How old were you when you cast your first fly? Do you remember that combination of wonder and excitement? Whether you started out as a kid or tackled fishing a little later in life, it’s fun to think back on those days when your lack of finesse didn’t matter. Learning how to do something that calls to your spirit is one of life’s better joys. Passing along that passion to a child connects you both on levels that stay strong for a lifetime. When you’re ready to tutor a young fishing buddy in the ways of Alaskan fly fishing, focus on these five productive tips.
1. Bait That Natural Curiosity
If a child watches intently and wants to know why you put together those bug-looking things, he’s a good candidate for the river. If he likes to explore the tackle box, show him your case, and tell him why different fish chase different flies. Most young anglers don’t care about the details, but they’ll listen when you explain that fish are like people with different appetites. The fact that you sit at a table making fake insects is enough to impress any curious kid, so show him how to tie a wooly bugger. Ask him if he’d like to try it out, and watch that little face light up as you start planning a day together on the water.
2. Fit the Gear to the Kid
As much as you love your old gear, your youngest fisherman really wants his own stuff. Resist the temptation to pass off your favorites as sentimental hand-me-downs, and head for the pro shop. From kid-sized rods and waders to pint-sized hats and shades, you’ll find everything for outfitting a short-statured novice. Let him try out a few rods for size while you consider weight options. Most 6-weight rods are heavy enough for a child’s cast, but you might want a 4- or 5-weight for someone small who doesn’t need as much stiffness. A kid’s enthusiasm goes a lot further when he’s not worn out from working a rod that’s hard to handle.
3. Don’t Make Casting Complicated
Your littlest angler won’t master the perfect cast in one season. You can fine-tune techniques later, so concentrate on the basics for now. Try a simple approach to casting that starts with a two-hand hold on the rod and thumbs on top. Instruct your young student to quickly lift the rod, and then give it a sudden stop even with his ear as the line goes straight behind him. Follow through with a smooth forward motion that puts the tip at eye level to loop the line and deliver that fly. Never underestimate the power of patient encouragement and sincere compliments as he starts to get the drift.
4. Make Everything Easy to Enjoy
Getting a kid hooked on fly fishing should always be about having a good time. Give that budding fisherman a fighting chance for a great start in water that you know promises plenty of fish. Keep a beginner’s interest in the game with a transparent bubble bobber that drifts his dry fly while he watches fish rise to the occasion. Let him have fun teasing hungry hatchery trout. Turn quiet time into teachable moments while you point out rainbows and explain their feeding habits. Your youngest fishing pal will eventually deliver within an inch of perfect cover, but for now, let him enjoy being a kid on the river.
5. Remember When You Were Young
Chances are good that you didn’t start your fly fishing life by spending eight hours a day on the water. It’s a safe bet that you got bored sometimes, so give that little guy a break. If he wants to skip stones across the river, put down your rod, and help him hunt for the flattest rocks. Can he hear his tummy growling? Take a break, and break out the snacks and soft drinks. Turn your faces up to the clear, blue Alaskan sky, see how many eagles you can spot, and discuss the pros and cons of bringing comfortable chairs on your next trip. Time is on your side, so take it, and teach that kid just enough fly fishing now to last you both a lifetime.
There aren’t many things that light up your soul like the grin on a child’s face when he lands his first trout. There aren’t many things that you can share with a new fishing buddy that will age gracefully into a lifetime of outdoor adventures. Here at No See Um Lodge, we applaud all the little guys and girls out there who are discovering the magic that comes with that first strike. We salute you, the patient teacher, for opening up wilderness horizons that make the digital world seem very far away. Every kid deserves a chance to get his waders wet, and you earn a special place in fly fishing heaven for making it happen.