Tips for Taking Your Kids Fly Fishing : From One Fly Fishing Obsessed Parent to Another

Editors Note:

I have three kids, currently 12, almost 10 and newly 8 years old, and man, have they taught me a lot and they continue to teach me in parenting. Together we have created a deeper love for the outdoors and all things fly fishing. I’d like to say it has taken time, a lot of patience, a lot of learning, trying new things and never, ever, giving up. Our family fishing adventures tend to be fairly seamless more recently but it didn’t start out that way. In writing this, I hope to share a few ideas that have worked for us and might help prepare you in your next successful family fishing outing. I encourage you to keep trying new things until you find what works for you and your family. Take with you what you find most helpful and please, take your kids fishing, you will not regret it.

As I look back on taking my very young kids (toddler, infant, newborn) fly fishing, I laugh. I had it in my head that I get to catch fish, all while teaching my kids to catch fish. Everything would be easy and everything would be awesome all the time. The kids and I were in for a wild ride. There were days that we’d run through all of Harper Mae’s newborn clothes due to messy blown-out diapers, to nursing her in the Baby Bjorn so I could keep fishing, telling my kids to go pee in the bushes right off the main trail, to melt downs and tears from both the kids and myself – keep in mind, each one of these “rough days” had beautiful moments. The wonderful moment when Emery ties an improved clinch knot perfectly, to working on his bloodknots and tying his sister’s rig (in turn teaching her as well). From Harper Mae netting her big brother’s fish, her face expression full of joy for him. To Addison giving me a big hug and saying “Mom, I am so happy we are here.” Those moments or even days where everything goes ‘right’ fills me with gratitude. I can take all the good, the bad and the ugly moments and give appreciation that they all have helped develop and lead me to become a better parent, student and teacher.

I believe the most important gift we can share with our children is love, and help create a love for the outdoors. As I continue to raise my kids in this lifestyle, that is fly fishing, I find myself checking off the below list before heading out or even revisiting this list as the day progresses. The best part is that as we continue to learn together we simply make adjustments.

Attitude is everything. Your mood sets the ‘success’ tone not only for you but your kids as well, collectively together for the day or the short adventure. Most recently Emery and I went on a DIY swing steelhead trip and had great success, not just because he landed a fish of a lifetime, but because our attitude and our expectations were all in the right place. We both stepped out of our box of comfort and we had an unforgettable time.

    • Define your idea of success for the adventure. What is your goal?  Is it simply walking the bank of the river pointing out rising fish, wild life or wild roses? Is it teaching them to cast? Is it your kiddo catching their first fish on the fly all by themselves? Is it letting them tie on their own fly? Is it collecting patience in untangling a rig again or finding patience to let them do it on their own? Is it lasting 20 minutes without a meltdown from the kids or you? Is it lasting 20 more minutes longer than yesterday? Having this personal goal helps set realistic expectations for you and essentially the kids.
    • Talk expectations with yourself – is your goal realistic? My first time sure wasn’t. I had it in my head that we would be out all day and it’d be great! I brought plenty of food to keep them happy, crafts…heck, we are outside and at my favorite place, the river, where I get to teach my kids to catch fish. We were all but 10 minutes in and I hear “Mom, I want to go home.” But we just got here? Talk about mood buster. I had to learn this the hard way that it was up to me to adjust my attitude and expectations. I was cranky so they became cranky – see point below.
    • Be ready to leave earlier than you may have planned. Or be ready to bribe. I’m not saying that bribing a kid with ice cream is the best decision, I’m just saying it may have worked to get just a few more minutes out on the water. (I want to add that bribing in our family is at a minimal now. Again, being in the outdoors has become such a positive in our family that being outside is the unspoken bribe.)
    • Go with the flow. Sometimes we pee in the bushes. Or there may have been a time that Emery and I drove 2 hours to our fishing spot only to realize as we are putting on our waders I forgot his wading boots. Oops! Luckily we are the same boot size. It gave me an opportunity to watch and truly see how much he has developed in the sport without the distraction of me fishing too. I’m finding that sitting on the sidelines is what I truly enjoy the most with them. The day doesn’t have to be perfect and laugh at what might be going ‘wrong’. Remember, if it’s too serious everyone will lose interest and no one will leave happy.

Safety. Check conditions before you go.

    • Check current water data and know the flows before you go. High, spring run-off flows are unsafe flows and aren’t worth the risk – avoid runoff flows. Stillwater, such as lakes or community ponds are a great alternative to moving water.
    • Where I live, weather can change fast. So dress accordingly and bring appropriate clothing for potential wet or cooler temps than forecasted.
    • Talk about safety with your kids and what your expectations are for them when or before you get to the river. Is it that they don’t get into the water without you. Or if they are old enough that if they can go up river but stay in sight?
    • ALWAYS crimp the barb of the fly
    • I tell my kiddos that if they are holding the fly rod that the rule is that they must wear sunglasses. The boat rule for our family is that everyone wears glasses, even if they are not fishing.
    • If you plan on crossing, please do so cautiously and with confidence. This was very intimidating to Emery even though I knew he would be fine. This is one we worked on together to get over that fear. We communicate before, during and high-five after.
    • Bring a life jacket – especially if your floating. Even if it’s not state-law for anyone to wear, bring it. My youngest still has to wear her’s the entire time we are in the boat. You can make that judgement call on your own, but please, be safe & be smart.
    • Sunscreen, bug spray, extra sunglasses, extra hats, extra wading belts all belong in my first aid kit “grab bag”

Extra clothes and extra clothes for those back ups and extra waders, boots, regular shoes if possible and if necessary. Simms make a great youth wader that can handle the wear a kid can put on them.

A. Lot. Of. Snacks. Annnnd extra snacks. We prepare snacks before we leave and try to utilize reusable containers as it will limit any potential micro trash getting away from their little fingers.  For lunch we do something as simple as tuna sandwiches. My kids are assigned to pack what they individually want to bring – it gives them a chance to be responsible. It gives me a brain break on the mental checklist as I’m going over what not to forget.  Mom note: I would suggest to double check what they pack, only because we did have a time where all Harper Mae brought were Jolly Ranchers for her snack. Where did she even get these?

Make it a game. “We are never more fully alive, more completely ourselves, or more deeply engrossed in anything than when we are playing.” -Charles Schaefer 

Find their interest and keep them involved. Each one of my kids learn very differently and they each find certain things interesting. It is a good reminder to find what works for everyone. For Addison, she didn’t like bugs to start but later on I was able to ask her to draw or photograph them – she loves all things art. So if you have someone that’s not into alien looking creatures then perhaps through the following ideas that worked for us, you can find a few that work for you:

    • Non-toxic water paints for things like rock painting, if your minimizing using paper
    • Bring a camera that you would feel appropriate for your little one(s) to use. We’ve gotten disposable cameras for everyone which is fun to see what they decided to take pictures of.
    • Turn over rocks, there’s a whole wild wiggly world under their, wow!
    • Have them try to memorize all the categories : Midge, Stonefly, Mayfly, Caddis…Annelid, Terrestrial (for hoppers, ants, beatles, etc.)
    • Bug vials are a fun way to teach bugs and gives a project. (It helps us as tiers on the vise too)
    • Let them help pick flies that look like what you see
    • Blankets, hot chocolate and snacks is sometimes all they need to enjoy hanging out
    • Play baseball, fly fishing style. Three missed fish, you’re out & it’s their turn. Netted fish is a home run!
    • Let them release fish. “Bye fish!” you’ll hear Harper Mae say. She will tell you netting and releasing is her favorite part.
    • Take a break from fishing. Go swimming or find heart rocks
    • Bring their bikes and helmets
    • Good ol’ “I Spy”. Sometimes fishing is slow, this game only last a few minutes with my crew but could work for yours!
    • Music – bring a guitar, harmonica, ukulele
    • Tic tac toe using sticks and rocks, be creative!
    • Go to your local fly shop – I can tell you when I’m working at Fishwest my favorite faces that walk in are kids… no offense, I like yours too. But when you bring your kids, I get to give away free stickers, help talk about bugs, and listen to their fun fish stories!! I know Emery loves being able to pick out his own flies. Remember those bug vials – have your kids bring them and see if they remember what they are and if they can find flies that look like them to add to their fly box collection.
    • Tie flies together (Honestly, my kid’s first tied flies were wiggle worms…but their ties caught fish and eventually we’ve moved on to other recipes).

Write down the day’s adventure. Just like you might in your fishing journal. Or even better, have your kids help you recall what bugs you saw or what flies worked. Let them tell you about the HUGE fish that got away, or the Osprey diving into the water 3 times before it taloned a fish. Add in the art they created. Write down what went right? What would you do differently for the next outing? Ask them what snacks they would want for next time. How was your attitude? How were the kids?

Be Encouraging and reflect. Like I shared above, reliving the day on what you learned together is an opportunity to connect. Tell your kids how much you appreciate them for joining you in such a fun adventure. Let them hear you’re proud of them, how they had a great attitude, how well they casted or acknowledge how they were so patient with their sibling. I let my kids know how grateful I am to get to do this with them. We take turns and go through our favorite part of the day.

I also want to reflect that this all takes practiced patience, keep trying and reflect on the positive. If you found that you lost your patience in a moment of having to untangle or tie a new fly on again, remember the best part is that you can make the active choice in being patient when the next opportunity to lovingly untangle or suggest to your little one to first try it themselves the best they can. I found that the more and more I let them be independent, they enjoyed the independence and over time, Emery can do everything himself! But only if I step back and let him. In the beginning I did get pushback and tears from his frustration, however, I always tried to remain calm and encouraging. I was proud that even if the tangle was impossible of recovery, the fact he attempted it himself is what I was so proud of him doing.

Plan the next adventure together. Together we decide where we should go and what we should bring. When they get to be a part of the planning process it makes them more excited to get out again. With that said, Addison still takes a little convincing but she has ALWAYS enjoyed the moment when we are there together. When she shares with me, “I’m glad we are here.” – I do a little Napoleon Dynamite “YES!” inside – all that calmness I projected when she was saying she didn’t want to go paid off! Whoohoo!

As all of us continue to expand as a family in our fishy community I feel grateful for the opportunity to share, learn, and grow with you. I want to say thank you to my friends and family for their shared patience in our adventures together. I appreciate all the encouragement and support you’ve given me and my children. From my fishy family to yours, tight lines, and we hope to see you out there!!