I was out in the yard with my 6 (almost 7) year old the other day with his fly rod and we were casting a bit (in between teasing the cat with the line, great fun by the way) and I was happy to see that he was really starting to cast a pretty good loop. He was also taking some of my gentle suggestions on how to do it and it got me to thinking again about the question of when should/can kids start fly fishing, so I thought I would share an article that I had written earlier this year on the topic.
Being around fly fishermen a lot, a very common question that I hear is “How old should my child be before he or she can flyfish?” Well, the quick answer is that it depends, as every child is different, but I think the real answer is that it’s never too soon to introduce it to them. 13 years old, 10 years, 6, 3? Sure, but the key is that I said introduce it to them, not necessarily take them “fishing”. Every fly fisher knows that patience is the key to success and teaching kids will often put your patience to the test.
When working with kids and fly fishing it is very important to go with the flow and not impose your expectations on the child’s experience. If they want to look at birds, then look at birds. If they want to throw rocks, then throw rocks. Just keep it fun so they want to come out again. Eventually it sticks and a new master angler is born!
In preparing this article, I decided to interview an expert: my 6 year old son, Michael. We went to the river a few times last year in my first real attempt at getting him into fly fishing. The interview consisted of one question, “What was your favorite part of fishing in the river this year?” Here were his responses: “Umm, catching that baby rainbow and OOOH when we saw the frogs…and the bugs on the water! Oh, and when we looked under the rocks and saw those bugs, and wearing my waders felt kinda neat” (at which point my 3 year old, Ryan, chimed in, “And I liked when we saw the crayfish!”). Michael continued, “Yeah, that was cool, and oh yeah, I liked catching fish.” The actual fishing portions of the trips were between about 2 minutes and 10 minutes, but he can’t wait to “go fishing” again this year. Had I continued to push more of my idea of fishing (actually using the rod) instead of his idea of fishing (wearing waders and exploring the river), both of us would have enjoyed it less. Kids love the experience, the fish are just a bonus (hmmmm, maybe these kids are onto something…).
So how do you get started? Equipment is not too complicated, a 7 or 8 foot, 4 or 5 weight rod is a good start. Anything longer than that is hard to wield and if the rod is too short it makes it harder to get the line off the water and to roll cast. Waders are available from a number of companies in kids’ sizes. A hat and sunglasses are a must for protection from the sun, but more importantly they are protection from errant casts. A few bigger bushy dry flies (easy to see) and you’re off! Spring for some polarized glasses and the kids will be amazed by the “magic glasses” that let them see underwater so well!
Books: A Kids Guide to Flyfishing: It’s More than Catching Fish by (8 year old) Tyler Befus and Fly Fishing with Trout-tail by K.H. Lucas are good ones for the kids to read. Both talk about equipment and emphasize the experience.
Trout Unlimited co-sponsors the First Cast Program in the summers. During the program kids cast rods, tie flies, look at bugs, and more. It’s a great option for formal instruction.
Where to go: Any lake with bluegill is a great place to start (eager fish, no current, lots of options), and fly selection is as simple as a couple of foam spiders or poppers. When it’s time to hit the river try the North Branch of the AuSable or the Platte River. They are shallow, clear, easy to wade, and lots of eager (smaller) fish should keep you busy.
Good luck, have fun, and watch out for flying rocks!
Kirk Novak, The Northern Angler