Family vacations and gatherings have taken a different turn during this summer of living with and adapting to Covid-19 issues. Fortunately, pursuing various fishing and boating activities is not only possible but recommended, meaning that there are many family outdoor activities that you can enjoy while keeping your family safe, healthy, and happy. Let me tell you how I just spent a week of family outdoor activities, and perhaps you can adapt some or all of this to find things to do outside with kids.
For the second summer in a row, my distant-living daughter and her family were able to spend a week with my wife and me at our coastal home. We focused on fishing and boating activities with our 5- and 7-year-old grandchildren.
- Playing a Nature Game. I love the idea of doing an outside nature-themed activity such as a scavenger hunt or filling up an identification list of critters/birds/fish, especially if there’s an educational component. My wife and I devised a game we call “Nature Bingo” to entertain and educate our grandchildren. It involves a 5×5 box of squares and list of things to accomplish and/or discover. Those range from observing different animals, birds, amphibians, crabs, and the like, to helping fillet a fish that they catch, learning to cast a fishing rod, and paddling a kayak. It gets the kids interested in, and educated about, different outdoor flora and fauna, and filling up the entire bingo card is rewarded with an ice cream cake.
- Crab Catching. The kids and their parents went right to our dock, which sits on a tidal creek, soon after arriving, and in no time we had them working baited handlines to catch blue crabs. Dock fishing for crabs can be done off most accessible piers and is something young and old alike can enjoy, using chicken parts or fish heads as bait. We also put out larger crab pots, and the combined catch helped contribute to an seafood feast.
- Bait Gathering. Children love being involved in gathering or catching bait, and once they’ve learned how, they’ll often do this on their own and with great pride. This might mean scouring lawns for nightcrawlers, wading shallow creeks for hellgrammites or crayfish, baiting and setting various forms of traps, etc. I have traps that we bait with parts of filleted fish, and the kids love to check them each day to see if they’ve caught mummichogs, spot, and other small fish, which we can then use for our angling efforts.
- Kayaking. Kayaking can be a great activity, even if children are too young or small to paddle on their own. With a large enough cockpit- or sit-on-top-kayak, a paddling parent or grandparent can take a youngster along as passenger. Children as young as 6 or 7 who have the will and the physical ability can solo paddle an appropriate-sized kayak on their own in calm and protected waters, or they can sit in front of you in a tandem kayak and help paddle. Kayak rentals are widely available, and renting is a good way to get first exposure, explore unfamiliar waters, and paddle without the need to transport boats.
- Family Fishing. Obviously, fishing is one of the penultimuate family outdoor activities in summer. We took our grandkids fishing twice, with striped bass, bluefish, and speckled trout on the agenda. The kids had never caught these fish before so it was a whole new enjoyable experience. They helped clean the fish afterward, and then ate the fresh catch for dinner, which is as good as it gets when it comes to seafood. Whatever kind of fishing you do, if it involves young children, keep it simple, relatively short, and at a time and place when you can reasonably expect success. The middle of a roasting midsummer day is not usually a good time to be fishing.
- Beach Going. Also an obvious and popular family diversion, beach going is something that can be enjoyed through the hottest part of the day. We went to the beach twice, collected more shells than we knew what to do with, and watched such wildlife as crabs, turtles, shorebirds, pelicans, terns, and the ubiquitous seagulls.
- Tube Towing. If you have a boat and young kids, one of the most fun water-based activities is towing the young ones sitting in or laying on a towable tube, which come in a wide variety of models. I used to have a bullet-shaped two-person towable tube that one person laid on or two people sat on, but this year we used a two-person sit-in tube. Towable-tube riding is a hit with almost all kids, and, unlike water skiing (which I did as a youngster and is also a lot of fun), anyone can do it without a learning curve or the need for strength or good balance.
Remember that you must have an older observer in the boat (check local regulations) in addition to the driver, and you should follow manufacturer instructions for tube use (such as passenger weight and boat speed) as well as safe boating practices.
On a final note, make sure that youngsters wear their PFDs for all boating activity, as this is required, and that you have appropriate fishing licenses for all who need them.