Fly fishing for children.
In this article I will write about things which are important to know about when trying to spark the fly fishing interest in a child. I have two children myself, both of whom have often accompanied me on my salmon fishing trips, and this has given me some valuable experiences in terms of what to do in order to get them to want to join me on even more fishing trips. I will write about the equipment suitable for the young ones, and also some tips which may help to make the fishing trip a positive experience for the child.
Life is beautiful at the end of the fly rod.
A fantastic life.
I have been fly fishing since I was 10 years old, for trout, salmon and sea trout. When I think back to all the great experiences and the good times on the river, I can only hope that my children become interested in this. It is so great to see kids learn about the nature and “life in the wild”; the nature and the fauna yield many exciting moments. I vividly remember the first time my son got to see a bat at dusk, exciting times!
This lifestyle gives a positive perspective on life, which can be a valuable counterbalance to the stress of modern society. The biggest competitors to a life in the outdoors are as we know Playstation, internet and computer games. But if we facilitate active and fun times in the outdoors, children are not at all opposed to join us on trips. This is inherent in human nature, but it just has to be awakened.
My children tried fly casting for the first time at the age of three, and many people would say that this is too early. However, if you facilitate this in a good way, fly casting turns into a game that can be played year round. We played with the fly rod during winter too, I have lost count of how many times I stood there wearing a warm beanie and snow suit in the snow, this is a great winter activity as the snow does not wear out the fly line and the season is as such extended. The only rule I made for the first few years was that the rod tip could not hit the ground during the forward and back casts, thus the all-important stop points developed, and the fly line loops soon got the correct form. It is important not to create too many rules; fly casting should be fun and if you as a grown up is too worried about the equipment, leading to a lot of nagging about being careful and so on, the child soon tires of this.
We developed different exercises to make this fun, I often pretended that I was a fish; I got hold of the tippet and ran away so that the rod bent and the reel screamed. This was a popular game, and an added bonus was that the boy learned to fight fish as well. It is important not to use too much force when doing this, as the reel handle will inflict pain should it hit small fingers during a “run”. You can also put out targets on the ground for the child to hit, remember to tie a piece of yarn to the tippet so that it will be easy to see if when the child hits the target.
The summer is too short, utilise the time wisely.
Single or double handed rods?
Obviously, 3 to 6 year olds cannot master a double handed rod due to its weight and the rod length, so this is most likely too early. My son started double hand fly casting when he was around 7-8 years old, and he did not have any more problems learning this than he had with a single hand rod. If the equipment is a good fit, with a good fly line and a not so fast rod action, I have not been able to see any noticeable differences in the learning curve from one rod type to another. However, as previously stated, the child should be around 7 to 8 years old before starting to cast with a double hander.
Do not purchase very cheap equipment for the children, many people make this mistake, thinking that it might be smart to try something cheap initially, and then see if the interest develops. If the equipment is poor, making it difficult and heavy to cast with, children will quickly lose interest in this. I have often seen this during my casting courses, and when they get to borrow well-suited equipment from me, the smile and interest returns. Remember that you as the parent are the big idol, and they quickly see how nice and easy you cast with your equipment, and want to master the same themselves.
I recommend a fly rod that is not too fast and not too heavy in terms of the weight class, we used a single hand rod of 8,6 feet in class 4 in the ages from 3 to 6. Such a rod is very light, and if you chose a rod with a fairly medium rod action, the arm strength and height of a child of this age will easily master such a rod. Rod action is very important, but just as important is the properties of the fly line. It is important to choose a line with the right properties; I recommend lines with a shorter WF head as it is easier to keep the whole head in the air, avoiding snagging in things behind you, and also avoiding wear on flies and tippet. It is easier to fail with a WF head that is too long. I recommend Guideline’s Presentation line. If the child is between 3 and 10 years old, and we are talking about single hand rod trout fishing, this fly line is great. The head of this line is approximately 6 metres long, it is short and thick, and thus it will very easily load the rod. This fly line comes in weight classes 2-6. If you are fishing for salmon, with a 6 weight rod or heavier, I recommend the Bullet fly line. The child can begin using a more powerful rod as early as at the age of 6, and it will not be long before a single hand rod in class 7 is appropriate, and such a rod is fine for salmon fishing.
Proud young fly fisher.
If a double handed rod is preferable, I recommend a light 12,6 feet rod in weight class 7-9. We used such a rod from Guideline’s Lpx-e range, and this worked really well with the Bullet fly line, this line has the same advantages as the Presentation line. The Bullet line comes in weight classes 6 – 10, I rigged a Bullet 10 weight line for the 8-9 fly rod and this worked like a charm. This combination is just so easy to cast with! It is also no problem to connect a polyleader to this set-up, enabling for some deeper fishing. When you are fishing, it is important to have a leader that will place the fly on the water correctly as often as possible; this dramatically increases the chances of catching fish. See the article “Leaders” in the menu “Fishing” and “Fishing equipment”. A convex leader profile is the best for the youngest fly fishers; it fully stretches out that much easier!
Waders or not?
A pair of waders offers many advantages, but it is important with stricter rules due to the extra risk involved in wading in a river. I established the necessary rules before purchasing the waders, and the agreement was that if he adhered to the rules, I would buy him the waders. During the first trips I waded with him in the river when he was fishing, this enabled me to easily teach him the art of wading. It is important to stress that children must not wade too deep, and that the child does not run or jump during fishing as it then is easier to slip. He also learnt that it can be scary to stand on top of large submerged rocks and boulders, and that it was safer to walk on smaller rocks and gravel. If the river was higher than what I like I would always wade with him, and I was never further away than an arms length, so that I could just grab him should anything happen. This meant that my son would respect the potential dangers of wading.
These rules were adhered to without any exceptions, and so we avoided him always having wet feet from using the low boots he normally used. Waders are quite warm, so it is easier to stay warm and dry during rainy days, and finally such a pair of waders often results in more fishing trips, as children like to have the same equipment as their parents.
At it again.
Campfire and trip manager!
It is an honour and a proud task for the youngest to have the responsibility for these two jobs, emphasise the good times at the campfire, there is nothing better than sitting by the river and the campfire and just relax. Let the child decide when to make a campfire, teach the child how to handle a knife, bring some hot dogs or something else to barbeque. It is a nice activity to keep the fire going, and at the same time you gather around the fire and just enjoy the fishing trip. Be careful not to follow the same patterns as you do for your own fishing trips when junior joins you, this is what I refer to with the child being the trip manager. The trip does not have to be very long each time, if the child’s patience runs out, do not say “we’ll just stay one more hour” etc. Tempt them with other activities such as football, darts, badminton and similar, this gives the fishing trip a plentiful programme which will be tempting to repeat. It is not wise to plan the trip in a way you would for your own trips, lower your demands and let the child decide most things. There is nothing more enjoyable than being on a fishing trip with your own children, when I sit by the campfire watching my son fish it gives me a proud feeling. If I manage to make my children interested in this, I feel that I have given them a valuable thing that can give them so much for the rest of their lives, and perhaps they will take their own children fishing when that time comes. And maybe grandpa can join on some trips too, imagine that!
General trip advice.
On days with lots of mosquitoes it is important to be prepared and bring mosquito spray to make things easier, but if the child says that enough is enough due to the insects, I believe it is important to end the trip. If you push through that you will stay even longer, it will be that much more difficult to get the child to join you next time, as the memories from last trip are not positive. The same goes for bad weather, or if it is just too hot outside – if that were to be the reason, all you can do is to dig out the swimming trunks.
General fishing advice.
Personally I only fly fish when going by myself, but it is important to remember that the child cannot cast a fly in many situations. On the days with too much wind, or if the river is too high, it is much safer to fish with a spinning rod rigged up with a lure, worms, or a floater and a fly, this always extends the fishing trip should conditions or weather change. It is also important that the child learns about the other fishing techniques, this makes the trip into a positive experience.
At times when there is too much wind or the river is too high for the boy to fly fish himself, we sometimes wade out in the river together, where I will cast and he is handed the rod after the line hits the water, we have caught several nice salmon that way. Imagine the excitement when the salmon takes the fly and the young one is holding the rod. I also emphasise that he gets the rod after I have hooked a salmon, this is very popular and he then knows that the chances of getting a salmon is much higher, and many times when he is sitting by the fire, he just says “just keep on fishing, dad”. This means that you will get more fishing time yourself, and at the same time, junior will learn how to fight salmon on a fly rod. This is a big advantage when he finally hooks his first salmon, and it could happen before you know it.
Catch & release must also be learnt.
Safety is important.
Safety is important not just when wading in a river, but also in terms of fly casting. Therefore it is important that you equip the child with fishing glasses and a cap, these are simple things that could prevent injuries. Bring a forceps for unhooking a fly that is hooked in wrong places, and a first aid kit is also important to bring so that you quickly can deal with small injuries which could occur during the trip. This is also something for adult fishermen to consider when going on a fishing trip.
Advice on the basic technique of fly casting.
The overhead cast is made up of a few basic principles which are important in order to understand this cast, these basic principles are the same for both single and double handed fly rods. What separates the technique of single and double handed rods, is how you load the rods. The overhead cast is the most important cast to learn first.
The basic principles: (the same for single-handed and double-handed rods)
1) The rod/hand should me moved in a completely straight line between backward stop and the forward stop, i.e. the movement should follow the shortest way between these points.
2) The rod/hand should move calmly, but in an accelerated fashion towards the stop points.
3) The rod/hand must be stopped abruptly both in the backward and forward cast. This ensures that the energy is transferred from the rod and out to the fly line in the best way possible.
4) Stop and let go, it is important that this is synchronised, when you abruptly stop the rod during the forward cast, the line must be released at the same time as you make the stop. If you let go of the line before or after the stop you will experience problems when it comes to presenting the fly in a nice and “clean” fashion.
These are the four basic principles making up the basic technique for both single-handed and double-handed rods.
Don’t be too serious when playing/practising with the fly rod; make this into an enjoyable activity. Give the child some casting advice every now and then, fly casting must be learnt over time anyway when you’re that young. My youngest is now 11 years old, and he casts like a grown man. He learnt the spey cast and the double haul when he was 7-8 years old, he learnt the double haul simply from watching me do it, this took about one minute. If children get to try fly casting at a young age, and if this is done with some regularity, they will learn it faster than an adult who starts up much later.
I wish you a great trip!