I have vivid memories of my parents taking us camping and fishing when I was a little girl. We would load up the VW bus with sleeping bags, camp stove, food, fishing poles, and other camping supplies. My sisters and I would giggle with excitement as the bus pulled out of the driveway. We usually headed to the Smoky Mountains, and would always camp by a river. During the days we played endlessly, fine tuning our rock skipping skills, swimming, and (of course) fishing. Each night, Mom would fry the “catch de jour” with lemon and brown sugar, followed by a long evening roasting marshmallows by the fire. The good memories still linger.
When I hear parents say “We don’t camp anymore because of the kids”, I understand. The logistics of feeding, changing diapers, and keeping tabs on your little ones can feel overwhelming, but it doesn’t have too be. With a bit of planning and the right gear, you and the kids can go camping and fishing, and make your own memories that last a lifetime.
I remember the first multi-day float we took Tegan on. The night before we packed the usual gear… food, rods, waders, camping gear…we’ll call that “Marty & Mia Stuff”. Then there was “Tegan’s stuff”. With a toddler in tow, there was a LOT more gear. Toys, snacks, diapers, blankie, play pen, etc, ect, ect. We were constantly second guessing ourselves. Did we remember everything? What if we run out of diapers?
Tegan was 6 months old on that first trip. The more we did it, the packing became easier. At 10 months old, we did a multi-day float on the Deschutes River. As we made our way down the river, I remember noticing how memorized she was by the motion of the water and the sound of the waves splashing against the hull. We set up camp, and Marty and I would take turns fishing a run and watching Tegan. We both got plenty of fishing time in and playing with Tegan. Picking up rocks, finding bugs, and playing in the sand brought back so many memories of my parents doing the same with me as a kid.
By the time Tegan was 4, these trips became way easier. She no longer needed be carried or kept in a car seat. She would entertain herself for hours in the sand, color in her favorite book, play with “tickle bugs” (AKA Salmon Flies), collect October Caddis, or build “Fairy” forts out of sticks.
Below are a few recommended items to pack before your next adventure with your kids on the river:
Drift boats are awesome. The hard walls and high sides provide protection from the weather and water and just feel safer for a toddler.
Recommended items for kids ages 1-3: Car seat that can be placed on the floor, life jacket and an Ergo carrier. With an Ergo carrier we could fish a run and Tegan would be snuggled close in front till she was 8 months and after that I would sling her on my back. Also, always pack a few extra diapers in case you decide to stay a few extra days.
Recommended items for kids 3-7: toys, coloring or watercolors, pad of paper, life jacket and snacks. Watercolors have been a blast to have on the river. Simple to pack, and painting what we see on the water can provide hours of fun.
Tegan was six this summer, and all she wanted so do was row the boat, and get her hands on a fly rod. Without hesitation, I’d hand over the reigns, and watch with a smile. There’s and endless amount of stimulation for kids on the river.
Parents: take your kids fishing. Get ’em started early, and they’ll love it forever.
(Above: Tegan Sheppard displaying some mad skills @ the 2010 Sandy River Spey Clave.)
Mia Sheppard is the “real deal”. Two time distance casting champion, fly-fishing instructor, advocate for new anglers in the sport, and working to conserve the rivers I love while sharing these outdoor adventures with our daughter Tegan. Mia and her husband Marty operate Little Creek Outfitters, a guide service providing trips on the John Day, Deschutes, and Sandy River for Steelhead and Smallmouth Bass.
Check out Mia’s blog HERE.