Teaching Kids to Fly Fish: The Five Golden Rules

By Kirk Deeter

There is nothing more rewarding in the fishing world than teaching a young person some basics and watching that pilot light catch. I’ll trade a blanket callibaetis hatch and hundreds of popping fish heads for one pond-eat of a grasshopper fly cast by a little partner with a Snoopy rod, any day, any time.

I often get asked about things like, “What’s the right age to start fly fishing?” and “What’s the best gear to begin with?”

My answers to most of those questions follow a similar track… It depends on the kid! Play it by ear. You know what they like, and how long their attention spans last. One of the greatest lessons an angler can embrace is to not try to set an agenda and enforce that on the fish; instead, be patient, watch, and let the fish, or the water, tell you what’s going on and what should happen. Well, it’s the same with teaching little folks about fly fishing. The more they’re involved in the plan, the better.

There are, however, a handful of golden rules I’ve adopted over the years, and I’ll share them here to help those who are interested in the mentoring path. I’m also very interested in hearing your tips and advice, because one can never have a mind that’s too open when it comes to this topic.

1. Success fuels interest — There’s nothing like the tug of an actual fish to get a young angler fired up about this whole deal. So fish where you know there are fish, and fish where fish eat flies. Save the “fish of 1,000 casts” for us warped old steelheaders and musky people. Try to find the “fish of 10 casts.”

2. There is no such thing as a “bad” cast — Only casts that catch fish, and casts that don’t. Most of mine don’t. And some of my ugliest casts have caught big fish. Sure, you want to teach good technique, but Rome wasn’t built in a day, and at all costs, I’d steer away from words like “wrong” or “bad,” especially when I’m casting with a young person… or my wife.

3. Let them choose their gear — Bright colors, fun looks… something is going to jump out at them, so let them run with it. If you show them options (well, maybe don’t show them a fancy split cane rod for starters, you get the drift), they’ll take ownership in things they pick up, more than things that are handed to them. To borrow from Harry Potter… “The wand chooses the wizard”.

4. It’s never too early for a conservation ethic — If you see trash, pick it up, and explain why. Handle fish gently, keep them wet, and release them. If you’re out to catch dinner, great, but do that within the regulations and be reasonable. I’m constantly amazed by just how strong the natural stewardship ethic is in young people… I think they’re born feeling that fish are beautiful friends, more so than mere “objects.” It’s good to keep that attitude alive.

5. Let them teach you — I can’t count how many times I thought a fish might be in one spot, only to watch my son drop a little cast in a place I had written off, and score. Maybe crack open the old fly box and let them pick the pattern. It will likely be gaudy, and fuzzy, and you’ll think it hasn’t a prayer (and so what if it doesn’t… you can always change, right?) but when that lucky bug does the trick… man, what that does for enthusiasm and confidence! Sometimes, you’ll be amazed by what a 10-year-old beginner can teach you about catching trout on flies.

— Kirk Deeter

By Brett Prettyman.