers several free clinics and programs throughout the year, Free Fishing Weekend is one of the most popular. Taking place in numerous statewide locations annually on the first full weekend of June (June 4 and 5 in 2022), participants of all ages can fish without a license for two days (bag limits and all other regulations are still enforced). “It’s a great way to get out there and give it a shot, and there’s usually some pretty good programming that goes along with that,” Egli says. 

Gear Talk

Fishing with kids for the first time? You don’t need much to get started.

Rod and Reel. Pick up inexpensive kids’ fishing rods and reels at Cabela’s, Bass Pro Shop, Walmart, Target, Sportsman’s Warehouse, or Big 5. Look for Shakespeare or Zebco brands, which Egli says make decent-quality equipment for kids. Select a push button reel over an open face reel. “It’s just easier for them (kids) to learn on, you can graduate them to open-faced reels as they progress on their fishing journey,” Egli says. There are also branded rods with the logos from kids shows and movies on them. “Although these rods won’t last as long, they’re great for getting your kid excited about trying fishing,” says Egli. “So you’re sacrificing longevity for initial excitement.”

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Bait. The kind of bait you select depends on what you want to catch. Egli suggests Colorado families start out trying to catch stocked trout or sunfish. Both are easy for beginners to catch and take similar baits. Select flavored or scented Powerbait, artificial salmon eggs, or “you can never go wrong with a good old-fashioned worm,” Egli says. “Catfish are heavily influenced by scent and taste, so baits for them include worms, stink-baits, chicken livers, and even hot dogs. Bass are aggressive predators so you want to use flashy moving lures for them. Jigs, spinners, crank baits, and soft plastic baits work good for bass.”

Photo: Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

3 Places to Fish Near the City

No need to venture far to cast a line. There are numerous ponds and lakes in, or near, the metro area just perfect for a low-key day of fishing. Visit city or park and recreation websites to discover what’s close to your home. Here are a couple that are great for families.

Diversity in the Outdoors

The outdoor industry has long been criticized for its lack of diversity, and fishing is no exception. “The typical fisherman is a white male, 45 years old, (with a) household income of $70K, and that has held true for the past five years,” says Kelly Davis, research director for the Outdoor Industry Association. “If we fail to bring more diversity into the participant base, outdoor brands can expect declining sales, support to conserve public lands for outdoor recreation will diminish, and protections could weaken and break in favor of economic exploitation of natural resources.” Here are some organizations and individuals working to change that outcome.

Lincoln Hills Cares

Focusing on empowering youth who may not have outdoor recreation opportunities due to economic, social, or family circumstances, Lincoln Hills Cares (LHC) serves about 1,200 K-12 students annually through their outdoor and environmental education programs. Originally founded in 1922 as a resort catering to middle-class African Americans, the organization’s current focus is outdoor equity. 

“If you are a member of a marginalized community, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be able to participate in something that you really enjoy or love, but there are barriers to involvement,” says Tim Flynn, director of programs and education. 

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Whether families struggle with time, transportation, or experience to get a child outdoors, Flynn works to fill the gaps by partnering with numerous community organizations like the YMCA and Boys & Girls Clubs. In addition to a variety of outdoor activities, LHC offers about 35 clinics led by fly fishing instructors with loaner gear who teach the basics of fly fishing, entomology, fish biology, and water conservation.

Colorado Trout Unlimited 

The state’s chapter of this national nonprofit offers STREAM GIRLS (Science, Technology, Recreation, Engineering, Art, and Math) to budding fisherwomen. Intended for girls from fourth through eighth grade, the program implements STEAM education as students explore a local stream, collect flow data, sample macroinvertebrates (aka aquatic bugs), tie flies, and learn fly casting. Offered in several cities across the state through Girl Scouts of Colorado, participants do not need to be part of Girl Scouts to register. coloradotu.org, girlscoutsofcolorado.org 

Brown Folks Fishing

Eeland Stribling grew up in Denver fishing and learning about the outdoors with his grandfather, a wildlife biologist. But by the time he was pursuing a degree in Conservation and Wildlife Biology from Colorado State University, he noticed there were few Black students in his classes.     

“When I came into the fly fishing world, it was challenging to learn about fishing from other people in the community. It was a struggle to learn about fisheries, species, and, most importantly, conservation,” Stribling says. Focusing on the philosophy, “You can’t be what you can’t see,” he set out to share his love of fly fishing with kids. As a teacher, he feels he can make the principles, ideas, and skills easier to access for upcoming anglers.

In partnership with Brown Folks Fishing, a community-based organization by and for Black, Indigenous, and people of color anglers, he offers free casting and tying clinics in Denver metro area locations at least once per month starting in April (loaner gear included).

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Casting dates will be Saturdays or Sundays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. (weather dependent); tying dates will be on a weekday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. To sign up or get summer clinic dates, email flyfishingcasting@gmail.com.

She’s Fly

Dylan Demery of Fort Collins started fly fishing shortly after the 2009 death of her husband, Tony, an avid fisherman. Demery fly-fished for years on a $40 rod, growing to love the sport as she grieved her loss. But when she finally decided to invest in gear, she was surprised at the difficulty of finding products made specifically for women, as well as the lack of female representation in the sport. She created She’s Fly, which offers gear and programming that gets more females out on the water. The beginner class ($50) is limited to four students age nine and up, who learn about the equipment, casting techniques, and knots.

Free Fishing Activities

Orvis retail stores offer free Fly Fishing 101 (casting, knot tying, rigging your rod, choosing the right fly) and 201 classes. There may be a small fee for the advanced FF201 class. Check out these classes at locations near Denver: 

Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s locations host free activities and special giveaways during their Gone Fishing events, providing free, family-friendly programming for anglers of all ages and skill levels. Watch basspro.com for summer 2022 dates.

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