How to teach children to fly fish

Teaching children to fly fish isn't as hard as you think. Here are 15 things I've learned from teaching two of my children to fly fish.

How to teach children to fly fish
© Fly&Lure
How to teach children to fly fish
Picture copyright © Fly&Lure
How to teach children to fly fish
Estimated reading time 11 - 18 minutes

1. Make sure they're safe

First things first, there is going to be a hook flying through the air at about 100mph. There's a chance that it could stick in them and ruin your day out.

Make sure you use barbless hooks or fully de-barb them to make them easy to remove. Make sure your child is wearing a hat and a pair of sunglasses or their prescription specs.

Many fly fishing waters such as our local Ellerdine Lakes, (very sensibly) won't let children fly fish without these basic pieces of essential safety gear, so make sure you have packed them before you leave the house.

It goes without saying that you must always keep a close eye on them when they're near the water to make sure they don't fall in. Don't leave them on their own either.

2. Go somewhere suitable for children

Not every venue is suitable for teaching children to fly fish. It's no good taking them somewhere where they'll need waders, where backcasting space is tricky or where they need to cast a great distance to reach the fish.

If you can, look out for a child friendly fly fishing venue, as some fisheries now have specially stocked lakes just for use by kids. Many fishery staff are happy to come over and offer advice and help them to catch too, which kids always like. George got some great help at a recent trip to Chirk Fishery

While most fisheries are quite welcoming to parents fishing with children, you do come across the odd one which is not. Some have a minimum age limit and some even go as far as restricting how long children can fish for, but thankfully that's a rarity.

I am guessing that this is because their regulars don't want children disturbing the peace or splashing the water, but it probably also means they're alienating potential customers who might have become regulars themselves. Check their rules before you go. Many also do father and son (or mother and daughter) tickets which help keep the costs down.

3. Don't fish yourself (at first)

One thing I learned pretty quickly was that it's not a great idea to take a child fly fishing and fish yourself - at least, not until they've got a bit of experience under their belt.

You'll spend all your time casting, untangling their line and swapping their flies, and very little time fishing yourself.

Until they're a bit more experienced it's best if you don't fish, and just help them instead. At first, you can cast for them and teach them to retrieve, which will hopefully get them a hook up or two.

4. Don't go if it's windy

Don't forget how tricky it can be to fly cast in the wind before you've mastered the art. If you try to teach children to fly fish when it's windy they'll really struggle, they're more likely to get accidentally hooked, and they're highly likely to get frustrated, which will put them off fishing.

If it's more than 10mph then stay at home (or leave them with mum and go out yourself). If the wind picks up while you're out fishing together, move to a spot which is sheltered so they can still cast, even if that means fishing where the fish are less likely to be.

5. Make sure they're warm and dry

Kids get cold and that causes them to whine, which as ever parent knows, is bloody annoying. Whining about being cold typically results in a fishing trip ending early, so make sure they're wrapped up warm and kept dry.

Take hand warmers with you so they can defrost frozen fingers. Have regular cups of tea in the lodge or take a flask of hot chocolate.

Let them sit by the fire in the lodge to warm up every so often go and sit in the car for a while so they can thaw out. It will mean less fishing, but it will stop them getting so cold they can't fish and will keep them much happier.

5. Take lots of snacks

The snack bag is an essential feature of any fishing trip involving children. Don't leave home without plenty of snacks for them to graze upon when they get bored or peckish.

Another good tip for keeping them motivated is to stop for breakfast. No trip to Ellerdine, for example, can be considered complete unless you stop in at the lodge for one of Paul's tasty sausage sandwiches and a nice cup of tea.

6. Go to a Troutmasters water

Trout Fisherman magazine's Troutmasters programme lets fly fishers  compete against each other at participating fisheries to see who can catch the biggest fish in any given month.

There's a junior section to this and your child can win a badge if they're one of the top anglers at the fishery that month. Winning a badge earns them a place at a fish-off competition at the fishery and winning that gets them to the Troutmasters finals.

George won three Junior Troutmasters badges in the space of four months, while Lily got hers on her first attempt (much to the annoyance of George who tried for ages to earn his first badge). He's under orders to stop winning them now so the other children get a chance to go into the fish off! 

7. Get your child a smaller fly rod

The best size of fly rod to get your child really depends on how big they are. George was 5 when he started fly fishing my six weight was way too big for him to handle, so he used a nice four weight Greys GS2 fly rod.

A shorter, lighter fly rod like this with a lower line weight is a good idea for children. His Greys GS2 is an 8'6" 4# and he manages to cast this without any problems. Now a couple of years into his fly fishing hobby, he'd still struggle with anything bigger, I reckon.

The good thing about a four weight is that it also bends nicely on small fish, but still has the backbone to get trout in quickly when catch and release fishing so they go off with some energy left in reserve. Having borrowed it a few times, its bendiness certain puts a smile on your face when you hook into a good trout. 

8. Over-line the rod

You'll probably find your child finds it tricky to load the rod when they first learn to fly cast. This will mainly be due to poor timing, but probably also because they don't really understand the physics of what's happening and can't feel when to forward cast again.

Over-lining the rod by using a line weight one (or even two) weights heavier than the recommended casting weight can really help, especially if their rod has a faster action. Once they've cracked loading the rod, you can put on the right weight line and leave them to it. 

9. Don't force them if they're not into it

I'd love it if all three of my children fly fished. George (8) is completely addicted and has fished with me virtually every weekend for the last couple of years and earned himself several Troutmasters badges.

Lily (11) been a couple of times and won her Troutmaster's badge on her first attempt, but Henry (10) just isn't into it. I'm sure he'll see sense when he's older and realise what he's been missing. 

10. Get them to invent their own flies to take

Before a fly fishing trip, we tend to tie up a few extra flies to take. Kids love inventing their own fly patterns and testing their new creation makes the trip great fun.

It's astonishing quite how many fish they'll catch on the most bizarre fly patterns tied up the night before the trip. 

Teach them to tie their own flies and they get even greater pleasure from it. George is now a master at tying zonkers, cats whiskers, buzzers and other things and often gives them away (or even sells them!) to the Ellerdine regulars. The downside is that your fly tying materials will be used up at an alarming rate...

11. Take them on an Orvis fly fishing course

Children sometimes prefer to learn things from people other than their parents - at least that's what I tell myself when mine refuse to listen.

Orvis does a huge amount to get people into fly fishing, including excellent Fly Fishing 101 courses designed to teach newcomers (including children) the basics of fly fishing. 

Both George and Lily have been on these courses and found them really useful. George also did the more in-depth Orvis course at a local fly fishery with the Orvis instructor and well known fly fishing guide Louis Noble and had a great time. 

There are many seriously good things about these Orvis introductory fly fishing courses, one of the most impressive being that Orvis provides them at its stores completely free of charge. Even better for me is that there's an Orvis store - and lovely friendly staff - just two miles from my door.

12. Get them competing

George took part in the Greys Junior Bank Nationals at Ellerdine Lakes in October 2015. He got the chance to fish alongside some extremely talented young fly fishers - several of whom are England Internationals already - and the competitive spirit really spurred him on.

The atmosphere at the Bank Nationals was great. All the children who attended were as mad on fly fishing as George and were really encouraging him - with him being the youngest by a good few years.

He didn't do too badly either, catching three fish to seven or eight pounds and missing out on a place in the National finals by just one point! This was made slightly more frustrating for him by the fact that he hooked into a huge double figure fish in the final minutes, only to be snapped off... 

The Bank Nationals gave him the chance to see how good the other juniors were, which seems to have encouraged him to try and outdo them. His skills have improved no end since this event and he's now double hauling and happily fishing into the wind so he can try and get a place in the finals next year. 

13. Remember, it's all just a bit of fun...

Children, especially younger ones, won't take their fishing as seriously as you do, so don't forget that it's supposed to a fun experience, not a purely educational one.

Although he now has a long concentration span and can happily fish all day without getting bored, even George (now 8) sometimes finds fly fishing a bit challenging, especially when it's windy, if the fish won't bite or when he can't get them to stay attached to his line.

When that happens, he usually gives up on trout and fly fishes for the more obliging perch or roach instead. According to his methodology, every perch or roach caught is worth double points, so this represents an excellent way to thrash dad for a competitive child. 

Plus, catching anything on a fly is still great fun and even I sometimes have a crack at the perch and roach instead in order to try and catch him up.

14. Let them play or land your fish

If you hook up, either let your child fight the fish on your rod, or at least let them try and land it. Fighting fish is excellent practice for when they finally hook up on their own and is almost as thrilling as catching your own - minus the initial take, of course.

George also loves netting fish for me and often offers assistance to the regulars at our regular fishery if they land a big trout they're struggling with themselves.

Using an indicator is a great way for kids to fish and cuts down on casting.

15. Start off with the bung

At first I think it's worth starting your child off by fishing something beneath an indicator or bung. If you don't do this the child will have retrieved within seconds and you'll need to re-cast for them.

If you do use an indicator, they'll be able to keep their fly in the zone for longer, it gives them something to focus on and watching an indicator slide away is great fun. It's also an effective way to catch trout all year round, whether you're using something imitative like a buzzer or something gaudier like a blob or egg fly.

You'll never forget their first trout on the fly, and nor will they!

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