Finding Hidden Treasure with your Kids

swedish-fishFinding Hidden Treasure with your Kids

By Wolfgang Lohrer

Fishing with kids can be a huge challenge, especially if your kids are young or have short attention spans. To ensure success, plan your fishing trip to include more than one activity besides fishing – especially for when times the fish won’t bite.

Many kinds of treasures for kids can be found at their feet, along the shorelines of lakes, streams and rivers. Treasures can include pretty rocks, insects or vertebrates like the salamander, one of my favorite little critters. Most kids will love searching for and finding salamanders, I did and still enjoy the activity.

The forest floor holds more of these vertebrates than any other place. The Great Lakes area has over a dozen different kinds of salamanders for your kids to uncover and discover. Salamanders can also be found throughout the United States. Stream beds and wetland areas are perfect places to fish and too search for salamanders and dozens of other shy critters that call these areas home. A word of caution though, be prepared for the “What is this” game because your kids will ask lots of questions. These questions will help educate your kids and enable you to introduce conservation, ecology, and outdoor ethics in an interesting and fun way.

Salamanders are amphibians that retain their tail as adults, in contrast to frogs. They look a little like lizards, except they don’t have scales.  Their skin is soft to the touch. They range from the size of a fish fry, to the size of a small, plump trout about 13 inches.

If you think your kids will enjoy looking for “forest lizards” ask them prior to your fishing trip. I’ll bet most kids will say, “Yeah, what is a forest lizard?” You can then begin your discussion about salamanders before your fishing trip begins. This should get your gets more excited for the trip and provide a good opportunity to begin learning about what they might find. You should also discuss the kinds of fish you might catch.

hooking-minnow-andre-cuThe best way to find salamanders is to look for them in forests with lots of leaf litter and near a body of water. Look in low spots, they’re unlikely to be high and dry. Have your kids lift up every log they can find, but be ready to move quickly. They scurry away quickly, or sit hidden and camouflaged. When you find a salamander let your kids handle it gently, but don’t forget to put them back where you found them so the wildlife the log supports can keep living!

One of the most common salamanders is the western Red-backed salamander, commonly distributed across North America. A great find is the Eastern Tiger Salamander. It is one of the largest land salamanders in the U.S.  Typically black with yellow stripes, the Eastern Tiger salamander is worthy of a few pictures with your kids, so don’t forget your digital memory maker.

As youngsters, salamanders can be very interesting and the subject of several nicknames including waterdogs. Baby salamanders have feathery gills instead of internal gills like frog tadpoles. They develop four legs before they lose their gills. Some people use their larva as fish bait, but because they are becoming rare it is wise to choose other baits alternatives.

Once you actually get the hang of finding salamanders, you can take some pictures, but be sure to put them back where you found them.  Salamanders are important to the ecosystem because they keep the insect and spider populations down and in check.  Searching for salamanders is not only great fun, it’s a great way to keep your kids interested in your local ecosystem.

Sidebar: What you will need
1. A child
2. A wet area
3. Logs or stones to look under
4. A container
5. A net (optional)
6. Camera (optional)
7. Reptiles and Amphibians guide (optional)

About John L. Beath

John Beath is a writer, photographer, videographer, blogger, tackle manufacturer & Captain at Whaler's Cove Lodge in Southeast Alaska. He is also owner of and host at Lets Talk Outdoors @
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