I’ve had quite a few kids and teenagers among my guests at Millbrook recently, and my own boys (8 and nearly 10) dabble in flyfishing too. Besides those examples, the question of ‘what’s the right age?’ is coming up more and more from dads and mums who’ve been fishing with me for a while, and who now think their children might be ready to come along.
Putting exact age aside for a moment, the first question any parent needs to ask before taking their child flyfishing is, do they want to do it? Most kids enjoy the whole outdoor/wildlife/ adventure thing that’s associated with flyfishing, but not all. In some cases, it’s about timing. They’re not ready now but they will be later. And occasionally, a child just isn’t ‘wired’ to enjoy flyfishing at all and that’s okay. This is something we do for fun, not out of necessity or obligation, so it’s futile trying to push a kid who doesn’t want to flyfish.
Among the rest, the degree of enthusiasm for actual flyfishing versus the whole experience of being out on an adventure with mum or dad, varies. I have absolutely no doubt that the primary objective of a flyfishing day or trip with children is for the child to enjoy themselves. Hard as it might be for a passionate adult flyfisher to accept, you have to be willing to let your kid walk off in the middle of a dun hatch to find out where that frog croak is coming from. Children don’t have the ability to concentrate on one thing for as long as adults, and they get tired, hungry and thirsty more easily.
So, I’m going to generalise a bit here, but having taught hundreds of kids to flyfish, here’s my loose summary by age.
Sub 8 y/o
For children below 8, flyfishing in any serious sense of the word is never going to be the main objective. The day should be entirely about fun: mud, water, animals, snacks, etc. with a bit of flyfishing ‘play’ thrown in at appropriate points. Little kids love playing at swishing the rod back and forth with scant regard for the ultimate result! They also love reeling in fish you’ve hooked; and at least some like touching them and letting them go.
8 – 10 y/o
Genuinely keen kids can actually start to learn how to cast and fish effectively at this age, but recognise that whether it’s a guided day or not, the day will be all about them. If you get any serious fishing in at all, it will be stolen moments when they’re eating or having a rest (and as per the above, they will do these things frequently and at what can seem incredibly ‘wasteful’ times fishing-wise, so don’t get frustrated.) If you want a day that’s focussed on your fishing and catching plenty, leave the children at home.
11 – 13 y/o
I love taking kids flyfishing because, so long as they are interested in the first place, they follow your instructions without question. They don’t come with the hard-wired/ muscle memory ‘baggage’ that adults have. They cast without swinging the rod like a golf club, they strike when you tell them to, and they have no trouble at all letting a big fish run. The 11 – 13 age range can be the best of both worlds – they have the motor skills and strength to perform most flyfishing tasks to the level of an adult, but without the mental battle with previously learned behaviour. The day is still about them, not you, but the time may not be too far away when you can actually fish at about 70 – 80% of capacity while on a trip with your child.
I doubt there’s a good guide anywhere who doesn’t look forward to a day with an enthusiastic teenage beginner. Kids in this age group generally have phenomenal eyesight, hearing and powers of observation, plus the ability to understand more complex concepts like perfect drift or selective feeding. All this and the open mind of a child! Remember, teenagers still do fewer miles to the gallon than adults, sleep more, and get tired and distracted more easily. But despite these small ‘handicaps’, I hope you’re ready for your ‘mid-teenager’ to quickly overtake you as a flyfisher, because if they’re keen, that’s what’s going to happen!
So there’s a rough guide to early years flyfishing. There will be plenty of children who are ahead or behind my descriptions above, which is just fine of course. To repeat, this is all about fun. Flyfishing is a wonderful gift that I’m forever grateful that my Dad & friends passed on to me. But it’s a gift that can only be offered, not imposed.