There is nothing more satisfying than watching a child’s face light up with excitement. Catching fish has that magical charm as the child feels the pull of the fish and sees it break the water for the first time. Introducing your child to fly fishing is one way to light up that face. Over the years I have been lucky enough to have seen my daughter’s face light up many times as she hooked up on a trout and wrestled it in. The enjoyment never seems to go away even after all these years. The day she caught more fish than me was the best and when I kidded her about it she said: “Dad, it’s a compliment when the student outperforms the master”. How to introduce your child to fly fishing is easy, but there are a few things to consider.
How To Introduce Your Child To Fly Fishing. Keep things simple and the first few trips short. Dress them appropriately for the situation in waterproof clothes. Make it more about them than about fishing. Bring along snacks and drinks or pack a lunch. Fish where there are fish to catch even if it’s only a small pond full of Sunfish.
Every kid is different, with different interests, likes, and dislikes, but one thing seems to run true with most of them, if you do it, they will want to mimic you. So you Moms and Dads out there whether single or not, get out and have some fun. If you fish already then teach the kid what you know. Better yet, if you have never fished then go learn with your kid, the reward is priceless and with a few tips from an old guy who did it, let me show you how to introduce your child to fly fishing.
Where And When To Start?
In my case, I started taking my kid along with me when she was about 5. I’d put her in the truck and run down to the creek for a few hours of “playing in the mud”. Her attention span was as short as they come and fishing wasn’t something she really wanted to do right away. Instead, she would walk along the bank, play in the dirt, get all muddy and wet and to her, it was a great day out. After a few hours, we’d head back to the truck where I would strip her out of all the dirty clothes and put on clean dry ones for the ride home. Little if any fish were actually caught. But that wasn’t the point right now.
Each trip started with her taking a few casts or having her feel what it was like to reel in a fish that I hooked. We played a game we called “name the trout”. For every trout that was caught, she would come up with a name for the trout and we would release it back to the water. On the next trip, we would catch, whoever it was again, and say “hi”. This silly little game was fun but also, as we arrived for the next outing she would always ask, “Do you think we’ll catch, so and so?”
These trips weren’t about fishing, they were about being out. Seeing the water, watching bugs, looking for “stuff” along the creek, being in the environment and talking about fishing. They were short little adventures that we could talk about when we were home and tell grandma about. Serious fishing began when she was around 7 or 8. By this time she was casting on her own and was taking an interest in “doing it herself”.
How Long Is The Trip’s Duration?
As you gathered from above, the outing isn’t about fishing. It’s about you and your child being out together and for you to create a comfortable environment for your child to see, touch, hear and play with nature.
Kids have a short attention span so focusing on fishing for a while then switching to something else keeps their interest in the outing. For example, it wasn’t unusual for us to drop the rods and play a game of, hide and seek. Hide and seek was a way for my kid to gain confidence in being alone in the woods. It helped eliminate any fear the big woods may impose by knowing she was near Dad, but still able to go hide and not be afraid. Not to mention it was just plain fun.
Kids are good at letting you know when they have had enough and when it’s time to pack up and go home. The actual time you stay out will vary depending on conditions and your child’s mood that day. But getting out often is the key. If you go for an hour one time and it may turn into three next time, it all depends on the amount of fun involved. Learning has to be fun and that includes fishing, if it isn’t fun it’s work.
How To Dress For Fishing?
Warm, dry comfortable clothing is the key to keeping a happy kid. Early spring is going to require a different set of clothes than summer of course and nothing is more miserable than being wet and cold. Dress your child in layers. Layers will keep them warm and if the day heats up, simply shed a layer or two.
Consider investing in waterproof pants and jackets maybe mitts or gloves as well. Kids put their hand in water no matter what the temps are, so drying them off and covering them up helps. Buy them a warm comfortable hat too. Ninety percent of heat loss is via the head, so a warm hat is smart and good to have.
Lastly get them into boots, waterproof boots. Eventually, as they indicate an ongoing interest in fishing with you, you’ll need to purchase a good pair of waders for your child. They will need to wade in the water at some point but waders also provide an easy way to stay warm and dry.
To this day, I pack an extra set of clothes for myself, that is stored with the gear I carry. With a child I can guarantee having an extra set of clothes with you will be the smartest move you can make. Kids will get wet, dirty and nothing feels better than a fresh set of clothes for the ride home. Saves on your truck seats too. So bring an extra set of clothing from footwear to socks, from pants to shirts. Oh, and carry a towel in the truck too, it will come in really handy. I use to have several little plastic bags in the truck to throw the dirty clothes into also.
It’s All About The Kid
How to introduce your child to fly fishing or any style of fishing is about focusing on the child, not necessarily the fishing. In the beginning, let the child do all the fishing. Sure you’ll need to demonstrate or provide instruction, but primarily it’s letting them do it. Your job is to assist when needed otherwise you’re there as support not to fish. And keep this word in mind as you go through the day, “patience”.
You’ll need to untangle lines, ensure safety and do the parent thing, but this isn’t a time to allow frustration or dominance to interfere. More than ever you need to stay on the same level as your kid as if you are fishing with your best friend. During the introduction phase, the focus is on the child. There will be plenty of opportunities down the road when the two of you can fish together.
Remember, the early stages need to be more than about fishing. If I haven’t stressed this enough, here’s one more attempt. Kids will enjoy fishing, especially if they are catching fish, but if you make it about more than fishing by creating a fun experience, they’ll want to go more often. Remember too, skipping rocks, looking for insect life, have a mini scavenger hunt for specific outdoor things or even hide and seek is still fishing to a kid.
Why is Lunch Break Important?
Today, when I go fishing, especially if I am fishing with Paul, the professor, we always take time out to have lunch. It’s part of the ritual of a day’s fishing, not to mention how good that cold beverage tastes.
In keeping with the ritual, pack a small lunch with drinks and some of their favorite snacks and enjoy them with the kid. Again, this adds to the complete experience and enjoyment. There’s something special about going back to the truck and sitting down to eat a sandwich, a few snacks, have a drink and talk about what you have done so far that day. It gives you a chance to ask and assess how the kid is doing and what he/she likes so far.
When to Introduce the Fly Rod?
I know the title of this article is “How to introduce your child to fly fishing” and the eventual goal is to have them fly fishing. But fly fishing, for a kid, isn’t easy. If your child gets frustrated and struggles you run the risk of them never taking up the sport because “Dad it’s too hard”.
I suggest you take your fly rod and a spinning rod. Spin fishing is easy and if you use spinners, well, it can’t get much easier for your kid. But the beauty here is it keeps the kid busy. Bait fishing can be boring, but throwing spinners is fun all on its own. Oh, you’ll have to retrieve quite a few spinners from snags, that goes unsaid, but if you find an open area, some deeper water, you’ll find the snags are less. Additionally, you’re setting the kid up to make the transition from a spinning rod to a fly rod easier. His/her confidence to cast a fly rod will naturally be higher once they are good at casting a spinning rod.
I mentioned for you to take your fly rod. As they see you casting a fly their natural curiosity will be for them to try and do what you are doing. Give them the opportunity to try it with little moments of short measured attempts. Don’t get caught up in teaching at this point, just let them try it.
How Young Is Too Young?
But, even though I suggest this, letting them use a fly rod, I found from my experience with my daughter, it can be tough teaching a four or five-year-old to use a fly rod. They just don’t have the attention spans, patience, and dexterity at this age. As she turned 8 years old or so she began to fly fish more often. She “wanted to be like Dad” so that provided opportunity but more importantly, she had an interest.
Assuming your child is becoming interested in fly fishing, It’s a good idea to buy them a rod that fits their size. A rod 6-8 feet with a medium action will do the trick. Keep the leader short too, as this will help reduce the tangles a bit. While I’m thinking about it, buy a pair of sunglasses for the kid. When “flinging” a fly around, safety, especially eye safety needs to be considered.
Use barbless hooks too for two good reasons. Releasing fish is easier with barbless hooks. Every kid wants to handle his own fish. Barbless hooks can help your child by making it easier to take the hook out of the mouth of a fish. Reason two, it’s easier to get the hook out of a kid when they are barbless, heaven forbid.
What Is The Best Location For Taking Your Child Fishing?
When I was a kid, I remember spending countless hours fishing with my friend Richard. In those days we would “drown” worms on a pond on one of the local farms. If hundreds of bluegill weren’t caught in those days I would be surprised.
A pond is a great place to fly fish too because most ponds are in open spaces. Casting in open spaces, obviously, reduces getting hung up in trees. Almost any dry fly will catch bluegills and for your kid seeing the fly on the water and a fish taking it is exciting. Heck, it’s exciting when trout takes my fly off the water even now, so I know for a kid it’s exciting.
Nothing seems to be suited for kids like bluegills. From a kid’s perspective, all they know is, they caught a fish. Bluegills are easy to catch and will keep the child interest because of the increased catch rate. So, find a pond near you and ask if you can fish it with your kid.
A pond will also help you build or manage your child s expectation when you move them to the creek. As you talk fishing, you can explain how catching trout will require different skills and more patience. You can set the stage for catching trout as a different goal with a “greater” reward. In other words, talk to your child about how some fish are harder to catch and that catching them is special.
Where To Catch Trout For Kids?
In Pennsylvania, we have designated sections of streams purposely set aside for children’s fishing only. You can find these streams by visiting the PA Fish and Boating website. Search under “fishing, family fishing programs, or click, Fishing opportunities for families and children. These waters are for kids ages 8 – 12. The adult is not permitted to fish these waters but is allowed to assist the child. These are great areas to take your kid because there are fish to catch and it makes them feel special being a “kids” only stream.
Aside from a special stream just for kids, there are the special regulations streams themselves that Pennsylvania also offers. The reason I suggest these is they hold trout. Most catch release streams in our state are fly fishing only streams so if your child is ready to fly fish, these streams are perfect. Both you and your child can fish together in a stream that has fish. Nothing can be more frustrating, especially for a kid, than to fish for hours and not even see a trout much less not catch one.
The other streams to consider are the Delayed Harvest streams offered by the state. These streams allow for the use of artificial lures. Here you can switch between using fly rods and spinning rods. This can be helpful in keeping your child’s interest. Depending on his interest or skill level, he/she can fish for a while using a fly rod and go back and fish the same area using a spinning rod.
Make Fishing A Family Event
A day on the creek with everybody is fun. Take your spouse and just enjoy the moment with the kids. Families who play together stay together. Additionally, having a little help out there won’t hurt either. Kids are funny in that they can take direction from either parent and sometimes better from one rather than the other. Family events are fun and a Saturday morning hanging out on a pond or stream builds the family bond and makes memories. Memories are really important.
In writing this post, I called my daughter and asked her to walk down memory lane with me and explain, from her perspective, what it was like to fish with her old man. I would have probably finished this articles several hours sooner if I hadn’t called, but so glad I did. She reminded me of things long gone and mentioned things I didn’t know. It was precious and made the point regarding memories.
Another thing, don’t be afraid to take your kid’s friends along. The interaction between friends is a great way for them to learn from each other and relieve you of some of the pressure of teaching. More importantly, as these guys grow, you become a part of their lives. You learn to interact with them on their level and to “grow up” with them. Do this right, and you’ll learn more about their everyday lives. They will be apt to explain the problems they have or challenges facing them at school.
Something To Keep In Mind
One other little piece of advice, develop now and carry forward the attitude of “what happens on the streams, stays on the stream”. It will pay dividends down the road when your kid learns to share things on the water and being oneself with no judgment or negative outcomes have a place and time.
I learned more about my child standing in waist-deep water dead drifting a fly into position or sitting in a blind waiting for that big buck to show than I ever learned anywhere else.
How To Introduce Your Child To Fly Fishing?
- Keep it simple. Avoid the temptation to outfit your child from head to toe in the latest fly fishing gear. You have plenty of time for that later. Let them use your fly rod for the first few trips. But do take them to the fly shop and have them pick out a couple of flies and put them in their own fly box. You’ll see later why this was a good idea.
- Assume the role of a fishing guide. Do all the rigging, detangling, and re-rigging for your child and let them focus on casting and catching fish.
- Teach them a basic fly casting technique. Get them to where making 20-foot casts consistently on their own is relatively easy
- Catching fish is important. Get them on a pond full of bluegills or to a stream freshly stocked with trout. They need to feel the strike and experience the fight and they too will be hooked
- Be a Good Coach. When a fish is 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, celebrate. Make a big deal out of it. Take some pictures and go home and brag to everybody, in front of your child.
- Take Lots of Pictures. I’ll be honest to say I failed at this part and as I sit here today the only pictures I have are those captured inside my head. Don’t make the same mistake. Nothing beats and old picture of a good memory.
The things we love to do aren’t for everybody. Not everyone is born to be a musician or an athlete or a fly fisherman for that matter. What is true though, the sooner one begins the greater the chances are they will continue doing it.
Teaching your children is a lifelong endeavor and fly fishing teaches more about life than just about catching fish. It helps explain the circle of life it’s self. It allows you an opportunity to ponder and wonder and ask questions with your child. Fly fishing teaches discipline, patience, perseverance with a built-in reward system. Fly fishing with your kid gives you an opportunity to get excited and brag about a trout that you didn’t catch. And it’s one of the few sports where when you’re out fished you’re still the winner. And when the kids have grown, it’s their reason to call and see what you’re doing this Saturday. Fish on!
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Note: Some images compliments of Flickr