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The art of introducing your child to fly fishing

By Jimmy Lewis Contributor

In the realm of parenting, there seems
to be a kind of one-upsmanship when
it comes to introducing children to
favorite pastimes. That’s why the
commonplace question “when did you
start her/him
fishing?” tends
to be charged
with implication
concerning your
execution of
parental guidance.

The question
of when to take
your kid flyfishing
for the first
time is a good
one. For my wife
and me, the
fact that we’re
former fishing
guides both
helps and complicates
We can both fly
cast effectively enough to reduce the
risk of snagging our baby in the backpack
with a size #6 Dave’s Hopper; but
it hurts because we’re used to fishing
in extreme contexts, fishing together
and fishing a lot.

A baby changes things.

My daughter’s flyfishing experiences
began while still in the womb. I vividly
remember my wife, nine months
pregnant, leaning over the leg-braces
in our raft desperately double-hauling
to deliver a caddis pattern to a rising
rainbow 15 yards or so upwind, her
bulbous belly awkwardly interfering.

After our daughter was born we were
more patient with the process, the way
you might be if you saw a desirable
trout rising delicately to a mayfly on
a spring creek. You don’t want to rush
into the presentation and botch it; you
want to take your time and get it right
—knowing that you may not get a
second chance. We waited for the right
opportunity to introduce our daughter
to our beloved sport.

When she reached age one, it was
time to take her fishing. We made sure
we had favorable weather and stream
flows that would make wading manageable,
an also brought bottled formula,
a collection of favorite binkies
and plenty of warm clothes. Not exactly
items I used to give consideration
to when packing up my vest.

When all was prepared, we ventured
out to the a nearby river, fished for a
few hours with our baby girl bobbing
around in a backpack, and came home.
My wife caught a
fish or two. Our
daughter made a
few happy infantile
sounds and
touched one of the
trout. The day was
a success.

Now going on
seven, our little
protégé is rigging
up her own seven
foot pink fly rod.
She can’t tie on a
fly yet, but she’s
paying attention to
how we do it. Certainly,
her level of
skill and interest
has increased.

Our presentation,
however, has not. We’re still looking
for the right conditions to ensure a
pleasant and fun day on the river and
double-checking our gear bag to make
sure we’ve packed extra warm, dry
clothes. There’s always plenty to eat
and drink.

Lately, my daughter’s primary interest
in fishing outings involves packing
along her minnow net and chasing
sculpin and crawfish in the shallow
backwaters. She also enjoys fossil
hunting, hoping to locate a Megalodan
tooth as she picks away with her
paleontology chisel.

As our daughter’s birthday approaches,
I find myself trying to stick to the
basics of guiding a child toward a love
of flyfishing: River + Fly Fishing =

To realize this formula, I’ve found
myself in some unexpected situations:
skipping rocks over a lovely
pool in a deep bend in a river rather
than making fly casts; chasing sculpin
minnows around with aquarium nets
rather than stalking large browns with
streamers; or spending the day fishing
with a seven foot pink fly rod rather
than my beloved nine foot 6wt. in the
off chance that my daughter might
wish to reel in a fish or make a cast or
two herself.

Suddenly, I’m a kid again, and it’s
all new and exciting. Looking for
nymphs under rocks becomes more
than a cursory act, and observing
birds while sitting on the riverbank
provides a relief from obsessive
strike-indicator scrutiny.

My daughter now pleads with me
to take her fishing—a good sign.
But the fish I’m after has yet to be
landed and released. In fact, I think
it’s fair to say that when it comes
to fly fishing and my daughter, I
haven’t hooked her yet. She has
noticed the attractor-pattern on the
surface, however, and from what I
can tell, the presentation is working
and she is beginning to rise.

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