Many parents are eager to lure their kids away from the digital screens and devices that transfix them and get them outside to enjoy some fresh air and sunshine. And while South Dakota obviously offers plenty of ways to do so, many parents forget about one of the very best options: Heading down to the water to catch some fish.

Fishing is a great way to spend an afternoon with your kids, and most youngsters will jump at the opportunity to do so. Fishing is great for your health, and it often becomes a lifelong hobby for children who have fun during their first few outings. So, you’ll want to do everything possible to make sure they have a great time at the water and, most importantly, catch a couple of fish.

You can never guarantee that a given fishing trip will be a successful one, but, with a little preparation, you can certainly increase your odds of hooking a few big ones. Just follow the suggestions below and you’ll be well on your way.

1. Set your kids up with gear that is suitable for their size and age.

Don’t make the mistake of handing your child one of your hand-me-down rods. Chances are, it’ll be too long for them to control and your usual baitcasting reel may also be too complicated for them to operate.

2. Ignore the famous gamefish and target the species you can actually catch.

Experienced anglers often enjoy fishing for largemouth bass, northern pike, walleye or other celebrated gamefish, but these species are often quite challenging to catch – that is, after all, part of their appeal. In South Dakota, this usually means fishing for perch, bluegill (and other panfish, such as orange-spotted sunfish, green sunfish and pumpkinseeds) or catfish. All three species are typically abundant in lakes, rivers and small ponds, and they’re rarely difficult to catch.

3. Use real baits rather than fancy artificial lures.

Artificial lures can be quite effective in the hands of a skilled angler, but few kids will have the skill and finesse necessary to animate them in a manner that will appeal to fish. Additionally, artificial lures are very easy to snag on underwater logs and rocks. Instead, use earthworms, leeches, crickets, mealworms or small minnows when fishing with your kids. You can even use corn kernels or doughballs, and these baits are less likely to gross out your kids – they may even be willing to bait their own hooks with these baits.

4. Pick a location with healthy fish populations and the amenities kids need.

The location you choose will significantly influence your chances of catching fish. Pick a good location, and your kids will get plenty of nibbles and hook several fish; pick a bad location, and they’ll spend all day staring blankly at the water wondering why people think that fishing is fun.

Some of the best places to try in South Dakota include:

  • Pactola Lake is the largest reservoir in the Black Hills region, and it hosts an impressive rainbow trout population.
  • The Belle Fourche Reservoir is an 8,000-acre reservoir with 58 miles of shoreline to fish for catfish and other species with your kids.
  • Angostura Reservoir is full of perch, bluegill and crappie, and it provides 36 miles of shoreline, making it easy to find a good spot to fish with your kids.

Just remember to look for a wide-open stretch of shoreline without very much foot traffic while your kids are learning how to cast. And whenever possible, try to select a spot that doesn’t feature a lot of overhanging trees or sunken brush to help prevent snags.

5. Fish alongside your kids to improve the group’s chances.

You’ll likely have your hands full baiting hooks, untangling lines and settling territorial casting disputes among your kids while teaching them to fish, but try your best to keep your own line in the water. You are more likely to notice nibbles and successfully hook fish than they are, and this will give you the opportunity to pass your rod off to one of your kids so that he or she can reel in the fish. Just be sure that you alternate between your children so that everyone gets a chance to pose for a photo with a fish.


Just remember that fishing is supposed to be fun above all else. Keep a positive attitude no matter how trying the conditions are or how elusive the fish prove to be. Also, be sure to provide your kids with plenty of encouragement when they need a pick-me-up and celebrate their successes alongside them.

Don’t forget to obtain a South Dakota fishing license before you head to the water – you’ll want to be sure to set a good example for your kids. Youngsters under 16 don’t need a license, but you and any other adults in your party will need one. If you’re a veteran, many states offer discounts. Whether you’re staying in the Black Hills or heading across state lines, check out which states offer veterans fishing license discounts.

If you’d like to learn a few more tips and tricks for making your kids’ first fishing trip one to remember, check out the comprehensive guide on the subject over at Outdoor Empire. There, you’ll learn a little more about selecting the best gear and equipment for your kids, picking the best bait for the occasion, and deciding which location will give you the best chance to catch fish.

Photos by Chris Valencia