Outdoor lures

Get hooked on fishing and boating this summer


Jennifer Burklow

Summer—for my family anyway—means drifting in a boat (powered by paddle or motor) while dangling a line in hopes of catching a fish; these outings translate into lovely, lazy periods of enjoying each other’s company and nature.

My husband and I have been fishing and navigating Illinois waterways (and beyond) with our blended gang of four girls (now 14, 19, 23 and 26) since the youngest two were infants. They’ve taken to these sports like, well, fish to water. Your kids can, too, with a little help from you and local programs.

June 3-11 is National Fishing and Boating Week and there are plenty of local family-friendly fishing and boating events this summer. Conveniently, Illinois’ annual free fishing days, June 9-12 (when anglers can drop a line without buying a fishing license), coincide with the national event.

Since the Chicago metro area has Lake Michigan at its doorstep and is home to scores of lakes, lagoons and rivers, families can drop a line without traveling far.

Fishing basics

Fishing doesn’t require lots of money to get started. The basic equipment—rod, reel, line, weights, hooks and bait—can be had for $20 to $30. Add a $13 fee for a license for those 16 and older. If you’re not sure you’ll like fishing, give it a try at free fishing events where the equipment and instruction is provided or borrow equipment through the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ Access to Fishing Equipment loan program (see story on page 53).

The state’s fishing Web site, www.ifishillinois.org, is a good place to start. There’s a boatload of information about where to catch what types of fish with which kinds of bait, weekly fishing reports and fish consumption advisories. Click on the "kids fishing" link to download a beginner’s guide to fishing and a listing of fishing hot spots.

Bob Long Jr., the Chicago Park District’s "Fishing Guy," is in his sixth year of running Mayor Daley’s Fish ’n Kids Program. A lifelong fisherman who fishes with his kids and grandkids, Long works with thousands of kids each summer.

Long recommends parents learn to fish, and then teach their kids during short fishing sessions. Fishing is a good family activity, he says, because "it’s a lot of fun, No. 1. No. 2 is everyone wants to be big, strong, fast and smart. Fishing doesn’t require kids to be big, strong, fast and smart. … It’s just fun and everyone can succeed."

Here’s Long’s short course on setting the hook for fishing:

 Use a spin-cast rod and reel with a small bobber and No. 10 gold Aberdeen hook.

 Use maggots for bait.

 Find a pond with bluegills and fish the shallow water.

 Try one spot for 15 minutes and if you dont catch fish, move to another spot, plying the waters there for another 15 minutes. Move to a third spot if necessary.

 Keep the initial outings to 45 minutes or less because of kids’ short attention spans.

 When the kids catch a fish, let them decide whether to keep it or release it. Let them touch the fish if they wish (our girls always did).

 Bring a camera for pictures.

Outings like this, Long says, will whet kids’ appetite for the sport. "The child will be very, very happy, very involved and grow to love it," he says.

Boating basics

Whether you canoe, kayak, sail or power boat, having fun safely is paramount. With kids in tow, it’s critical. For my family that’s meant making sure the girls learned to swim and requiring them to wear life jackets when the boat is moving (a state law for boaters 13 and younger).

If you’re not sure what type of boating to try, classes and rentals are available throughout the Chicago area. Canoeing is a good first choice. Parents can take lessons and start out with the kids as passengers and pass along the basics to them when they seem ready or ask to learn.

Sherri Graham, a member of the Prairie State Canoeists club (www.prairiestatecanoeists.org), says she and her husband started paddling with their girls when they were 5 and 7.

"The key thing we found was to involve them with trips, letting them make choices" about what river to traverse, which parent to paddle with and menu planning, says the Warrenville resident. As the girls got older they were given more responsibility, eventually canoeing in their own in a smaller canoe.

Graham says canoeing gave her girls, now 20 and 22, skills that translate to other areas of life, especially in terms of leadership and confidence.

For Prairie Canoeist member Ruth Igyarto of Fox Lake, canoeing showed her blended family of six kids (now ages 15 to 31) a different life; they began canoeing as a family when the oldest kids were 7 to 11 years old.

"Canoeing was a means to get the boys out of the city and keep them away from gangs, and it worked," she says. "Our kids met a lot of different people in different fields because of canoeing."

What she most likes about canoeing—and kayaking, which her youngest son has taken up—is that the activity "gives kids a supervised freedom. … [On club paddling trips] they can have a degree of freedom that a lot of young people can’t."

Getting started

Whatever your boating choice, there’s a place to get started in the Chicago area.

 For canoeing and kayaking, check the Illinois Paddling Council’s Web site, www.illinoispaddling.org, which lists several clubs and places that offer instruction.

 The Chicago Park District offers several canoe trips geared toward families with kids 6 and older. The trips are run by the Friends of the Chicago River, which provides equipment and instruction for $10 per family. Trips begin at River Park, 5100 N. Franciso Ave. Dates are June 11 and 16, July 6, Aug. 26, Sept. 30 and Oct. 14; call (312) 742-5039 for details.

 If sailing intrigues you, check out www.chicagoharbors.info and click on "sailing programs," or visit www.ussailing.org, click on "getting started" and then "find a place to sail."

 The Chicago Park District offers youth sailing instruction through its Rainbow Fleet Program and the Judd Goldman Sailing Foundation.

 For the Rainbow Fleet Program, the park district partners with Westrec Marinas to provide sailing instruction for kids ages 10 to 18 in Burnham Harbor at Northerly Island. The season runs June 12 through Sept. 1. Five-day sessions cost $200 and 10-day sessions cost $360 (needs-based scholarships are available). The program runs 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Friday and is open to city residents and suburbanites. Call (312) 745-1700.

 The Judd Goldman Junior Program in the Parks teaches sailing to kids 8 to 12 years old Monday through Thursday through park district summer camps. On Fridays, the program is open to the public, with 16 hours of instruction over an eight-week period available for $50. Scholarships are available. Friday instruction hours are 10 a.m.-noon, 1-3 p.m. and 3:30-5:30 p.m. Instruction takes place at Humboldt Park Lagoon, 1400 N. Sacramento Ave., and Garfield Park Lagoon, 100 N. Central Park Ave. Call (312) 644-3200.

 For canoeing/kayaking and sailing, park and forest preserve districts and recreation departments are also good resources for youth/family classes and equipment rental.

 If your family prefers power boats, be aware that solo operators ages 12 to 18 must possess a boating safety certificate. Kids between those ages can operate a boat without the certificate when supervised by adults older than 18. The state offers free boating safety courses, which can be scheduled by calling (800) 832-2599 or by visiting www.dnr.state.il.us. Click on "mandatory safety programs," then "boating," then "boating safety courses by county." Or kids can take an online course through the IDNR for $15.


Jennifer Burklow is the Chicago Parent copy editor.


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