As a rule of thumb, understand that taking kids on the ice means you are a full service fishing guide, entertainer and coach while at the same time being a fun partner with an open agenda.
Adults are nothing more than big kids who have learned to play the game of life a bit better (usually). Adults get bored, but not as quickly as kids. Adults want to catch lots of fish, but are more willing to wait than kids. Adults get cold, but not as quickly as kids. Seems obvious but most adults forget these facts.
If the child wants to play, read, or do something else besides fishing, let them. They’ll be watching whether you know it or not. If you show that you are enjoying yourself, chances are they’ll want to try it again.
Kids want to be independent and do as much as they can by themselves. There is a fine line to walk between doing it all for them, and letting them try it and fail. Be accommodating and helpful, but when they say ‘I want to try it’ or ‘I can do it myself,’ let them.
Shelter is essential, especially when the temperatures are closer to single-digits or colder. Renting a fish house for the day is a great option, but sometimes a bit expensive. A high quality portable shelter will keep you warm, provide plenty of storage for gear, and is durable enough to hold up to the wear and tear that only kids seem capable of dishing out. If you can fish on a lake where roads are plowed and someone can direct you so driveable ice, a vehicle can serve as a shelter—just make sure to follow all the precautions. Ice is never totally safe to drive on and conditions change rapidly.
A numbers game
Unless they are already seasoned anglers, most kids would rather catch five one-pound fish than a single five-pound fish. Kids crave the action of fishing and numbers will have them asking to go again.
Separate your fishing experience from theirs. If you are taking a child out fishing, you are the guide and they are the client. If they get sick of catching little perch and tell you they want to catch walleye, then go for it.
On the other hand, if they want to play on the ice for awhile, this can give you a chance to pop a few more holes and find active fish. Keep fishing hard if you must and when you find the action get the kids on it. Just don’t lost sight of the overall goal, spending time together, so maybe it’s a better idea to put down the fishing rod and play too.
Everything you do in the outdoors has potential for misery–it’s how you respond to it that makes the difference. A child is probably going to get cold at some point in time and want to go home, but if they had lots of fun as well, they are going to want to go again.
Stay warm and dry
Keeping warm is harder for kids than it is for adults. Keep them comfortable and they will usually stay on the ice longer.
If you have a depth finder or underwater camera, bring it with you. It can help your fishing success and give the child something else to look at besides a hole in the ice.
Short trips are always better than long trips. So start out close to home and plan on being out for a few hours. Have some snacks along and don’t forget the hot chocolate.
Remember that kids sometimes need a lot of processing time and don’t always make up their minds very quickly. If you ask whether or not they had a great time, you might not get the answer you want or they might focus on a minor detail rather than the big picture.
If they don’t give you the answer you want the first time, give them more time. Ask them a month later and they may have changed their mind. If not, give them until next season and ask again. It’s only a problem if you stop asking!