Ask any parent for advice on taking kids fishing, and you’ll get a different answer each time. Some swear by snacks, some swear by starting with certain species, others say the answer lies in other activities like rock throwing and swimming.
The most important part of fishing with your kid is being sure your kid actually catches fish. And while it’s true that anyone can catch a fish on just about anything given the right circumstances, having the right kids fishing pole can help a lot. The chances of a 5-year old catching a fish are much higher on a short spinning pole than, say, a spey rod.
Ultimately, the biggest mistake a parent can make Is not taking their kid out at all. Kids have surprising patience for fishing if you take them to the right place and equip them with the right gear. And the best news? Kids fishing gear is surprisingly affordable, which is also great considering at some point like everything else, your child will grow out of it. I tested several of the best kids fishing poles with the help of my child and here are my favorites.
Why It Made the Cut
It’s a really good, sturdy rod for when you’re fishing from a boat and don’t need one that collapses.
- Cork handle
- 2+1 stainless steel ball bearings in the reel
- Soft touch knob
- Japanese 24 ton HTC blank construction
- Comes in a variety of lengths
- Casts well
- Doesn’t come with line
This sturdy, one-piece rod will keep your young angler on the water for seasons. It’s strong enough you can horse a fish in without worrying about breaking it and it casts well. My 6-year-old daughter muscled in a 24-inch walleye from a boat in the middle of a lake in Wyoming. The rod flexed plenty but held strong and brought the fish to a net. Know that it doesn’t come with line, so you’ll need to add your own. Bottom line: This rod is good enough to last a young person well into high school or beyond, when they’re either old enough to need another rod or have saved enough money to buy one. It’s also a decent rod for adults if you want to keep it around for yourself and any young anglers you may have along.
- 2-feet 6-inches
- Comes with line
- Closed reel
Why It Made the Cut
This is a relatively easy fishing pole for kids to cast and use to reel in a fish. It’s more durable than you would think, and is the perfect way to get a young child started.
- Relatively easy to cast for a pole its size
- Closed face for easy line maintenance
- Surprisingly sturdy
- Fun themes
- Limitation on cast distance
The obvious benefit of this fishing pole is that it comes in a variety of movie themes. Our daughter happened to be going through a Frozen phase. She has caught innumerable fish from the end of its line using everything from big dry flies to a worm under a bobber. The button allows kids to learn how to let out line as they cast. The line is relatively durable as is the rod, and because the line feeds through eyelets, it helps them learn to be more conscious of tangles without having serious issues with tangles. It can also cast farther than you would think for its length. But because it’s short, even a 4 or 5 year old can handle it well. We’ve used that rod on lakes and rivers across Wyoming and the West for several years. It also works for ice fishing for kids, or, as we’ve discovered, adults. That’s why it’s my recommendation as one of the best kids fishing poles.
- 34 inches long
- Line feeds through fishing pole
- Comes with casting plug and safety hook
- Variety of colors
Why It Made the Cut
This simple pole has a line that threads through the middle meaning small children learning to fish don’t have to worry about as many possibilities for tangles. It also comes with a plastic fish to offer immediate (if superficial) rewards.
- Small and easy to cast
- Line is in the pole for reduced maintenance
- Comes with a plastic fish for immediate reward
- Difficult to cast any distance
This was the first fishing pole I used with my daughter, and she started casting off a bridge with it shortly after she learned to walk. She wasn’t casting so much as pushing the button and watching the plastic fish at the bottom drop into the river, but because she was so young, that fish made her feel as though she was getting something. It also gave her experience holding a rod and reeling to begin building some of those motor skills. When she was 3, she used it to reel in northern pike from a boat on a lake in Alaska. To be clear, this isn’t a good rod for kids long term. You will need something different as they age, and I don’t know if I would buy it for a first-time 12-year-old angler, but for those kids who are getting started young, it’s a great fit.
- Aluminum spool with 4-pound monofilament line
- Comes with bait and tackle
- 5 feet
Why It Made the Cut
This handy, two-piece fishing pole is made for collapsing and carting around. It also handles well for kids and adults.
- Two piece
- Bungee strap to keep the pieces connected and loop to hold them there
- Good length for slightly older kids
- Casts well
- Much of what is in the kit is only moderately useful
We used this rod on two backpacking trips into the Wind River Range in central Wyoming, lugging it well over 50 backcountry miles, and it held up well. The reel and line cast smoothly for kids. While it’s a little long and big for young kids, it is a great fit for budding anglers in early elementary school up through middle or even high school. At 5 feet, the rod is easy to handle and has a nice action. The elastic in the rod helps keep your pieces together, as do the bungee straps.
- 8-feet long
- 5 weight
- Bright yellow
- 2-piece graphite
Why It Made the Cut
If you want a cheap fly rod that punches above its weight for a budding fly angler in your house—especially if you have a reel sitting around you can use along with it—this may fit the bill.
- Good length for beginners
- Also a good fit for adults
- A little heavy for small children
The White River Fly Shop Cricket Fly Rod is one of the best beginner fly rods for a house that already has fly anglers and fly fishing gear because you’ll need a reel, fly line, backing, and leader to complete the outfit. If you don’t have those items handy you can always add them to the cart and spool your line by watching an instructional video.
At around $50, it’s a little more money than some of the cheaper fly rod and reel kits, but the rod is surprisingly durable. I strapped it to the outside of my backpacking backpack for a 7-mile trek into the Wind River Range in Wyoming and it held up well. It doesn’t come with a rod tube, and I wasn’t sure how it would handle the trip and associated fishing and bushwhacking. I didn’t baby it like my Sage and Orvis rods and it held up well. An 8-year old on the trip used it to catch and reel in a handful of Colorado River cutthroat trout using dry flies. Even for adults, the rod’s casting action is pretty fun using everything from small dry flies to larger grasshopper imitations. Be aware that it is a two-piece rod. It’s also a little heavy for a small child, but worked perfect for young anglers eager to try fly casting. The yellow color (listed as the color “fun”) was also popular for each of our little fisherwomen.
Things to Consider When Buying Fishing Poles for Kids
How old is your child?
Older kids will have a slightly easier time with a fly rod because they can understand the concept better than a 2 or 3 year old. The younger the child the fewer things you want them to think about, which makes a spinning rod with a closed reel and a button easier for younger kids and a fly rod or open-faced spinning rod easier for older kids. Certainly they can all use either, but for ease of beginning, consider the child’s age.
How much experience does your child have?
Has your kid fished before? A child who has grown up fishing might be ready for a fly rod a little earlier than someone who is just starting. They also might have a better idea of how to manage line and how to reel, which means you could buy a longer, open-faced reel instead of a smaller, simpler, closed-face one.
Where will you be fishing?
Will you be fishing on a lake from a boat or will you be fishing on streams or the side of kids’ fishing ponds? If there’s much brush behind you, consider spinning rods before fly rods because there’s less for the child to catch behind them. If you’ll be trolling from a boat you’ll want a stronger rod than if you’re casting into a pond or a smaller lake.
Q: Do you really need a rod for kids?
Yes and no. Can a kid catch a fish on just about anything? Sure. I’ve seen 7 and 8-year olds on the ocean catching fish with a hook and some cutbait attached to line wrapped around an old water bottle. But are you going to have a much easier time with your kid fishing with a rod meant for them? Absolutely. It will be more fun for them and more fun for you and the more fun they have the higher likelihood they are to want to keep fishing. So find one that works for them for both of your sakes.
Q: When is too young to start fly fishing?
It depends. Our daughter caught a Colorado cutthroat trout out of a beaver pond on a dry fly when she was 2 years old, but it was heavily supervised and my husband helped her cast and reel it in. She’s 6 years old now and using a fly rod slightly more. It definitely gets easier the older they are. They need to understand the concept of casting a fly into the water ever if they aren’t backcasting much. If you’re starting your kid fishing young, you’re probably better off with a spinning rod that helps them cast farther and helps prevent flies in the face and bushes or trees behind them. They will build more independence earlier on with a spinning rod than a fly rod.
Q: What are the best fish to start them on?
While this isn’t a fishing gear question, it does relate to gear. If possible, start your kid on fish that come to the surface or will quickly bite something underneath a bobber. The more your child sees the interaction between their fly and bait and the fish, the more they will understand what they should do.
After using half a dozen or more rods with my child and fished with a number of other kids with various fishing poles, I can say buying one of the best kids fishing poles is important. We still allow our daughter to use our fly rods in certain circumstances, but she prefers her own rod and reel that fits her and allows her to take ownership over her fishing adventures.
These rods were tested by several children ages 5 to 8 on lakes filled with various species of trout. Some of the rods were also used on lakes with walleye trolling and on high alpine streams over the course of weeks during the summer.