Invite Them in Without Driving Them Out
I began taking my children fly fishing before they could walk. At first, they took in the great outdoors from my shoulders while I caught a few fish. I would let them touch the fish and occasionally hold it. I enjoyed watching them get excited, hold a squirming fish in their tiny arms and laugh as the fish slipped out of their grasp and back into the water. By the time they could walk, they loved holding the rod in their hands. I would hook a fish without them knowing and hand them a rod that unbeknown to them had a fish on the end of the line. They would reel in the line awkwardly until they felt a tug on the other end. Then they would laugh and dance about excitedly as they reeled in the fish. This technique proved to be very helpful in letting the children feel a sense of success
About the time that my children reached the age of 5 or 6 years old, I presented each of them with their own fly rod. This changed the game. They now wanted to go fly fishing more but insisted that they use their own rod. Eventually, they wanted to cast better. At that time I had the opportunity to teach them a thing or two that would help them achieve their goal.
Last year, on the Provo River, my children were fishing to rising fish and enjoying success catching fish on dry flies. My 14-year-old daughter was double hauling and placing the fly where she wanted and my 9-year-old boy was not able to cast quite as good. After a period of time, my boy turned to me after landing another beautiful brown trout and said “Daddy when we get back to the shop I need another casting lesson.”
I have not indoctrinated my children into the sport nor have I tried to force my passion onto them.
Instead I have exposed them to the pleasures of fly-fishing with friends and family. By age 13 my daughter could outcast any of our guides in both accuracy and distance but not because I had spent hours teaching her the intricacies of the sport. She has reached a level of success because she has only been exposed to positive experiences related to fly-fishing and then been taught a few tidbits of good information along the way.
I have watched several friends drive their children and spouses away from the sport. Fortunately for me, I was able to observe this prior to having my own children and based on my own experiences with my father when I was very young, combined with my observations of certain failures of good, well intended men, I was able to introduce my children to the sport of fly fishing in a way that they could enjoy and in a way that always leaves them wanting more.
A Few Simple Rules
There are a few simple rules that I follow with my children and I think they apply to all fly fishermen when introducing a child, spouse, friend or relative to the sport.
The first thing that I acknowledge is that this is my passion and not theirs. I cannot transfer my passion to anyone! Well meaning fathers and husbands often nit pick their loved one to the point of driving them away from the sport. The new comer may leave the experience with emotions such as boredom, anger, frustration or some other negative feeling.
I never loose sight of my number one goal. I want my children to leave the experience with one thought in mind. Fly fishing equals good times with dad. I don’t care if my children have a passion for fly-fishing. In fact it is quite unlikely that they will ever be as passionate about fly-fishing as I am. Quite simply, I want to spend time with my children. And it just so happens that I love the sport of fly-fishing.
First and foremost, I need to remember that when I go fishing with my children, the day is not about me. I don’t go fishing with my kids thinking that I am going to get some good fishing time. I go thinking that I am going to spent quality time with them. When my children are with me, I don’t care if I catch a fish or not, but I do care about two things. I want them to have fun and I want them to go again. If I concern myself with trying to get quality fishing time for me, they will undoubtedly get frustrated and or bored at some point.
I never want them to be bored. I prefer to take my kids fishing only when the location and conditions are such that it is likely they will catch something or in someway experience some success. I will go fishing anytime or any place just because I love it. I will not be bored because I already have passion for the sport but for them, fishing too long will result in them leaving the experience bored as apposed to wanting to return.
Next, I never criticize my children while they are fishing!!! Many well meaning parents and husbands bombard their spouse or child with better ways to do it. “Don’t hold the rod like this… mend like that… cast the rod like this.” This council, although it is offered with the intent of helping them achieve success, will be viewed by them as constant criticism. Instead, I like to offer 1 single piece of helpful advice from time to time but ONLY when I sense that they will be receptive to it. After I offer the tidbit of information, I leave them alone! Let them do it, experience self-discovery and have fun!
I don’t care if they get the line tangled because I will untangle it. If they break of the fly, I will retie it. If they cast into a tree, I will retrieve it. If they want help making the cast, I will help them. I choose the location carefully and they may not catch a lot of fish but they will probably catch something and they will have fun doing it.
I always plan non-fishing diversions. When I fish with my kids, I will always pack a ball, Frisbee, a picnic, butterfly net or whatever else. Remember, I do not want them to get bored. I don’t care if we fish a lot, a little, or at all. I just want them to have fun. Maybe we will play Frisbee, fish a little and have a picnic but for sure, when we’re finished, they will want to go again because they had fun.
Lastly, I always end the fishing day prior to the children being finished. I want them to leave wanting more. Eventually, they will be tired, hungry and bored no matter how good the fishing is. I do not want this to happen. I don’t want them to be so exhausted that they just don’t want to fish anymore. For this reason I will give them plenty of time to enjoy their day. Whether they fish for a few minutes or a few hours. I will anticipate them getting their fill and end the day prior to the point of them having enough. I will tell the kids that we will need to go soon. “But daddy I want to keep fishing.” Will always be the response. At that point I will concede.
“OK… 15 more minutes… but then we have to go.” They may not think they are ready to go yet, but it will be time to go and they’ll want to come back.
My fishing experience with my kids will not likely yield the greatest fish story of my life, but by carefully managing the way I fish with my kids, they will always have fun, they will leave wanting more and they will learn a few things either from me, or from their own errors. But most importantly they will leave the experience knowing that fly fishing equals good times with dad. Maybe they will become passionate about the sport and maybe not. It makes no difference to me. But one thing’s for sure; I will spend great time with my kids. It just so happens that we use fly-fishing as the excuse.
– Eddie Robinson