How old does a child need to be to begin fly fishing?
Whenever I’m asked that question, my response is quite consistent. If the kiddo can walk, they are ready to go fly fishing. The next question is almost automatic: “How do I get started?” This is where it’s fun to share from experience the lessons I have learned teaching my sons. And yes, from starting at very young ages I made a bunch of mistakes, but today they both share my love for fly fishing and the Truckee River.
Take a Sharpie and write this list on the back of your hand:
• Everyone wants to have FUN
• Gear is important to you, not them
• Take snacks
• Keep it simple
Nothing else matters. Trying to explain dry flies on light tippet delivered upstream to sipping trout might as well be in Russian to young ears. Instead, focus on what’s critical.
Everyone wants to have FUN. The kid will be stoked simply being outside with bugs, water, sun, the chance of catching fish and, most importantly, being with you. Kids are perceptive. They will feel your excitement and pick up on the littlest details.
There is something special about water that gets kids excited. I believe it’s instinctive; perhaps it’s the mystery of what experiences await. It’s as much fun to walk up to the water and have children turn over rocks and find bugs as it is to have them casting right away.
Gear is important to you, not them. Be prepared for your child to spend an equal amount of time using the fly rod to cast flies and chase bugs. I don’t recommend bringing the brand-new equipment or the heirloom passed down through your family. Still, even a young child can treat equipment with respect and not break things on contact. But be prepared to see just about anything.
Snacks are critical. I have had the perfect outing destroyed because I didn’t have a snack in my pocket. Kids will be excited and distracted by all of the things you are showing them. Shoving a quick snack into them mid-stride will keep everyone humming along.
Finally, keep it simple. One rod, five flies and snacks are all that you will probably need. In my experience, children aren’t interested in the subtleties of fly fishing. They want to have fun right away. If you plan to spend only 20% of the time on the water, you will be WAY ahead of the game. I wish I could recommend a formula for how long a child should be expected to fly fish, but they’re all different. From experience, I know that less is more when it comes to time on the water.
Spring break is coming up. The Truckee River is in great condition to wade, NDOW has stocked a bunch of trout, and the weather is beautiful. Fly fishing at a local park can create a long lasting memory. Catching a trout might be the goal, but the path to that end can be far more rewarding.