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The Heir To A Fly-Fishing Dynasty On Teaching Your Kid To Cast

For more advice on fun stuff to do with your kids, from ridiculously overqualified experts, check out the rest of our 940 Saturdays.

The upside to raising a kid who loves fishing is pretty much endless — it ensures a lifetime of one-on-ones, fosters an appreciation of nature and wildlife, and lets you interrupt any awkwardness (“Dad, what were you and mom doing last night …”) with a quick, “Hey! I gotta bite!”

Passing down this love is a subtle art; fish too long and your kid might find it oppressive, but fish unsuccessfully and it’s boring. Simon Perkins learned to love fly fishing at the wader-clad knee of his own father, who knows a thing or 2 about it because he runs a little fishing company called Orvis. Perkins can’t wait for his 7-month-old girl to be able to stand long enough to fish herself. After all, he was a fly-fishing guide of 11 years who founded a fly-fishing camp for kids on Montana’s Blackfoot River.

That’s the river where Hollywood filmed the definitive fly-fishing instructional A River Runs Through It, but if a few viewings of pouty-faced Brad Pitt wrestling trout hasn’t inspired your own kid, Perkins recommends the following:

Ages 1 And Up: Get Them A Toy Rod
As Perkins was learning how to walk, his father gave him a toy rod so his sense of coordination developed while holding it. By the time he was ready to actually set foot in the water, the rod felt as natural in his hand as his finger did in his nose. Start them off with a toy fly rod to introduce the feel of casting and handling line. While you’re at it, grab a few magnetic fishing toys so they can learn the thrill of catching something (and how to lie about how big it was)

Ages 2 And Up: Get Them Around The Water (And Keep Them There)
When your kid is really little, the main goal with fishing isn’t fishing — it’s getting them to enjoy being out on the water, playing around. “You have to be ready to go to plan B, plan C and plan D,” Simon says. “They’re going to be entertained for about 7 minutes, and then they’re going to want to do something else.”

What kind of something else? How about chucking rocks in the water? Seriously — Perkins points out that fly fishing for adults is a chance to catch up with friends, maybe drink a few beers, and daydream a little. The kid version of that is occasionally chucking crap in the water. Plus, bugs found under rocks indicate what the fish are eating, and if rocks and bugs make Kiddo enjoy being out there, consider it a win.

Ages 6 And Up: Explain How To Fly Cast With Handy Food Analogies
Orvis, which has plenty of instructional videos on its site, suggests starting any potential angler with simple bait-and-bobber fishing setups, because it’s so dead simple your kid can be better than their drunk uncle at it. This hopefully gets them interested in stepping up to fly casting, which is only slightly more involved and uses the weight of the line instead of a lure.

When your kid is really little, the main goal with fishing isn’t fishing — it’s getting them to enjoy being out on the water.

To introduce the back and forth motion of a fly cast, Perkins tells kids to imagine holding a stick with a marshmallow on the end. To back cast, he tells them to flick the marshmallow up into the air behind them. To forward cast, he tells them to flick it “straight and hit whoever’s sitting right across the fire from you with it.” If you’re not sitting at a fire, leave that last part out.

In both a back and forward cast, the key is to accelerate the rod to an abrupt stop. Done correctly, the line will go briefly parallel to the ground after the rod comes to a stop, so have your kid watch the line for clues. Once it’s parallel, they can start the rod in the opposite direction.

Fly casting is a simple motion that doesn’t necessarily come naturally to kids (or you), so don’t let them (or yourself) get frustrated with it. Practice for a little while, and then go chuck rocks.

A Quick Guide To The Fish
You’re probably dreaming of long and lazy days on beautiful, remote rivers, but remember that your kid is going to be far more interested in catching fish than simply “fishing.” For that reason, Perkins recommends starting out where fish are stocked and released and therefore have developed impaired common sense. In ascending order of difficulty:

• Panfish — Also known as perch, bluegill, bream, or crappie, panfish are just as likely to go after a cigarette butt as an insect because they’re primarily concerned with biting it before the other guy. “A lot of reward,” says Perkins. “And you can get away with mistakes.”

• Trout — Endurance fighters who struggle till the end. Trout are fun to reel and harder to catch than panfish but may be better than bass for children if only because there is usually less brush nearby to tangle line around. Tangled line = tying on a new fly = bored kid.

• Bass — Strike quickly and fight in spurts. Bass often dive into brush and tangle the line once they know the jig is up (or in their mouth, as the case may be). Needless to say, your kid should be comfortable with a fly rod before stepping up to a bass.

There’s plenty of technical advice floating around on the dire importance of pursuing other fish, buying hi-tech gear, and learning esoteric maneuvers that require years of practice. Above all, Perkins wants you to ignore these intimidating “barriers of entry” that haunt fly fishing. Just buy an inexpensive all-in-one setup and hit the water, while your kid still thinks you know everything.

The Perfect Starter Rod For Your Young Fly FisherpersonOrvis Encounter Fly Fishing Rod

For more advice on fun stuff to do with your kids, from ridiculously overqualified experts, check out the rest of our 940 Saturdays.