How to

Kids & Boats

David Green has spent a lot of time teaching youngsters the finer details of fishing from a boat and shares his experiences from valuable lessons learnt.

A boat is actually a pretty small piece of space. Considering all the activities we try to do on our boats, the way we set out our deck has to involve some clever planning to get the best use of space. In addition, family boating is an entirely different pursuit to fishing solo and issues such as seating and shelter become much more important once the little tackers want to tag along. 

My mate Kel was a dedicated tournament bream angler, complete with go fast 175hp donk on the back of a tinny that travelled at warp speed. Now that Kel has a little tacker in tow, his boating requirements are entirely different. That elevated casting platform up front is potentially dangerous for a small child, and safety issues of full-length gunwale height become very important with small kids on board. Kids ideally should be in rather than on a boat.

Similarly, sun protection is very important with kids. Shelter cabins, Bimini tops or full half cabins all provide some retreat from the sun, but they do cause problems when it comes to getting all-round boat access. This can make many types of fishing quite impractical, and compromise is often achieved by having fold-up canopies on small boats.

When it comes to maximising your boat space, don’t ignore tiller driven engines. Not having a centre or side console greatly opens up the mid sections of a small to medium boat. And one major advantage of tiller driven craft when kids are on board is that they’re always in your line of vision; you don’t have eyes in the back of your head and little kids can fall out of a boat in a split second. Although they may be wearing a lifejacket it is a spooky feeling when your kid falls in the water. With a tiller driven boat you drive from the very back and this lets you have them under constant surveillance.

Tinny trolling
A basic simple tinny can be transformed with a flat floor. Bare aluminium gets pretty hot at times (and cold in winter) and even the most basic of tinnies becomes a lot more functional with a section of ply, preferably covered with marine carpet. When you fish a lot with kids a small, very functional boat is often a lot more practical than a bigger craft. A lot of the trips tend to be for an hour or two, and kids don’t like getting bored, so the aim is to cater for what the kids want to catch. Make it simple.

When my kids were small I had a succession of 3.0 – 3.7m punts with outboards from six to 15hp. These got thousands of hours of use and the commonest fish we caught were flathead, bream, whiting and garfish. Target fish that are common and bite freely. Kids hate fishing for exotic rarities that produce one bite every five trips.

In the early years we spent a lot of time trolling for flathead. I’d recommend this to anyone taking kids out on a boat in any east coast estuary. All you need is an open style tinny, a small motor that will idle just faster than the current and a fistful of small, hard-bodied lures. In south-east Queensland the Lively Lures Micro Mullet is the benchmark flathead trolling lure. These robust little lures dive to about three metres, last a long time and work a treat. The most popular colour is bright pink. You’ll need a Tacklebak style lure retriever for any snags, but any light outfit is fine for flathead trolling. For most flatties on the troll six to eight kilo leader is adequate.

To troll for lizards find a nice sandy or muddy bottom in a tidal creek or river, let the lures out about 20 to 40m behind and slowly idle in the same direction as the tide. When fishing with little kids try and give them all the same lure, as this stops any sibling fights over who has the best lure. A small sounder is a big help, but you really only need to see bottom depth and the most basic units are fine. This is a great way to fish with kids. It introduces them to lures, every kid has an equal chance of catching a fish and it is generally very successful. Getting weeds off the hooks can be a bit of a chore, but if you pick a fairly clean area you should have trouble-free trolling. Kids with relatively few angling skills also knock over some very impressive lizards on the troll. My daughter Jacqueline caught a 94cm lizard on the troll when she was five and my son managed a 58cm mangrove jack when aged four. When you’re driving and the kids hook something good you can generally steer the boat away from any snags.

Other activities
Small boats have another major advantage with kids because you’ll find they always want to run around on the banks, mud flats and search for shells, crabs and explore the nature of the estuary. Toilet stops also become very common. A small boat that can be easily dragged off a sand bank makes life a lot easier for all on board. I found with little kids, there is a perpetual curiosity that should never be dismissed. A yabby pump opens up a whole new world to many kids, and teaches them about how an estuary food chain works, how to catch bait and how to look for a great fishing spot where there is a lot of bait.

A removable ice box is very important in your floor plan. Take plenty of drinks and tucker as boats turn kids into ferocious eaters, and it is important to bring some fish home for the kids to eat so they learn the essential lessons of fishing for food.

There are a lot of really good open plan 3.7m V-nosed punts on the market, and some very innovative lightweight fibreglass boats as well, such as the CrossX Country 4.1. If you’ve got kids aged less than 10, small and simple is the take home message. Obviously this restricts you to smaller waterways, but the overall theme of taking kids fishing is about exploration of all the creeks and rivers and enclosed waterways you may have ignored for too long.

If you’re planning to buy a boat to take your kids fishing, the above ideas have served me well over a decade or more. I had one 3.7m punt that I sold to a mate when my kids got bigger. I liked it so much that a few years later I bought it back from him. And years into the future it may well get reborn as a kids’ fishing boat for my grandchildren! The secret of getting plenty of time on the water with kids is to make things simple and easy. A couple of rods, a tackle box, net, a full ice box and a few litres of fuel are all you require.

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