My first experience fishing as a child was around the age of four. My grandfather would take my twin brother and I to his camp and we would stop at all the brooks along the way to catch speckled trout. We used a peeled alder and had a short piece of mono attached to a single hook. Sometimes, we would tie a fly on to the mono line as well. Those experiences at such an early age left a lasting impression on me and created the passion I have today for the outdoors and fishing. Around the age of ten I got my first fly rod and reel as a "good grades present". One of my relatives helped me set it up and showed me some basic casts. I would take it to the lake where my Grandfather’s camp was and fish it during the mayfly hatch. As I got a little older and more independent, I would fly fish for sea trout on my home river, learning from the locals that were eager to give tips. Now that I look back on those first experiences, a few obvious things stand out on why these trips were so successful. The trips were kept short, the tackle was simple, we caught a few fish and my Grandfather had a lot of patience. Here are a few more tips to ensure a successful trip when introducing children to the great sport of fly fishing.
Keep the trip length short. Children have short attention spans so a limited amount of time spent fishing is the key to success. A 30 minute trip is more than enough when first starting out and you can lengthen the duration of the trips as the children get older and their interest grows.
Location of the first few fishing trips is very important. You want to pick spots that are easily accessible. They should also be very safe and places that present a high probability of catching a fish. Some places that provide you this are beaches or small brooks along the side of the road. These locations allow children the place to play, explore and have fun in addition to fishing. It also means that they only need rubber boots to keep their feet dry.
Warm, dry comfortable clothing is the difference between a good experience and a bad one. I would invest in waterproof mitts or gloves since children will be putting their hands in the water regardless of temperatures. Other clothing that will provide them comfort are waterproof pants and jacket, a hat or toque and rubber boots. I highly recommend purchasing children’s waders after your first few trips are successful. Not because they will need to wade in the water but because it provides them an easy way to stay warm and dry. Finally, I always bring an extra set of clothing from footwear to socks, from pants to shirts. Children usually find a way of getting wet.
focus on the children - not the fishing
The first few trips you should only let the children fish and focus on them. You will be needed to demonstrate patience, provide instruction, untangle lines, ensure safety etc. There will be opportunities down the road where everyone can fish together if the focus is on the children during the introduction.
make it more than fishing
The children will enjoy the fishing, especially if they are catching fish, but make it more than fishing. Create a fun experience by skipping rocks, looking for insect life, have a mini scavenger hunt for specific outdoor things. That way their focus will not solely be on catching fish.
food & snacks
We all love snacks. Pack a small lunch with drinks and some of their favorite snacks and set time aside to enjoy them. Again, this adds to the complete experience and enjoyment. I recommend having a clean cloth and sanitizer in addition to the snacks to be able to wash the child’s hands before eating.
Having gear sized for children will allow them to use it more comfortably. It will reduce the learning curve and provide them a safe, fun environment. Having a fly rod that is shorter in length will ensure a better experience. I recommend rod lengths from 7 - 8 feet with a medium action to make it easier to cast. I also recommend having a short leader to ensure less line tangling. In addition to the fly rod, children should also wear some form of glasses for safety and have the barbs pinched on their flies in case an accident does happen.
Short trips, in good conditions with high success rates and people I liked being with were key factors for me enjoying fishing. I’ve tried to do the same with my kids. Their first trips were with spinning rods, bobbers and worms to our local lake to help ensure catching success. Since their first successes, introducing them to Fly fishing has offered a challenge beyond bait fishing as well as a way to easily demonstrate catch and release.
include family & friends
Make the introduction to fly fishing a family event. In my experience, having the company of my wife makes the trips more enjoyable and any challenges that occur a lot easier to address… two sets of hands are better than one. The children will also have more confidence in learning to fly fish and may even take direction from one parent or guardian better than the other. Also, try to include the friends of your children on some of the early trips since it will add more fun and camaraderie to the experience.
In summary, take the initiative to introduce your children to fly fishing. Make it a family and friends event that is simple and focused on fun. A few quick trips at an early age can soon turn into a lifetime of great fly fishing experiences.
Matt Dort resides in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, Canada and has access to over a dozen Trout and Atlantic Salmon Rivers to fish that are located along the North Shore of Nova Scotia. Matt has 30 years of fly fishing experience for Atlantic Salmon and Trout but even more importantly, he is someone who is very passionate about the sport and commits a lot of his time towards conservation initiatives and projects. Fishing is in his blood and his experience is diverse: from night time Brown Trout fishing to Sea Run Brookies, to estuary Striped Bass and the King of them all; the majestic Atlantic Salmon. But most of all he just enjoys being on the river fishing with his children and teaching them to love and respect Mother Nature’s gifts.