School has or is winding up for most people in the region, and it’s time to think about getting those kids out on the water. It’s pretty easy to let them lay around the house for a week or 3. Don’t do it. Parents know how short summer is, and the best (easiest!) time to put young anglers into fish is during the early season. I’m thinking the day after the last day. Many of you have a tough time getting it done during the dog days of August. Why would you want to put your kids through that?
If you have plans to introduce some youngsters to the sport, our recommendation is to get them in the boat and fish a nymph rig under a bobber. All kids enjoy a boat ride, and even the shortest casts can be effective while drifting.
If they are not proficient at casting yet, use a single fly rig 3-4 feet under a bobber with no split shot. You’ll want to use the largest and heaviest fly you think you can get the fish to eat. On the Missouri or Big Horn that might mean #12 Pink Scud or Worm. On the Madison or Big Hole maybe a #6 BH Stonefly Nymph or big old Prince. Big flies eliminate the need for split shot (which causes tangles) and while they may get bit less often, the bites are often aggressive which helps in the hook setting process. You should have them in a position where they make a short cast to the side of the boat, and you use the oars to keep the proper distance from the fly.
Remember that a single fly rig without split-shot hardly ever gets tangled. I often wonder why I’ve spent so many hours of my life re-rigging two fly nymph rigs while guiding, yet when I take my daughter she seems to catch just as many on one stupid fly. Am I overthinking it?
(If you must use small flies and split shot, be sure and rig it “ubangi” style with the split shot at the bottom or end of your leader. This almost never tangles)
For those that don’t have or have access to a boat, the most important factor is setting kids up in a situation where they can easily repeat the same cast. Try and find a deep and quick drop off – whether it’s on a small creek or a big river – and one where they can stand on the beach or at most knee deep (during runoff or around strong rivers always stay within an arms reach. Always!). These quick drops hold enough fish that a kid can blow a few before he lands the first one. If you can find the right spot the same shorty single nymph rig should work.
The key here is place them in a situation where they don’t have to strip in line. I can’t stress this enough, and it’s the main reason it’s so much easier to put kids into fish out of the boat. Kids hate stripping in line (though they do like to mend!), and often don’t understand why they need to do it. You may end up with some extra slack in the line, but usually the rod can make it up on the hook-set. Again, go out and scout it yourself. If you can catch a fish on a single cast with a fixed amount of line and no retrieval, they should be able to as well.
Kids love to wade, and as long as you are in a safe area they can often have as much fun turning over rocks and finding nymphs and Crayfish as they do fishing. Let them.
HOW TO FAIL
Big shallow rivers that require moving positions often and longer casts are terrible place to introduce most youngsters. Don’t go where you want to go. Go where your kids will be successful, even if that means hitting the local creek with some hatchery fish. I’ve seen a lot of fathers make this mistake. Introducing your son or daughter to your “special place” may need to wait until they are more proficient, which often means in their late teens or even early 20’s.
I’ll assume that most parents reading this don’t need to be told about days that are too long, too cold, etc.
Shorter rods rule. If you have a 7’1/2″ 5 weight thats perfect. Put a short-head 5 or even 6 on it to make short cast easy. And keep that leader as short as possible. If you’re able to get away with larger flies as mentioned above, you should be able to get away with 3X tippet or larger. This is very important when your 8 year old “death-grips” a 20 inch Brown. If you’re using 5X you’ll likely break him off, and lose some great memories and photos for later in life.
Our #1 selling individual rod model at Headhunters is the Echo Gecko Kids rod. It’s not necessary, but does make things a whole lot easier for kids. They can use two-hands, it love big open loops, and is so limber that you can land 5 pounders with out giving any line. Most folks need to fish a lot, or have more than one kid to justify it, but like I said, we sell a boatload of them. But really any rod will work other than very fast action 9 footers with smaller kids. If you do suspect your rod is a little too stout, overline it.
Hats and sunglasses are mandatory for skin and eye protection from flies. Glasses do not need to be polarized. It’s more important that they fit properly so the kids will keep them on. And don’t forget sunscreen and sun clothing.
Try and bring a net if you have one. Kids love to net fish, even when they don’t catch them themselves. They can also be used successfully to pull all kinds of stuff from the water, and as a weapon against a brother or sister.
Waders are great but definitely a luxury. If you think it’s maddening watching your kids grown out of $40 dollar shoes quickly, wait until they outgrow a $200 dollar set of waders and boots. Or outgrow just the boots they have only worn a few times! You definitely need more than 1 kid to justify this expense. Try to find some used ones if possible, and I have seen them on eBay.
I’ve seen no point in any other fly fishing specific gear for children, though they do seem to love their own fly box and flies. For $10-20 you can get them a cheap fly box with a half dozen bugs.
INTERACTIONS & MEMORIES
As a parent, I’ve found that all of the most memorable interactions I’ve had with my daughter have been outside of our house. Hiking, skiing and fly fishing make up some of the greatest families memories of the last 11 years. The battle to get them out there is often difficult, but once they are they seem to immediately forget about mobile devices, netflix, games and texting. While it’s important that I remember the day, it’s more important to me that they do.
Making sure you put your kids in a position to succeed and have fun is the most important factor in how the day goes.