For many, the lifelong love affair with fly fishing is ignited at an early age. Summer afternoons near the creek or on the banks of a lake provide the ideal classroom for lessons taught by elders who generously pass down knowledge from one generation to the next. Years later, we find ourselves thankful for the enduring memories and opportunities to bond and spend time in the outdoors. As time goes by, an added appreciation for these gestures develops as we become more aware of the patience and understanding required to teach such lessons.
Ultimately, fly fishing serves as more than a hobby, a sport, or an escape, but as a vessel to deliver excitement, valuable experiences, laughter, frustration, and fleeting moments with loved ones—some of whom have passed on, but not before bestowing their insight and passion for fly fishing on us. For adults with children, nieces, nephews, or grandchildren, the opportunity to kindle the love of fly fishing in youth presents itself. While the sacrifice of spending time tying on flies, untangling line, and monitoring safety measures may be daunting, perhaps one day the student will become the teacher, eager to continue the tradition of the fly fishing legacy.
Here are a few tips for teaching youngsters to participate in and grow to love fly fishing.
Tip Number 1: Make Fly Fishing FUN!
Fly fishing is the pursuit of perfection in an imperfect world. It’s one of the reasons we keep coming back for more. So, remember that it can be unrealistic for an adult to expect any youngster (or beginner, for that matter) to avoid the hang ups that plague ALL fly fishers, including impatience, tangled lines, snags, flies caught in bushes, etc. While these annoyances may plague young fly fishers, they are not a reason to abandon a beautiful day spent in nature. Remember, the key is to have fun! Roll with the punches, calmly help youngsters overcome their problems, and even allow them to try to solve problems themselves (such as unraveling a simple tangle), resisting the temptation to jump to providing the solution immediately.
Allow kids to be kids by supporting curiosity. The younger the child, the less likely that they will apply your advice accurately or have the patience to wait for a fish to bite. Keep in mind that a day spent fly fishing is a day of exploration. It’s a time to catch bugs and begin fueling an understanding of entomology and the water. Teaching kids about seams, riffles, pockets, and where fish like to hide can be fun and valuable in their future success.
Tip Number 2: Set Up a Situation for Success
A big component to fun is success. Choose water where you know the fish are accessible and generally biting. You don’t want to bring a youngster into technical conditions or require them to hike up a mountain. For adults, success may be a 20” brown trout, however, to a child, success may be a 3” pan fish caught in a pond. To start, find a place that gives you the best chance for success. If you have the opportunity to hook into a fish, allow the child to reel the fish in, coaching the child about rod angles, pressure, and supporting the child even if/when the fish gets off the line by praising them for what they did well. Should you land the fish, you’ll be amazed at the twinkle in a child’s eye and the excitement they exude. Cherish these moments and use them to help you find even more joy in your own fishing. If the child you are fishing with just isn’t that into fishing, that’s okay! Perhaps one day this will become his/her passion. Maybe it will never happen, but at the very least, there will be fond recollections of an outdoor adventure away from TV, video games, and distracting phone calls.
Tip Number 3: Keep Safety in Mind
While it may be tempting to hand a child a fly rod, complete with a barbed dry fly and say, “Go for it,” logic argues otherwise. The basics of casting can start with something as simple as a stick or toy rod, helping kids to understand grip, arm position, and timing in a safe manner. For smaller children, you can start with a child’s spincasting rod (think the Disney variety). Many of these come with little foam fish a child can “catch” and you can still tie on a fly and a bobber as a foray into fly fishing. A casting practice rod is also a useful tool, as is a fly rod with a yarn/foam type indicator tied to the end of the tippet. Set up some hula hoops and see who can hit the target, which is a great way to keep things safe while also having fun!
While on the water, remember to bring adequate kid-sized gear, including eyewear, sun protection, a hat, waders, etc. This gear is just as important for kids as it is for adults—if not more so. With flies whipping around, it is best to have an article of clothing catch an errantly cast fly than bare skin! Dress for the elements and be cognizant of how extreme temperatures can impact your day. You may want to be selective on which days provide the most comfortable weather and water temperature for a young fly fisher.
Tip Number 4: Keep Things SIMPLE!
Today, there are some fantastic options that simplify fly fishing and allow for a perfect gateway into the sport. First are Tenkara rods, which are traditional Japanese-style rods that feature only a leader and tippet tied to the end of a collapsible rod. Without the complexity of the reel, casting guides, and fly line, most of the moving parts of fly fishing are removed and many of the flies are fished on the water’s surface. Tenkara rods are popular among adults as well, giving you ample excuse to pick one up. Second, youth rods such as the Redington Youth Minnow Fly Rod are shorter in length, accommodating smaller fly fishers. This rod includes helpful features such as alignment dots and a 1-year warranty. You can even buy this rod as a combo outfit, complete with pre-spooled fly line, a canvas rod case, and a Crosswater reel that is transferable to any rod should a youth fly fisher elect for a longer rod in the future.
I’ll never forget the birthday exhilaration that resulted from getting my first fly rod and pair of wading boots., That rod lasted me well into my 30s and served as the perfect small stream rod/goof-around rod at 7’6” in length. The lesson here is this: straight-forward, simple, and shorter setups make for great fly fishing rigs for kids and give them something go grow into. With the holiday season almost here, a new outfit may be just the ticket.
Teaching a youngster to fly fish is giving of yourself and the activity you love. These lessons are opportunities for one-on-one time, bonding, and investing in the future stewards of our wildlife and waterways. Put on your teaching hat, take plenty of photos, and, who knows, you may just have a new fishing buddy for life.