How often do you hear praise for people getting their children involved in fishing? ‘Start them young,’ they say. ‘Get them off the screens and outside.’ It all reinforces the notion that as anglers, we must do our duty and get our kids fishing. Don’t misunderstand me, I think fishing is a great activity, with enormous health and well-being benefits. Flyfishing in particular, with its multiple levels and infinite challenges, provides a lifetime of activity, learnings, joy and challenges.
However it comes at a price. I’ve been addicted since an early age, and suffer when not on a trout stream or lake. When I say I’m working on the next plausible excuse to convince myself I really need that new rod, fellow flyfishers nod their heads in a knowing fashion.
But I digress. Back to kids and fishing.
So you get to an age when you have children. As they’re growing up, they seem to want to hang around with you, and, reciprocally, you seem to like hanging around with them. They are a blank slate and you are the teacher. Whatever the metaphor, the point is that you have influence on them. You take them places, show them things, and do stuff. In amongst this exposure to the world, if you are a fisher, at some stage this will include a lake or a river somewhere. You may even do this without thinking because it seems so natural. And here lies the trap!
Now is the time to stop and think. As parents, what are the consequences of our actions? In many people, fishing creates a strong need, or in the case of one internet description, ‘enthusiastic devotion.’ Are you prepared for the consequences? Have you even considered the consequences?
I talk from experience and my tale starts with having two boys (although the gender of the children is completely irrelevant in this story). I live in the country and fortuitously, near some healthy trout streams which a killjoy might suggest I’ve fished far too often over the seasons. One day, and without thinking it through, I naively took the young lads to the river fishing. They dabbled around the riverbank; they paddled, got wet and muddy, saw platypus and water rats, climbed trees, dealt with inquisitive livestock, chased wombats, saw trout rising and sometimes even watched me catch the odd fish. I have a strong memory of my kids whacking thistles with sticks! But the thing was, the river was an ever-changing adventure for them. They seemed to like the river, became comfortable with it and its creatures, and they kept coming with me. And I liked that they wanted to come with me.
As time progressed and the kids grew older, they showed interest in actually fishing. As far as they knew, there were trout in the river and if you wanted to catch trout, you caught them on these furry little things called flies. So they copied what I did, and they grabbed a rod and started to cast a fly. (As an aside, it was several years later when one of the kids informed me that, “Apparently you can also use lures to catch trout!”)
Over the years and through seasons, sunsets, insect hatches, changing river flows and trout, the boys became comfortable on the stream and in the natural environment, and competent to put a fly out in front of a feeding fish. And they caught some.
This all sounds idyllic right? Well let me go back to pre-children. In the pre-children years when we had money, my wife surprised me with a birthday present of an expensive USA-branded fly rod, which I loved. While one rod was enough, a little later, the chance to buy a second USA rod presented itself and I bought it, reasoning that having a spare was prudent. I also had a couple of pairs of waders, a fair collection of flies, and the fly desk had a good supply of hooks and the necessary bits and bobs to tie flies.
Fast forward again. I don’t know when it actually happened; I don’t know the date or even the circumstances, but there came a time when we were going out for a fish and for some reason, the earth had shifted and apparently, according to the lads, the two best rods were now their property and no longer mine.
My waders, which for years had been far too big for the kids to use, were now quite sloppy on their feet but serviceable enough for them to venture out into the river – and apparently the waders too now belonged to the boys.
Another observation was that my fly box began to look a lot less cluttered, even though I was sure I wasn’t using that many flies? And I seemed to be at the vice a lot more as well, trying to keep up replacements. Or, when I went to tie some replacements, there were no size 14 hooks! Enquires were met with, “Oh, yeah, well… I’ve been tying some duns and used them – can you get some more?”
I also realised I was visiting fly shops more, as I was frequently ‘losing’ bottles of floatant, or I had no leader material, needed more bead-heads, tying thread, new hackles, peacock herl… How had I become so forgetful? Fishing books and magazines were missing from the bookshelf and somehow turned up months later under piles of clothes in bedrooms.
What once was mine had become ours.
‘My’ simple flyfishing had now expanded into a much larger operation and I couldn’t stop the momentum. And it didn’t just end with them ratting my fly gear. The boys’ desire to fish streams further afield meant additional peripheral requirements. Swags had to be bought, more camping gear, eskies, and the family sedan needed to be changed for a ute to put it all in (4WD of course!).
I had become a resource for the now not-so-young lads in developing their flyfishing. My simple, solitary flyfishing world had gone, and I had become part of a larger movement.
If I’d known that taking the kids down the river that first time would create such a cascade of events, I wondered, would I have done it? But just as I was beginning to have these thoughts, salvation was at hand.
The coming of driving age saw a glimmer of hope. The glimmer increased to a glow when cars were purchased, then to a bright light with employment. Independence with their cars opened up the opportunity for the boys to travel and take their own fishing journeys. They now have their own stories to tell. If my sons continue fishing, well and good; if they stop, okay. There is no pressure and they will do what they want. Yes, they may wander from it but flyfishing, with its social, family, health and well-being properties will always be there if they need it.
The kids were exposed to flyfishing and the associated outdoor experiences and I like that they continue to enjoy it. They were not press-ganged. The river and its mysteries slowly drew them in, and it was their choice to take it further.
I still fish with the boys when the occasion presents itself, cop the banter and camaraderie, enjoy the shared experiences and have time to discuss life and other matters. But while I joke about the consequences of introducing them to the river and trout fishing all those years ago, I’m so glad I did. Sure, I lost two rods, but in the process, I gained so much more.