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A Guide to Fly Fishing with Kids

The Decision

So, you’ve finally decided to do it – give in to your basic instincts and dig out your fishing gear, grab your oldest minion, and get out on the river for the first time or for the first time in a while. Congratulations! You’ve just made a wonderful, and hopefully not painful, decision.

Are They Old Enough?

You believe your kiddo is ready to become your fishing buddy. It’s a great excuse to call in sick and play hooky for a day with your pride and joy. You dream of that day when you’re getting up there in years, and your progeny is standing upstream of you casting like Brad Pitt in A River Runs Through It. It’s okay, most of us started fly fishing after watching him “shadow casting” a self-tied dry fly that hovered just above the water. You’re at peace and all is right with the world. It’s lovely, right?

So, how old do the little ones need to be for fly fishing? There is no hard-and-fast rule – some kids are ready for it as soon as they can walk and flail their arms akimbo, while some aren’t ready until they get into middle school. You’re the best judge of what your kid can handle, so trust your instincts. If you’re reading this blog post, then they are either nowhere near ready and you are in that dreaming phase, or they are good to go. The question as always is, “Are you ready?”

Are You Old Enough?

Maybe you have finally recovered from that time eight years ago when you strapped your mini me into a fancy backpack that the folks at REI said would be perfect for both of you. You lathered them with sunscreen, bathed them in DEET-free insect repellent, bought them a cute hat, donned your beloved red, white and blue polarized Oakley Razor Blades that your partner has been trying to donate for the better part of the last decade (Croakies included, of course), and duct-taped a bowl of cheerios in front of them and a sippy cup to their hand in a futile effort to get out there.

After all that work, you quickly realized you forgot the diapers, pulled a MacGyver-level hack using your favorite fishing shirt and some duct tape. Finally, you can fish! Pretty quickly, however, you realize that a fly zinging past your head on a back cast is less appealing when it’s headed towards your sweet innocent toddler’s face at Mach 1. We’ve all been there. Get over it – it’s go time!

Top Tips for Fly Fishing Success

Tip #1: Always pack a first-aid kit.

Let’s get this done together without crying or meltdowns or a quick trip to the ER with a Size 4 Woolly Bugger fly lodged far too deep in your forearm (just make sure you ask for the fly back after they remove it because it will make a lovely addition to your “things that hurt me” shrine at home). Fortunately, the Town of Vail has an incredible ER at Vail Health and it probably won’t be the doctor’s first rodeo pulling barbed things out of over-achievers. Do yourself and your little one a favor and pack a first aid kit.

Tip #2: Hire a guide.

As you embark on your journey, think back to one of the defining moments of your adolescence when you learned to drive. You didn’t learn to drive any old car, did you? Of course you didn’t. You learned on manual transmission up in the hills where parallel parking was the norm, with one of your parents yelling at you to stop stalling and burning out the clutch. And now you are doing everything in your power not to have that same experience with your minion. That’s not how you roll. That’s why you just clicked on our link after Googling, “how to teach my kid to fly fish without losing my s#(@.” We are in this together.

So, hire a guide.

No seriously, just hire a fly fishing guide. These incredible people have dedicated their lives to the pursuit of catching fish on a fly. While the profession attracts all kinds of people, they share one trait in common: The desire to pass their love of the pursuit on to others. Trust us, for the sake of your sanity and the happiness of your little fishing buddy, and that future Brad Pitt awesomeness, there is no better investment. Please, get a guide. Let the professionals handle this one.

Ask people you trust for recommendation or just walk into a Vail fly shop. Don’t be shy about telling the staff exactly what you are looking for in a guide. You want someone with experience teaching kids, the ability to untangle your messes, and the right kind of attitude and energy that match what you want out of the experience. Once you find the right fit, you will have established a relationship that will outlive the “teaching” phase of your fly fishing evolution. These can be lifelong friendships, so don’t forget to tip!

Vail Fly Fishing Outfitters:

Tip #3: See Tip #2

 

What Does Your Young Angler Need for Fly Fishing?

If you’re a seasoned dry fly veteran, you’ve already picked out the waders and cute little wading boots that will fit for about 12 minutes before your kid outgrows them. You probably bought them five years ago waiting for this day. You most likely have all the gear stashed away somewhere in triplicate, but please don’t forget the fishing license! Your fishing buddy is free under the age of 16 in Colorado.

If you’re a relative newbie, just relax – the community is here to help you and your budding angler. You can rent any equipment you need at one of Vail’s local fly fishing shops and get fully geared up from head to toe.

Start small. It is easy to be jealous of the one dude you see out on a high mountain lake with all of their fancy gear strapped to every appendage on their body, ready for any circumstance. But that person, who just walked up to that lake at 13,350 feet in full battle rattle, will look at you and your kiddo in flip flops with some tippet in your pocket (ask your guide, see Tip #3), awesome hats with cool flies stuck to them, your first aid kit fanny pack hooked up to your belt loop (see tip #1), a rod and reel in one hand, and an ice cold drink in the other – and they will be jealous of you.

Steps for Teaching Your Kid to Cast

Step 1: See rule #2 above.

If you are a master of the cast, then you would have already taught the wee ones how to cast out in the backyard. It is just something you do. Preferably without a fly with a massive hook on it (see tip #1).

The most exquisite part of learning to fly fish is learning your own cast. Everyone is different, and there is beauty in everyone’s style – especially Brad Pitt’s. If you know enough to teach the basics of roll casting and normal casting, then grab a rod and get out in the yard.

One of the great things about fly fishing is that unlike spin fishing, where all of the weight comes from an artificial lure at the end of your fishing line, the weight in fly fishing comes from the line itself. Getting that line moving in the right direction at the right angle with just enough force is not something you can master overnight. You learn it out of practice and necessity, the latter happening when you see a Rainbow Trout slowly rising and sinking as it comes to the surface to get some calories, and you have to figure out how to get that tiny little fly-looking-thing right in front of it, nice and quiet-like.

Learn the basics of casting technique from a professional fly fishing instructor if you can. But otherwise, just get out in the yard or on the street and cast! Slow is smooth and smooth is fast. It’s a Zen feeling. Out there in the street with no pressure, no fish around, and no fly getting snagged or leader getting tangled (ask your guide, see tip #2), it’s easy to have some quality time before taking the plunge out on the water. The bonus is that if your child has the attention span of a tsetse fly, you’re already home!

Best Spots for Fly Fishing in Vail

The Vail Valley holds some of the finest trout waters in the world. Here are some popular local fishing holes in and around Vail and the surrounding areas.

High Mountain Lakes

Up closer to the Continental Divide there are some great little lakes that offer solitude, views, exercise (and maybe actually putting that SUV into real 4-wheel drive), and great fishing. Piney is one of our favorites. Fishing a lake “up there” is a great place to start with a little one. The water is calm, you don’t need much gear, and you will spend more time catching fish than untangling flies from trees and shrubbery.

Smaller Creeks

Gore Creek runs all the way down from the Continental Divide through the Town of Vail and is an exceptional place to fish. The water is calmer, the fish tend to be smaller (and not as bright), and it’s easier to get to and around different spots all the way up into the hills. A smaller rod works great here, and casting is easy because the casts are shorter and closer to you.

A Real River

Gore Creek empties into the Eagle River a couple miles west of Vail and starts to offer you the experience you are more familiar with in popular media. Here you can catch it all, and the fish can be huge. Keep in mind that rivers like the Eagle are very seasonal. During spring and early summer run-off you will want to leave this water to the kayakers and the white water rafters, because floating down the Eagle over Class IV rapids in waders is not a good look.

THE River

The Eagle eventually dumps into the grand river of them all, the mighty Colorado River. You might not be ready to be standing in that water yet on a wade trip – the fish in this river demand precision and perfection from you in order to reward you with a strike. Get a guide and take a drift boat. Most local fly fishing outfitters offer half-day and full-day fishing trips (called floats) and it’s a great way to get started. Traveling downstream for miles with a knowledgeable guide at the oars will be one the of the best fishing days of your life, so don’t forget to take a lot of pictures!

Through these stretches of Gold Medal waters you will see and (hopefully) catch and release beautiful wild Rainbows, hefty and angry Browns, gullible but cute little Brook Trout, and maybe even the elusive native Colorado Cutthroat Trout.

A day out in our local fisheries is unlike anything else in this world. The best way to find the perfect water for you and your new fishing buddy is go to one of Vail’s fly fishing shops, be cool, and ask nicely. These helpful people know the best spots, and a little dose of kindness might get you some information that even the locals don’t have. And while you are at it, see Rule #2.

A Lifetime Pursuit

We made it this far together, and I’m proud of what you are about to attempt. Sharing the love that you have, or soon will have with your future Brad Pitt-casting-idol is a gift that doesn’t come along often. Take the time when you are out there and just observe. Look at the water and the way it moves around. Watch the fish gracefully rise and fall in the water as they catch a meal. Pick up some rocks and look at the bottom to see what kind of bugs are hanging around. Never forget that fly fishing is both an art and a science. Being curious, observing, thinking, and reacting will catch you fish – and give you something to talk about over a relaxing dinner in the village apart from “Minecraft”.

When it gets frustrating for either of you, take a deep breath and look at the paradise of the Vail Valley around you. Think about that time in the not-so-distant future when you and your kid are screaming like a couple of lunatics on a river in the middle of nowhere because you both hooked a fish at the same time. Those are memories to last a lifetime.