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Streams: The Original Water Park

By Josiah Donaldson

Photos by Josiah Donaldson

This time of year, Virginia’s tree-lined streams, rivers, and ponds are especially inviting. Temperatures and humidity rise, inspiring families to head to the pool or theme park to enjoy the lazy river. This summer, take your kids on an adventure to a different kind of lazy river! Here are some tips and tricks for a fun wade-fishing trip with little ones.

Location. The shallower the access points, the better. Rivers and streams with cobblestone or sandbars with slow to moderate current seem to work best. And remember that while wading in the water from your knees up to your waist may be fine for you, it may be too deep for the little ones! Smaller anglers need to be able to get out of the water from time to time to warm up. Also keep an eye out for rocky spots where kids can skip rocks and turn them over for critters!

A photo of a young girl standing in a creek, holding a crayfish between her fingers and looking at it.

More lives in the water than fish! Kids have a lot of fun finding all kinds of creatures.

Equipment. Let’s say you are an avid angler who can catch a bass out of a puddle of spit! Every rod and reel you own is a minimum of $200.

This is not the time and place for that. Ol’ sqeaky Zebco 33 or that ultralight you bought at a yard sale will be just fine here! Have them rigged up and ready to go. I repeat: Have them rigged up and ready to go before you say you are going. It’s okay to surprise the kids. No 6-year-old wants to wait for you to tie a knot and find the perfect sized split shot and bobber when the fish are biting! A pack of night crawlers is all you need for bait. Also, bring along a bucket for carrying any gear your kids shed and catching “critters.” A white-colored bucket helps kids to see any critters they catch at the bottom. Just remember to release them into the same water and area when you’re done looking!

For clothing, bathing suits and a change of clothes/towel are a must. Water shoes to protect the feet and for traction on wet rocks are also a great idea.

A photo of a crayfish and other invertebrates in a small amount of water in the bottom of a white bucket.

Putting any finds into a white bucket helps kids see what they’ve caught.

Safety. When in doubt, have them wear life jackets and always wear shoes. Masks and snorkels also help kids to catch critters and look at a fish being let go underwater. Bring plenty of snacks and make sure the kids don’t get too cold. And remember to put sunscreen on well before they hit the water and re-apply when needed.

Teach them the proper techniques for holding a spiny fish like a sunfish and how to hold a crayfish without getting pinched. Show them how to read the water and tell where the deep spots are. Point out animal tracks on the bank and quiz them on animal identification.

A photo of multiple animal tracks in mud.

The mud around a pond or stream is a great place to find animal tracks for kids to identify.

Have fun. Remember that it’s an all-inclusive experience out there with kids. If they want to throw rocks in the water after catching one fish, so be it! If your wade-fishing adventure turns into a swimming lesson, then that’s just as fun. You may not do much fishing, and that’s okay. You can come back after that giant bass that won’t bite on your own time later.

Be safe, but remember that if your kids don’t come home muddy, wet, and exhausted, you have done something wrong! Put in the effort and your kids will recall fond memories of an adventure into a world seldom seen but worth the experience.

Josiah Donaldson is a local outdoorsman who is obsessed with rivers.



Click here for our visitor's guide to DWR properties for all the info you need to make sure your adventure is a successful one.
  • May 6, 2024