This is one of the questions I get asked most often, and it’s a great one because it revolves around mentoring and introducing young people to fishing and the outdoors. In all of the fishing, traveling, writing and photographing I’ve done over the years, I’ve never found a more noble nor more rewarding pursuit than turning newbies onto fishing, especially young ones. Be it with your own kids or grandchildren, the neighbor kids, through community programs, or whatever, trust me… lighting those eyes and seeing those smiles eclipses any tug you feel at the end of your own line, and certainly any photo you’ll hang on a wall.
Our family had some pretty strong traditions. As kids, we were taught to fish early on, and like many it was usually with a hook and bobber. As far as fly fishing goes, we started out fishing classic wet flies because that had us wading downstream, always under the watchful eye of an adult. Only when we were strong enough and smart enough to wade into the current did Grandfather let us spin around and start working upstream, firing casts with dry flies. It was a graduation of sorts.
As far as gear goes, it’s never too early to start with the “gizmos.” Especially if you avoid the sharp stuff. (Just keep the hooks and such in your own kit.) My own son, Paul, loved tackle boxes as soon as he could walk. Of course, he put things like Matchbox cars in there with bobbers and so forth on our way to the lake. And once he brought a garter snake home in his tackle box, which didn’t please Mom very much.
Paul’s first fly vest was a big deal. I think that was around age eight. Do check the pockets after every outing to the lake or river though.
Sunglasses are important at any age — not so much for spotting fish, but rather as eye protection!
Naturally, the biggest deal of all was the very first fly rod, and another family tradition was that the kids got their first very own fly rods for their 10th birthday. Of course, there were Snoopy rods and they got to learn casting with mom or dad’s rods leading up to that. But when you turned double-digits… man… that was a big, big deal.
The beauty of that is, it’s right around age 10 when the coordination and understanding starts to click enough for them to start casting and catching on their own. Of course that differs for everyone. I know plenty of 30- and 50-year-olds who haven’t quite arrived yet, and often I consider myself in that same camp.
You don’t need a fancy rod by any stretch, and in fact, there are more great starter combo kits, featuring rods, reels, lines and whatever else you need to get started available these days than ever before.
The only important thing is that it is theirs.
Done right, and fished often, that’ll keep ‘em fired up for a few years. At least until they start thinking about the next big deal and wanting the car keys.
Done really right… they’ll ultimately find their way back to the river (or lake) and fishing, and do the same thing for another generation.