Written by: Paul Fersen
Yesterday, I wrote about how to engender a love of fishing in a child. Once you have a child who loves to fish, the next step is to teach them to cast a fly rod. This will open an entire new world of fishing to them, and they will love the sport even more—particularly when you start to take them to the wonderful places where fly rods are the primary weapon.
Again, there is a delicate balance to be maintained here between your expectations and the child’s ability to learn. If you simply march out into the yard and tell them today they are going to learn to fly cast, in most cases you are headed for disappointment. Casting a fly rod is a matter of timing, temperament, and muscle memory. Some will achieve proficiency quicker than others. Again here are a few guidelines that will help you.
Generally a child is ready for a fly rod when their fishing span of attention is developed to the point they will happily fish for good long periods of time and they have developed enough strength and coordination to handle a fly rod. They should be able to grasp the rod and lift it as if casting without bending their wrist. Depending on the child, this is usually somewhere between eight and twelve years old.
Forget the trout stream for a while. Once again, our friend the bluegill is a willing teacher. A dock on a lake is perfect, as there are generally schools of voracious little bluegills hanging around. Start with a lightweight fly rod, in the 3- to 5-weight range, with a weight forward floating line. Since a short fly rod is more difficult to cast, an 8- to 8-1/2-foot rod is perfect. Tie pretty much any dry fly to the leader and then flip it out over the fish. The same thing will happen that happens with the worm and a bobber. The fish will strike, and the child will be happy.
Show them what a cast should look like and help them practice getting the fly out there a couple of times by covering their hand with yours, casting the rod, and letting them feel what happens when a rod loads. Then let them fish. Their loop will be ugly, but they will be fascinated with the surface take of the dry fly and have a wonderful time.
Before long they will try to get it out farther and magically they will begin to figure it out. Children are remarkable this way. The ugly duckling loop will suddenly begin to resemble a good loop, and soon they will be sending reasonably good casts out over the water. During this phase, a few gentle reminders on form will help, but again don’t turn this into school.
Fish with them with your fly rod and have contests—most fish, closest cast to the floating leaf, most consecutive takes, etc. They will do this for hours and love it, and all the while their casting will improve. Suddenly, much sooner than you think, one day you will see a beautiful loop sail out over the water, and life will be as good as it gets.
Paul Fersen is the Senior Managing Writer for the Orvis Company and a father of three.