Fly fishing is a great way to get your kids involved in a fun, rewarding hobby – and to get them to unplug from the hectic world around them. if you’re looking to instill a sense of confidence and excitement in your child’s life, fly fishing is definitely the way to go.
Your first time experimenting with fly fishing with young ones can be a bit intimidating, especially when you consider the sharp hooks involved! Yet there are very few experiences that are quite as rewarding as watching your child reel in their first big catch, and witnessing the sheer exhilaration on their face. Here’s some tips to help you be successful.
Manage expectations. While you can do everything in your power to make sure your kids catch fish, there will be some days where the final haul is less than expected. Try to make the day about enjoying the weather, practicing casts, and exploring the river, and your kids won’t be quite as disappointed when they don’t catch as many fish (or any fish) as they expected.
Make sure you manage your expectations as well. If it’s only the second or third time your kid has held a fly rod, you’re probably going to end up with a lot of hooks in the trees – no matter how often you’ve repeated the instructions and helped your son practice his cast. There’s a sharp learning curve involved with fly fishing, especially for small hands.
Know when it’s appropriate
While you may want to get your kid out on the water as soon as they are old enough to walk – and there’s nothing wrong with giving this a try – know that you might not have a successful trip until your child is at least eight or so. Any younger than that, and they may not have the attention span necessary to remain captivated by a day on the river.
Fly fishing requires a lot of focus and attention, which young children often have for various pursuits, but if it’s a slow day and you’re not catching much, they may quickly lose that interest. Even worse, they may become jaded with the entire sport at a very young age and never be willing to try it again. Wait until your son or daughter is a bit older, and you’ll likely have better results.
If you’re just itching to get a fishing rod in their hands and they haven’t yet entered kindergarten, consider purchasing a toy rod and reel to help them develop their coordination. Just remember that when you do get ready to bring your kid out for the first time, they should be strong swimmers and always wear life jackets when the conditions dictate a necessity for them.
Simulate the real experience in a dry environment first
I already mentioned the importance of repeating instructions and first teaching the procedures before getting your child out on the water. This is incredibly important. Your son or daughter will be continuously disappointed if they keep hooking themselves on a cast, and you have to remember that this is a pretty scary incident for some young kids (and likely for you, as well!).
Instead, practice casting in the backyard before you attach some hooks and get dangling branches and stumps involved. Practice in a dry environment before you have them head out on the lake or river. This will give them more confidence when they’re in the real setting, and is a great way to manage their excitement when conditions aren’t quite right to be on the water yet (like in the late winter months).
Pick a great location
Scout your location out ahead of time. Try to select an area that’s relatively flat and grassy, ideally where there’s room to play and relax when a break is needed. Remember that one of the biggest challenges of bringing your kids fly fishing is keeping an eye on your kids and preventing injury. Don’t pick a location with lots of rough spots or where there’s a heightened risk of injury.
Try to pick a spot where there’s a good chance you’ll catch some fish. Consider a stocked pond or stream. You might even be able to find one that’s designed specifically for kids, which is a good bet to get them hooked immediately – no pun intended. Even if you catch the same fish over and over again, the excitement for your child isn’t in the take-home catch, its’ the number of times they get to reel in that fish.
Keep an eye on the weather
It’s a good idea to monitor the weather forecast before you head out on the water. A calm body of water can turn into a treacherous death trap almost immediately under the right (or wrong?) weather conditions, and can turn an otherwise pleasant trip into a life-or-death situation.
If you’re brave, bring a bunch
Kids will want to do what their friends are doing, so if you are brave (or have a few parents that are willing to sacrifice a few hours with you) take a passel of kids out on the water. The kids will want to keep trying to improve their fishing technique and catch to impress their friends, and will likely have one heck of a fun time doing it!
Again, the fly fishing experience isn’t just about catching fish. Make a full day of it, and encourage the kids to explore the river bank. They should get dirty! They can collect rocks and shells and dig for worms. This is a great way for them to learn about how to identify different species of flies and other bugs, along with weather patterns, types of currents, and plants.
Teach them how to tie flies
Familiarize your son or daughter with the different types of flies, as well as what those species look like in real life. Once they’ve mastered their identification skills, they can progress to learning about which flies attract different types of fish, and under which conditions.
Then, something I’ve found very rewarding is teaching my kids about how to tie their own flies. This is pretty tricky, and is best suited to kids that are young teenagers or older, as they will have developed the dexterity in their fingers necessary to be successful at this challenging pursuit.
Fly tying is a great way for kids to be involved in the hobby during the cold winter months, and as a side note, they can even make some money by selling flies back to local sporting goods shops! What better way to encourage their participation in this hobby than to let them make a bit of a profit at the same time?
Don’t make it JUST about the fishing
There are plenty of other things to do on a fly fishing excursion, and once your kid starts showing a lack of interest in the fish, it’s time to shift gears. It’s not about you – it’s about getting your kid interested in fishing, and forcing him or her to fish longer than he or she wants to is just a recipe for disaster and full-blown meltdowns.
Instead, bring a net and let them hunt down some frogs or butterflies. Have them dig for bait in the dirt. Explore some local trails. The opportunities are endless!
Bring a full fly box and plenty of rods
You might need to start your son or daughter off with a spincasting rod, which of course isn’t used for fly fishing in the traditional sense but can help your kids get interest in fishing earlier on. These rods, when used in conjunction with a transparent bobber, will let your kid fish right next to you and enjoy the excitement of fishing without having to master the technique.
Bring a ton of equipment so that you’re prepared no matter what your kids’ interests or the fishing conditions throw at you.
This one is a tip for good parenting as a whole – not just for fly fishing. Be extremely patient with your child and remember that you didn’t learn how to fly fishin a day, and they won’t either. Keep it fun and reward your child often, either verbally or tangibly.
That being said, make sure you organize the conditions so that patience comes a little easier. Bring plenty of snacks, drinks, sunscreen, and bug spray, so you don’t have to worry about those minor annoyances like hunger and sunburn!
Teach a variety of casts
Start teaching casts early on in the process. You can use your yard, a swimming pool, or a nearby pond to demonstrate the roll cast. I’ve used a hula hood on the lawn to help create a large target before, which my kids love. You can also help your child learn how to cast by having them hold the rod while you make the cast.
Turn this into a fun competition. Have them compete with their friends or siblings by seeing who can cast into the hula hoop the most times, and offer small prizes as a reward. This will help them learn how to deliver a strong forward cast without having to worry about snagging a limb (or your face!) and they’ll feed good about themselves in the process.
Get them the right gear
You don’t need anything fancy for the first few times you go fly fishing, especially if it’s too early to tell if your son or daughter is going to be interested enough in this hobby for you to invest some serious money. In fact, I advise waiting a while before you go whole-hog and drop tons of cash on fly rods and clothes. You never know when their interests will change!
However, there’s some good starter equipment that will help you make them comfortable fly fishing without having to spend a ton of money. For example, the Orvis Encounter Combo Kit is designed for young, beginning fishermen, and is equipped with a fly rod, storage tube, reel, line, and backing, with a price tag of less than $200.
It doesn’t really matter whether you go with a kit or a standalone rod and reel, but you should try to get your child a nine-foot, five-weight fly rod, as it’s the most versatile and easy to use for young hands. There are some inexpensive GORE-TEX waders on the market as well, designed specifically for kids, so that they last until another growth spurt hits. Or, you can opt for simple youth wading boots. I personally wouldn’t bother with flies, leaders, and boxes, as they can use yours, but if they really want a set of their own, start them out with some Woolly buggers, san Juan worms, and a simple foam tackle box.
Listen and praise often
Ignore a few bad strokes or loops. Praise those that were done well and notice your child’s progress. Positive reinforcement is key here. Be sure to ask your kids what they like about the sport, as well as about their other interests. This is a great bonding experience for both of you.
Set a challenge, and be sure to reward
Set goals for yourself, as a teacher, as well as for your child, working with him or her to establish a good goal for the day’s session of fishing. Try not to make it about something that’s difficult to control or quantify, like number of fish caught, and instead of about something that is easily monitored and targeted, such as mastering a certain cast.
Rewards can be something simple. Think about age-appropriate rewards like breaks, treats, or even new fishing trips. Provide rewards that are related to the task – larger goals that are met should be rewarded with larger prizes. I used to reward my kids by providing them with a no-holds barred trip to the ice cream parlor for a mastered cast, as an example. Your reward system doesn’t have to be as indulgent and sugary – just do whatever works best for you and your family!
Book an excursion
This one is best saved for later on in the process, but if your finances and schedule permit it, I highly recommend booking a weekend or week-long trip so that they can experience fly fishing in a new location. Bring the whole family on an international voyage or a trip to a national park (of course, one that permits fly fishing!) and make a true vacation out of it. This is a great way to teach your kid about different cultures, as well as different environments. They might learn about new species of fish or the techniques used by people around the world.
Teach your kids that fly fishing is all about the squiggly BUGS
Kids love bugs, and what better way to introduce them to fly fishing than to let them dig in the dirt and experience these squirmy creatures first hand? Teach your child about the how important aquatic bugs are to fish. Flip some rocks and check out what’s underneath, those squirmy little critters are essential to a fish’s diet and are an indicator of the environments health.
Teach environmental stewardship
Familiarize your kids with the laws and regulations behind fly fishing. Make sure they know about licensing, catch and release laws, and pollution. Fishing is a great educative activity, and when done correctly, will teach your kids the best ways about how to interact with nature.
My SECRET tip
Figure out how to nearly guarantee your kids catch fish. If this means going to a trout pond where you pay to actually catch the fish DO IT! If it means putting a worm on the fly – DO IT! With young kids a fly fishing experience should be about planting a seed of excitement. Another strategy is finding a farm pond that might be overloaded with panfish. I know a pond by me that if you just wave a fly above the water a bluegill will grab it. Yes, the fish are small but having your kid feel the tug of a fish on the line is what we’re shooting for.
At the same time, if the interest isn’t there after several trips, don’t push it. You don’t want to drive your kids away because of your passion for a hobby. I ended up pushing my son a little too much to go fly fishing. We would take the better part of a week to camp and fish our way across the state.
I always knew it wasn’t my sons favorite thing to do, but he stuck with it so we could do something together. Finally, at sixteen he came to me and said – Dad – this isn’t for me. We talked about it and figured out a new activity we could do together. I’m saying this so you can learn from me, keep your priorities – family first before fly fishing.
Teaching Your Children to Fly Fish Is an Investment In Their Future
The benefits of teaching your kids to fly fish are literally endless. By offering some gentle guidance and a strong lead, your kids can develop a lifelong hobby before they even hit high school.
Perfection isn’t the goal with teaching your kids to fly fish – the goal is enjoyment, and great enjoyment can be had no matter how old in age or talented at fly fishing your youngsters might be. So get out there, and start practicing those casts!