Spring has pretty much sprung around here. We still need the water to warm a little to kick off the BWO, March Brown and Mothers Days Caddis hatches, but it’s not far off. Spring offers some of the easiest fly fishing of the year on the Missouri. Nymph and streamer fishing can be spectacular, and the dry fly fishing is as good as it gets when conditions are right during pre-runoff. And we all like spectacular fishing.
You know who else likes spectacular fishing? Kids. You don’t have to give them that lecture about “patience” when their rod is doubled over all day. They won’t get “fidgety” when fighting a fish. They learn quicker. They focus a little harder. And they want to go again.
The Missouri River in April and May offers some of the best kids fly fishing I’ve ever seen, though a drift boat or raft is required. You can rig up a simple indicator rig with 1 fly, no split shot and a bobber, and you’re virtually guaranteed some fish. Young anglers don’t have to worry about long casts, as fish can be caught right off the tip of the oars. Heavy tippet can be used which saves on break-offs that are so common later in the season. The slow moving currents favor younger eyes and the sometime slower reflexes that children have. The boat also removes the dreaded backcast obstacles the can frustrate new casters young and old.
Not everyone owns a boat, but if you live in Montana you probably know someone who does. If you live in Bozeman you can probably walk out your front door and see 4 or 5. Borrow one, or see if a neighbor or friend will take you and a child out for a day. And if you have a boat, go find a neighbor kid who wants to go. Not much is more satisfying than mentoring young anglers.
If you’re a Military Veteran, you can reserve one of our 2 Project Healing Waters boats for free. The only thing we like to see more than our nations Veterans out on the water, is Veterans out there with their families.
Rent a boat. All of the fly shops in Craig offer boat rentals for around $150 per day (which includes your shuttle). While not inexpensive, it’s an easy way to get out on the Missouri. We even launch it and pick it up for you. And remember this; you could rent that boat 10 times in a year and you still wouldn’t have paid for the trailer on a new Adipose or Clackacraft drift boat, so it really does make economic sense. And your child will never forget it.
When August Trico fishing rolls around, you should probably leave the kids at home, unless you want to teach them a lesson in frustration and humility. But during the spring months conditions are ripe for young anglers. Go get them hooked.
Tips for Fly Fishing with Kids:
Use 1 nymph, a bobber and no weight. This reduces nearly all tangles for anglers of all ages! I like to pick a larger, weighted, bright nymph (San Juan Worm, Bubble Yum, etc.) that gets hit harder than more subtle patterns. Young kids often have trouble seeing a take in the indicator. The harder a fish grabs your fly, the easier it is to see.
PINCH THAT BARB! Nothing will ruin the day quicker than a barbed hook stuck in a kids face. And if you don’t know the “mono” hook removal trick, Google it or ask a local fly shop to show you.
Use heavy tippet. Kids are going to “horse” fish, and use what guides call the “death grip” on the line. Some fish will pull off, but it’s better than breaking them off. And no child wants to hear your lecture about necessary tippet diameters. I usually use 3X.
Let them net a few. Kids absolutely LOVE to net fish. If you have two children in the boat, let the one in the front net fish for the one in the back. Teamwork baby! (Often, a child will decide he likes netting the fish more than catching them. If this happens stop fishing immediately! That child runs the risk of becoming a fly fishing guide.)
Don’t teach too much. Teach them how to cast just far enough to catch a fish (just past the oar blades). Let them use two hands and go too far back (which creates open loops and fewer tangles). Don’t teach them how to false cast, reach cast, throw negative and positive curve casts, steeple casts, or anything else you learned on YouTube. You are going to have to teach them to mend and set the hook properly and quickly. Focus on that, as thats what catches fish.
Have Fun. You’ve heard it before but it bears repeating. Have fun!