Introducing kids to fly fishing

Alana French with the perfect result.

I started trout fishing as an eight year old boy in a small stream called the Ruruanga, located in Kawerau. I can still recall vividly how I caught my first trout from this small piece of water.

I was using a spinning set made up of a boat rod and a huge surfcasting reel. I had found a Mother of Pearl spinner in my Dad’s tackle box and although a little big, it certainly looked the part. I had two friends on a bank above the piece of water I was flicking into. I guess you could say they were spotting for me but that term came much later in my fishing journey.

Adrenalin rush

I had cast downstream of the fish and was slowly bringing the lure back upstream. As it got opposite the trout my friends very excitedly explained what was going on. “It’s moving up, oh its close, oh wait wait” by the time the trout took it, I was a mass of trembling adrenalin. I can’t remember much of the fight but the feeling of elation and pride as I rode home with it dangling from my fingers, showing the world, was a changing point in my life.

I have spent the last 44 years trying to perfect and learn as much about fly fishing as I possibly could. I watched the fishermen around me and through that my abilities grew. My father had a big hand in my tuition at the start, he was an excellent wet Line fisherman and was very successful, fishing all the Rotorua lakes and the very special Waitahanui River in Taupo. From him I learnt knots and the figure of eight retrieve, used before casting baskets and shooting heads were invented. I would stand beside him with my Rubber waders freezing my toes off in -5 Deg at 7am and think it was the most thrilling thing a boy could do. My love affair with fishing culminated in me becoming a Trout Fishing Guide for just over 10 years and you know what, I’m still on a learning curve. So when Kathy from Waterline asked me to write a piece giving some tips for parents to introduce their kids to fishing, I thought what a great idea and here I am.

If you were a beginner, never had picked up a fly rod in your life and I asked you to “start casting” you would go, “umm ok what do I do” The fly reel does not have a bail, so you have to pull the line out for a start, you actually have to pull all the leader through the rod eyes and get the main line out before you do anything and what the hell is that fluffy looking thing on the end of the line anyway!

Perseverance needed

Fly fishing is not easy, I believe it is the hardest form of any fishing including all sea techniques. It requires dexterity, timing and the ability to do many things all at once. So to expect a young kid to pick it up quickly is not reasonable. You run the risk of them getting bored and frustrated because they feel they can’t do it and spend more time untangling line and re-tying way more than fishing. If you are keen for your kid to pick up this sport and they have showed interest in it I would invest, (for their birthday or Christmas present) a half day with a guide. If the guide is worth anything they will jump your kid about five years into the future in four hours on the river. This is what I would do with your precious little one.

Explain that the leader is tapered, that is it is thick up the top and is thinner down at the end we tie on the two nymphs. It is tapered so it makes casting easier. The leader for most of the water I fish never needs to be longer than ten feet. This makes it easier to cast for beginners. To start with I only use one nymph that has a wee bit of weight, maybe 2.8mm of Tungsten. I explain that the “Fluffy” thing on the end of the fly line is called an indicator and that your eyes never move from it for more than a second at a time. If it goes under you must “Strike”. I get my clients to stand in the running water and show them how to strip out line from their reel. I cast that downstream for them, probably about 20 feet. They will be doing all this by themselves within an hour but to start with and for time’s sake, I do this for them. I get them to hold the rod comfortably with the line in their left or right hand. I explain that for this technique to work the line all the way to the Nymph has to be straight. Then with one steady motion, I pull the line out of the water below us and land it in front of us, on the water. This is called the water load. It is a great way to get distance and accuracy. I then take the rod off them, get it down stream again, hand them the rod and get them to do it again. We do this until I am happy that they can feel it coming off the water, loading the rod and shooting the line. From there the next step is a bit of line control.

They have the line in their free hand, (not holding the rod). I get them to place the line in the hand with the rod and to pull from behind their little finger. Getting them to take the line in and out of the rod hand and bring line in, keeping in touch with the indicator that they haven’t taken their eyes off of yet. Then comes the “mend”. We talk a little about the mend as it is so important in catching trout when in a river situation. So by  that stage they are water loading, bringing in a wee bit of line  and mending.

Splashing nymphs

The next step is getting their line back down stream for the re-cast. I don’t allow them to just let the drift swing across at the bottom as in most cases due to snags this is not an option. They have to bring enough line in to have control, then I get them to “Roll Cast” downstream. The nymphs must splash below the indicator. Then I get them to think about a clock in front of them. They need to crisply snap the line out of the water and stop at 10 o’clock, pause for a half second and drop the rod tip back to two o’clock and stop. With practice this manoeuvre will enable them to cast their line downstream in a straight line where they can “Water Load” again.

Before you know it, they are fishing. They are not slashing the water, catching Trees and themselves, they are casting much further than they could ever dream of doing in such a short space of time and they are doing it accurately. I play a fish for them too as it is pointless in getting them to do all these great things and not teach them what happens when they hook up. The fact that you have taught them the two and ten o’clock positions and getting them to pause is great practice for when they do start to “false cast”. They will enjoy the fact they think they have a chance at catching a trout because they are spending all their time untangling and re-tying. They will want to get out there and explore, they might even put down their X Box controller but don’t bank on that.

I hope this helps you. I have guided many young ones in my time, most of the time the Dad has given it a go but as we all know kids always know better than their parents and so many of my clients have given me their kids as they believe I will be able to get through to them better. The above technique is what I use and so maybe give it a go and jump start your kid into a lifelong healthy addiction. I have a U Tube channel called RiverGod21. In my How-To section there is a video called how to water load, have a look at it and see how easy it is.


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