Teaching Your Kids to Fly Fish

So you want to teach your son or daughter to fly fish. How can you make that happen? The truth is, you can lead a child to water, but you can’t make them fly fish.

I have a few suggestions, though, to help along the way:

Get them on the river early and often

I still remember the first time my dad took me to the Kilchis River near Tillamook, Oregon. He was fishing for steelhead. I was four years old, mesmerized by the smell of the river — as well as by the smell of the fish. The experience was formative, creating in me a love for rivers.

Last summer, our family stayed in some cabins on Montana’s Boulder River. I watched my two sons-in-law fly fish while toting their little kids in backpacks. Now my sons-in-law were not wading, nor were they near deep water. So my 3-month old grandson and my one-year old granddaughter were safe! I was proud of the guys for getting their young children into the great outdoors at the river’s edge.

The time to introduce your kids (or grandkids) to the river is even before they are old enough to fish.

Get them hooked on brookies

When we lived in Helena, Montana, in the early 1990s, we occasionally made the 40-mile trip over MacDonald Pass and then up the Little Blackfoot River to a national forest campground. We fished the river—not much more than a little stream at that point—and caught quite a few brook trout.

My technique was to get a brookie on the line, hand them the rod, wait a couple seconds, and then say, “Hey, I think you’ve gone one!” Later, when they were old enough to go solo, I taught them to fish with a spinning rod and drown a worm. They eventually graduated to fly fishing.

Brook trout are a beginner’s best friend. They can be wily at times, but they are often forgiving of sloppy casts. If you do not live near a trout stream, even blue gills or sunfish will do. It’s important that your youngsters catch some fish.

Get them started on nymphing

Once your kids are ready to handle a fly rod, nymphing is a great way to get them started. Their casts do not have to be as precise as in dry fly fishing, and it’s easy to teach your kids to watch the strike indicator (I like the small plastic bubble) as it floats down a run.

About the only thing your kids need to learn is to mend their line. I’m surprised how early my boys caught on to this technique. Both of them caught some nice rainbows in the Madison River with nymphs. Later, when they became more proficient, they graduated to dry flies.

Make it fun, not too technical

Most six-year-olds are not going to respond well to a lecture on tippet size or your instructions for tying an improved clinch knot. Nor will they care much about the difference between a copper john and a prince nymph. Just let them fish.

This is also not the time to refine their casting. Be patient, and be prepared to take some deep breaths—and to spend time untangling lines and leaders.

Give them a break and let them explore

Don’t be upset if your child loses interest in a hurry and wants to explore. Encourage it. My youngest son, Luke, would often stop fishing after a few minutes—even if he was catching trout!—so that he could look for frogs and garter snakes. It’s all part of the outdoor experience. Your child’s love for fly fishing may develop later, after they first become enamored with all the cool things they find along the river’s edge.

There are no guarantees, but if you teach your kids to fly fish, they may continue it or even pick it up again later in life.

A funny thing happened last summer when we were camped out on the Boulder River. My sons-in-law taught my daughters how to fly fish. My daughters remembered the days we spent catching brookies on the Little Blackfoot about 25 years earlier and decided it was time to try fly fishing.

Meanwhile, my older son taught his wife to fly fish. Then, in the biggest surprise of all, my youngest son taught his mother (my wife). He was there when she caught her first trout on a fly rod. At first, he felt bad that he didn’t let me teach her how to fish. Both my wife and I reassured him that it was for the best. He was more patient with his mom than I would have been!

Later, as we watched the sun set from the porch of our cabin, we realized that we were seeing the results of a commitment to teach the kids to fly fish.

Give your kids a video game, and you’ll make them happy for a few hours. Teach them to fly fish, and you’ll make them happy for a lifetime.

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4 thoughts on “Teaching Your Kids to Fly Fish

  1. If you take quite young anglers-to-be, catching a fish on their first outing is imperitive. Regardless of the fishing style. That is what will “hook” their interest in fishing. I remember the very first fish I ever caught.

    You may not be the best teacher for teaching your own family members how to flyfish.

    I was asked one time, how do I have the patience to teach flyfishing to children? My reply was that I don’t need patience, I just remove expectation. I do the same with novice adults.

  2. When you teach children of any age to fly fish, you teach them safety and nature as you teach fly fishing. It is never too early to teach why we “Catch and Release”. This should begin with the very first fish caught. It will leave a positive life long imprint that won’t be forgotten. This is part of the passion.

    • These are all great points, Michael. I remember how my dad used to drill safety into my head when I first started hunting at 10. Yes, I carried a 20 gauge shotgun around at 10! I still remember those lessons about conservation and safety. You’re right that the same is true of fly fishing.