How to Teach Kids to Fly Fish: To Have a Partner for Life

So, you want to bring teach your kids how to fly fish.  We all have this vision of those perfect moments of you being with your child reeling that first fish on a fly rod.  Detailed below are the steps to teaching your kids how to be a fishing partner for life.  But first a little bit of setting the stage.

Imagine you’re on a camping trip with your family on a lake loaded with bluegills.

There’s a dock stretching out over the water and the sun is just starting to set. It’s the perfect evening.

Your daughter makes a nice cast twenty feet out, and within seconds of the fly landing, it gets gulped by a fish.

You instruct her to lift the rod to set the hook and she feels the rod come alive in her hand with the tug of the bluegill.

You help her reel in the fish and hoist it onto the dock.

child fly fishing

child fly fishing

You just witnessed your child catch her first fish—on a fly rod, no less.

How to Teach Kids to Fly Fish

If you’re obsessed with fly fishing, it’s only natural to want to share your passion for the sport with the next generation. Whether it’s your children, your nieces and nephews, or through a volunteer organization, teaching kids to fly fish is one of the most rewarding things you can do, not only in the realm of fishing but in life in general.

But just because you know the ins and outs of fly casting, fly selection, and presentation, doesn’t necessarily mean you have what it takes to teach kids how to fly fish—to be a successful teacher requires an entirely different skill set.

That’s why I’m going to share with you some tips and strategies I’ve found extremely useful when showing young people how to fly fish. Although fly fishing is very challenging to master, with these tips you’ll keep the learning process fun, engaging, and help instill a strong conservation ethic in the young anglers-to-be in your life.

  1. Start out right with help from an instructor or class. Teaching a new skill to anyone, regardless of their age, can be a difficult undertaking. Enlisting the help of a competent fly fishing instructor or signing up for a class is a great way to lift the burden off your shoulders and set your child up for success. But don’t just drop your kids off at the curb—join them in the class or lessons and enjoy learning alongside them.
  2. Equipment—Keep it simple in the beginning. You might be tempted to rush out and outfit your child head to toe in the latest fly fishing gear, but don’t get ahead of yourself. Let them use your fly rod the first few trips, get them a good hat and a pair of sunglasses and you’re all set. To make it an all-around special occasion, take a trip to your local fly shop before your first outing and let them pick out their own flies—they’ll feel a sense of ownership over their selections and look forward to using them on the water.
  3. Rigging—Do it for the child, this is their time. Assume the role of a fishing guide and do all the rigging, detangling, and re-rigging for your child. Let them focus on casting and catching fish. Learning how to tie blood knots and nymph rigs will come later.
  4. Teach them the most basic fly casting technique. This is where working with a casting instructor can really speed along the process. Don’t worry about teaching your child how to double haul or shoot line. Instead, get them making 20-foot casts consistently on their own and they’ll be well within fish-catching range.
  5. Catching fish is important—Go to a proven spot. Head to a pond heavily populated with bluegills and bass or take your youngster to a lake freshly stocked with trout. If they don’t catch fish, they likely won’t see the point in all the setup and casting. If you want to get them hooked from the beginning, make sure they get to feel the tug!
  6. Setting the hook, fighting the fish, and taking that once-in-a-lifetime hero photo! With a fish on the line, coach your child through the process and help them reel it in if necessary. Once you scoop up their catch in the net, it’s time to celebrate their accomplishment with lots of praise and photos. Capture the moment with a great grip-and-grin photo they’ll have as a keepsake for the rest of their lives.
  7. Instill a conservation ethic from day one. As you’re fishing with your child, take time to pick up trash and clean up the stream. Explain why it’s important to take care of the environment so we all can continue fishing for years to come!

Why You Should Sign Up for a Fly Fishing Class with Your Child

Let’s face it: fly fishing is extremely difficult. That’s why we love it. It’s a challenge, something that takes a long time to get good at.

But when we’re trying to get our kids started in fly fishing, chances are they could care less about the challenge of it. Kids want to do fun stuff! After all, there’s an endless list of fun activities vying for their attention—video games, sleepovers, laser tag . . . you get the picture.

As Brian Kosminski from True North Trout put it, “Parents need to remember that you’re competing with activities that have immediate gratification. So make the fly fishing outing immediately gratifying for the child. If that means going to a trout pond, do it. If that means starting with starting with spinning gear, do it.”

To sell them on fly fishing, your goal should be to make the act of learning the foundational skills as fun and engaging as possible. That’s where bringing in a professional can help big time and save both you and your child from lots of frustration.

Finding a qualified fly fishing instructor in your area shouldn’t be too difficult if you know where to look. One of the first places to check is at your local fly shop. If your shop doesn’t offer classes for beginners themselves, they should be able to refer you to a local instructor.

If you have an Orvis store near you, they often host “Fly Fishing 101” classes, many of which are free-of-charge and kid-friendly.

If your child isn’t comfortable with group settings, one-on-one instruction is a great option. Everyone learns fly fishing at their own pace, but one or two hour-long sessions should be enough to get any kiddo started.

Depending on where you go for classes or lessons, plan on spending anywhere from $50 to several hundred dollars. This might seem like a lot of money, but getting them started on the right foot by making this investment could mean the difference of them sticking with it or ditching the fly rod altogether.

Now here’s the important part:

Go to the classes or lessons with your child. This is supposed to be an exciting activity for you to do together, so make time your busy schedule to attend.

When you go, just remember to check your ego at the door and keep an open mind. No matter how experienced you are with a fly rod, you’ll likely learn something that will help you on the stream, too!

Go with a Guide for Your First Parent-Child Fly Fishing Trip

Getting everything together for a successful first fly fishing trip with your child can be very stressful. So do yourself a favor and book a guide for the day—they’ll take care of everything so you and your youngin’ can focus on having fun, bonding, and most importantly, catching fish!

When you go with a guide, they provide all the tackle, instruction, and local knowledge of the fish, insects, and water for a successful day. It’s a guide’s job to put their clients on fish and since it’s so incredibly important that your kids get that first taste of a trout on the line, you don’t want to leave anything up to chance.

Before you book with a guide, be sure to research and choose a guide that is experienced in helping kids learn to fish. Most reputable guides will be thrilled to show your child the ropes, but do your homework to make sure they aren’t foul-mouthed or have a short temper. We’re looking for kind, patient guides who are good role models.

Pro tip:
One thing you can do to ensure you pick the right guide is to book a trip or two with them for just you and a buddy. You know, a research trip (wink).

Bring Two Rods But as the Parent, Don’t Fish

When you’re fishing with your child, all the attention and focus needs to stay on them. In other words, accept the fact that you won’t do any fishing for yourself—this is their time.

Be ready to help your child with everything. And I mean EVERYTHING. Do your very best to remain patient and calm.

On top of that, try to move around and fish at their pace. Don’t put any pressure on them to perform. Try to be one step ahead of them and anticipate their needs. Don’t rush the process and simply be there for them.

When they do start to get the hang of it, slowly give them more independence. How will you know it’s time? When the phrase, “Dad! I can do it myself!” gets shouted at you, you’ll know they’re ready to handle things on their own.

And when they are confidently fishing on their own, go ahead and pick up your rod for to do a little fishing of your own.

However, if your child doesn’t happen to love fishing quite as much as you do, don’t put pressure on them to like it. Don’t force it, but don’t give up on it either.

After fishing with my son for years, one day he came to me and said, “Dad I’m really not into this fishing thing.” We talked about it for a while and figured out something else we can do together.

My college-aged daughter, on the other hand, won’t come out and say that she wants to go fishing with me, but once we’re on the water, she has a great time.

teaching kids to fly fish

teaching kids to fly fish

Every kid is different, but no matter what, when you’re on the water do everything you can to give them your undivided attention and make them feel special.

Focus on Basic Fly Casting Mechanics

Teaching your kid to fly cast will be one of the biggest challenges to overcome. As mentioned before, this is where attending a class or lessons will shorten the learning curve and help them develop good casting habits from the beginning.

If you do plan on teaching them yourself, however, try to simplify the casting process to the bare-bones basics.

For guidance and some tips on how to boil down the fly cast to the most foundational elements, Pete Kutzer from Orvis has a very straightforward way to teach kids how to fly cast.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_wWs0y7KvAc

the lawn in the backyard is a great place to learn. You should have the rod rigged up with a standard 9-foot nylon leader. At the end of the leader, tie a piece of yarn or a fly with the sharp hook point cut off at the bend.

Teaching a Simple Three-Stage Fly Cast

Basically, in the beginning, you want to focus only on the forward cast by breaking down the movements into three stages or positions.

  • Step 1: With a small amount of line stripped off the reel, have your child bring the fly rod directly overhead to 12 o’clock. This is the first position.
  • Step 2: Next is the primary movement of a basic forward cast. Have your child move the rod directly forward toward the target. The line will shoot forward and layout on the ground.
  • Step 3: Finally, have them lower the rod toward the ground and hold the tip just above the ground. This completes the cast and puts the fly on the water in fishing range with the rod in position to strip in the line. 

To make another cast, have your child repeat steps one through three. That’s it! No complicated backcast, no double hauling, no line shooting. With practice, your child should be able to make consistent twenty-foot casts.

I also wrote an article about selecting the PERFECT FLY ROD for a Child

When they’re just getting started, don’t worry about grip or stance or stripping line. Let them hold the rod any way they like. They can use two hands if that helps.

A fun way to help your child get comfortable with the casting process and start developing accuracy is to place several hula hoops in the yard as targets. Turn it into a game and use positive-reinforcement in the form of candy, ice cream, or other juicy rewards to help them “get it” and want to keep practicing.

Plant the Seeds for an EXCEPTIONAL Outing

As the parent, your number one priority should be to make every fly fishing-related experience as fun and enjoyable as possible.

This all starts by choosing a body of water that you know has lots of fish that are willing to bite. I can’t stress this enough. You don’t want to have to explore spot after spot only to turn up empty-handed.

Bluegills or other species of panfish are great fish to get youngsters started. If you don’t have bluegills in your area, find a trout pond that is freshly stocked. Look on your state’s fish and game website to find the stocking schedule. Plan your outing soon after the most recent stocking for the best chance at lots of bites.

In other words, go for quantity over quality for the first few trips.

Check out this article an things to make fly fishing FUN

Beyond the fishing action, make the rest of the excursion exciting by bringing lots of tasty snacks, drinks, and food. Think of those first few fishing trips as special occasions and reward your child with the stuff they love but don’t get to indulge in everyday life. Beef jerky, candy, soda, chips.

Fishing trips should be something to look forward to on all accounts!

Another way to make your child’s first fishing trip extra special is to take them to the fly shop and let them pick out their own selection of flies to fish with. Guide them to the flies you think will work on the water you’ll be fishing, but feel free to let them go wild and choose whatever catches their eye and gets them excited.

Better yet, if you’re set up to tie flies, set aside an evening to help them tie up a few of their own. Show them the basics of how to wrap the thread around the hook and secure materials then set them loose! With their little fingers, kids pick up fly tying pretty quickly. Even if their creations don’t follow any specific patterns, there’s a good chance they’ll still appeal to fish.

Take Lots of Pictures

You’re going to want photos to remember your first outings with your new fishing buddy. These are keepsakes you’ll both treasure for a long time to come.

You don’t need to be particularly skilled with a camera to capture those special moments. Just make sure you have plenty of space on the memory card and snap away.

When you’re getting ready to take that first hero shot of their first fish, take the opportunity to teach them how to safely handle the fish. Have them wet their hands and instruct them to keep the fish in the water until just before you take the photo. To keep the fish from slipping away, keep it in the net while you set up the shot.

Once you’re in place, have them lift up the fish out of the water for a few seconds and give you a great big smile.

That’s the stuff memories are made of.

Show Them What it Means to Care for the Surroundings

Teaching kids to fly fish is important work. Through fly fishing, a child’s mind and body are fully engaged. By learning and mastering a challenging skill, they can gain a huge boost of confidence that will cross over into other aspects of their life.

But what’s more important than simply showing your child to catch fish is to teach them how to do it responsibly and in a way that preserves the resources. That way they’ll be able to eventually pass on the tradition to their children.

You’re literally adding another angler to the world and it’s your job to instill a strong ethic of conservation and stewardship over the resources.

And you do this by being a good role model and leading by example. You don’t have to lecture them; kids are smart and taking care of mother nature is something that just makes sense.

It’s a matter of “showing” rather than “telling.”

What does that look like?

Go out of your way to pick up trash and encourage your little one to do the same. Turn it into a game—i. e. “pick up five pieces of trash and you’ll get an extra cookie.”

Invest in a “Mono Master” (LINK to Amazon where I got mine) and show your kid how to use it to collect discarded fishing line.

The phrase, “pack it in, pack it out,” has a nice ring to it makes it easy to remember.

Kids soak up what they see and have a tendency to repeat those actions. So lead by example, and if you turn cleaning up the stream into a game, even better.

This means you’re going to have to be on your best behavior—likely better behavior than when it’s just you and your fishing buddies.

Just remember that when you take your child fishing, little eyes are watching your every move . . . and that little mouth will be talking later.

Make Fly Fishing an “Add-On” Activity

Introducing children to fly fishing slowly and gradually is one of the best ways to gauge if it’s something they’re interested in with minimal upfront investment. So instead of planning a full-day fishing trip right off the bat, it may be better to simply bring a fly rod along on a canoe trip or a hiking trip into a lake.

If you happen to come across a nice fishing spot, rig up a rod quickly and make a few casts yourself. If your child expresses interest, give them a quick lesson, but don’t make a big deal about it.

Don’t Get Too Hung Up on Fly Fishing, Give Spinning a Shot

Here’s the most important thing to remember when introducing your child to fly fishing:

Keep it fun and focus on catching fish.

When I talked with David Knapp from Trout Zone Anglers, he summed up this sentiment well when he said, “Think about the experiences that got you into this sport. Very few of us fly fished first; we evolved into it. Make a fishing trip fun first and work into casting flies.

If that means you leave the fly rod at home and take a spinning rod and a can of nightcrawlers, so be it. Give your youngster a taste of what’s it’s like to feel the throbbing pulse of a fish on the line—no matter what tools you’re using—and chances are, you’ll have a fishing partner for life.

Sources

https://www.tu.org/blog-posts/teaching-kids-to-fly-fish-the-five-golden-rules

http://www.flyfisherman.com/how-to/beginners/teach-a-kid-to-fly-fish/

http://www.ginkandgasoline.com/fly-fishing/5-tips-for-teaching-kids-to-fly-fish/