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Tips for a great fishing experience with your kids

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Be a part of this year’s "Take a Kid Fishing Day" at Mark’s Outdoors on Saturday, June 22, starting at 9 a.m. The first 150 kids ages 16 and under will receive a free rod and reel while supplies last. Learn more at marksoutdoors.com or by calling 205-822-2010.

Fishing can be a fantastic sport for parents and children to share. It's an opportunity for your family to break free from hectic schedules, enjoy the fresh air, and create lifelong memories. Plus, fishing can be an ideal sport for kids of all ages.

"Some of my fondest memories were made with my father and being on the water," says Mark Whitlock. "It was a way for us to slow down time and enjoy being in the moment. From fishing the bank of a local lake to offshore fishing and catching my first redfish in Mobile Bay. I not only appreciate those memories, but they have stuck with me and will always be with me.

"A memory does not go away like how the latest iPhone is replaced with a better one next year. Spend your time and money on something that can make a lifelong impact. No matter how busy my dad got, he always made time to be with his kids and take us outdoors. Unfortunately, he passed away in 2012, but I think he would be impressed or at least be happy with all the memories that I have held onto."

When fishing with children, there are a few things to consider for your fishing trip to be a success. Keep these tips in mind before you head out:

If you're choosing to fish from shore, find an easily accessible area. A short drive and a short walk to your spot are best. The goal is to introduce a great new sport to your child. You don't want them to be so tired when you get there that he or she will be too unhappy or unable to enjoy fishing. Consider choosing a shallow area where tiny fish can be seen. Preschoolers may not want to wait a few hours just to catch a fish or two. Consider setting your child up for success by choosing a spot where you know there are fish. Go to a tried-and-true location where you know the fish will be biting. Smaller ponds that are well-stocked are also a good choice. Children may dream of catching the huge trophy fish, but starting small is usually the best bet. Bringing in a thrashing giant fish may be scary for kids who are new to fishing.

Your child's age will largely determine the length of time you spend fishing. Be prepared to stay only as long as your child is interested. If after a while, your child is fidgety or running all over and isn't paying attention, it's time to go. Kids are impatient and can get bored quickly. Forcing them to stay out by the water for an entire day could turn them off to fishing altogether. Plan on a short trip and if the kids are having fun and want to stay out longer, then stay and enjoy! They might want to fish for a while, and then go off chasing frogs or searching for turtles.

Provide your child with easy-to-use tackle. Many simple poles are designed specifically for kids. These rods are more appealing and less frustrating for smaller hands. You can cast for your child and then give your child the rod. You can also attach a sinker so your child can release the line straight into the water. If using live bait and hooking the worm, be aware of your reactions and remember that your children are watching—if you make handling the worm sound disgusting, kids may become squeamish and won't want to touch it. Many children are actually fascinated by live bait.

Make a checklist before you leave. Include items such as snacks, water, sunscreen, bug repellent, first-aid gear, lifejackets, and a camera.

Keep water safety in mind. When selecting your fishing spot, look for stable ground, and be aware of hazards such as rocks that children could slip on into the water. There's no need to frighten your child about the water but be sure to discuss the rules. If you're fishing from a boat, children should always wear life vests. Teach your child safety procedures such as lowering the rod and keeping it below the waist. It's important to wash up after handling fish, so keep a supply of moist towelettes or hand sanitizer in your tackle box.

Most importantly, remember to have fun, enjoy the outdoors, and be safe. Take pictures of your child with his or her prize catch. As your child's attention span gets longer, so will your fishing trips, and you'll be making memories that you and your child will cherish for a lifetime.

"I want someone to enjoy and have the same memories, with their parents, as I did," Whitlock says. "You never know how long your time is on this earth, and your fishing trips can end much faster than you think. If I can get one parent and child to go fishing and create a memory, then I feel like I did my job right. I want to share what I have experienced with others, and maybe one day, they can pass that along to further generations."

Mark's Outdoors in Vestavia is your complete hunting and fishing store. If you are planning a fishing trip with your child, come by the Mark's Outdoors Fishing Department and they will do everything they can to prepare you for a successful day on the water.

Be a part of this year's "Take a Kid Fishing Day" at Mark's Outdoors on Saturday, June 22, starting at 9 a.m. The first 150 kids ages 16 and under will receive a free rod and reel while supplies last. Learn more at marksoutdoors.com or by calling 205-822-2010.