This New Year is different for me; I am a new grandparent! This constellation of events has caused me to reflect on passing the torch to the next generation of fly fishers. At some point in our fly fishing journey, most of us have the opportunity to share our love of this wonderful sport with the next generation. It could be our children, grandchildren, or others through groups like the scouts, Trout Unlimited, or the Federation of Fly Fishers. So how and why should we do this?
I think that many times we make it more complicated than need be. My own experience is that kids love catching fish. As soon as they feel the tug of a fish on the end of their line, a smile lights their faces. When landed, they like to hold and look at their fish. Most also enjoy watching their fish swim away, unharmed, when released.
The key, then, to capturing a child’s interest in fishing is to make certain that they catch fish. Given most children’s short attention span, they need to catch a fish quickly, and the more the merrier. They don’t care what kind of rod they use or type of fish they catch. Therefore, a spin cast outfit and a farm pond full of sunfish and bass are hard to beat!
Children are naturally inquisitive. Even if catching fish, they may soon tire of fishing, and want to explore; let them! Whether it’s frogs, tadpoles, damsel flies, rocks or flowers that grab their attention, help them explore the aquatic and riparian environments.
The conversion from spin casting to fly fishing is easy. Just fly fish while a child is spin casting, and of their own volition, they will eventually want to try fly fishing. Most children between eight and twelve years of age are able to become fly fishers, provided they want to.
Our natural impulse is to over teach. I would suggest giving minimal advice, and let kids experiment; just be ready to provide help when asked for. It’s usually best to avoid technical explanations. When ten years old, my son, Matt, like most beginners, was having troubles with the “deadly trailing loop”, and all that it engenders. One day while fishing at a pond, I spotted a pine tree about fifty feet behind him. I suggested that he aim his backcast at the top of the tree. After a few moments, his casting arc was perfect, and the trailing loop was gone. He acquired an excellent casting motion without having to fully understand all the physical concepts involved.
When first learning to fly-cast, it can often become frustrating. To help minimize this, try practicing in the yard. Make up casting games to keep it fun. Put some plastic hoops about the lawn, and play “darts” or “horse”, like the old basketball game. Never make it laborious.
Beyond the obvious pleasure of spending time with children, are there other reasons to consider passing the torch to the next generation of fly fishers? I think so. There are a number of attributes that fly fishers learn or acquire that translate into helpful adult skill-sets.
One of the first abilities that fly fishers hone is concentration. When dry-fly fishing, the saying goes, “if you can’t see your fly, you’re not fishing”. It is no small task, to see a tiny bit of feather and fur amongst hundreds of bugs on the surface, mixed with bubbles and chop. In addition, one has to simultaneously take into account the current and wayward line, and make subtle adjustments to keep the fly floating naturally. Indeed, one learns to multi-task, and remain utterly focused on the prime objective, floating a fly to the target.
To continue to grow and evolve as a fly fisher, one must put in time to practice and study. Study occurs in many ways. One must spend time on the water, observing the play of streams, the location and behavior of fish, and the timing of hatches. While much of the learning must occur first-hand, fly fishing is an old sport. Our contemporaries and predecessors have left and continue to leave a robust literature. Reading the fly fishing literature, old and current, shortens the learning curve. In addition, one can exchange thoughts, observations, and theories with other fly fishers. All combined, a fly fisher acquires the interest, even lust, for a life-long search for knowledge and understanding.
When we go fly fishing, we observe, analyze, develop a hypothesis, and test it when we tie on a fly and present it to a rising trout. If the trout doesn’t cooperate, we reanalyze, develop a new hypothesis, and retest. Is this not the application of the scientific method?
Fly fishing is an individualistic sport. Sure, we have fishing buddies, and travel to fishing destinations together. But once there, we generally fish on our own. It’s us versus the fish. In the process, we are confronted with a myriad of challenges. They teach us to independently process information, and discover solutions that put a fish into the net. The “net result” is development of confidence, and the ability to successfully face new challenges.
Most fly fishers would say that they are pursuing their sport for pleasure, and not competing. But I think this is only partly true. At the end of a day’s fishing, don’t we ask our companions what they caught? Don’t we revel in the appreciation that we caught the “big one”, or the most? Didn’t we as children relish the moments when we out-fished mom or dad? In addition, don’t we feel a sense of competition with a sighted trout? Yes, on many levels, I think that fly fishing develops a sense of competition, and pushes us towards excellence, a very worthwhile attribute.
Although one does not need to be a fly fisher in order to appreciate the beauty and importance of a healthy, natural world, the sport of fly fishing cannot exist in its absence. It is no wonder that fly fishers almost uniformly become conservationists. Organizations like the Federation of Fly Fishers and Trout Unlimited are international leaders in efforts to preserve and restore our planet. Passing a healthier planet along to the next generation is a worthwhile goal for all of us.
So, as you can see, fly fishing develops many helpful attributes that wear well throughout our lives. It requires concentration, multi-tasking, the acquisition of knowledge and skills, patience, problem solving, and respect for a healthy environment. In addition, when immersed in the beautiful environs of trout, we learn to appreciate “the moment”, and to love the sport for its own sake. Indeed, we need to pass the torch to the next generation of fly fishers. What could be more fun and rewarding?
written by Al Simpson, January 2018.