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Kids Need a Good Start

Maddie Duddles
Maddie getting her line wet

If you don’t already know, the average age of anglers is getting older every year. This means less and less young anglers are getting into our sport. This is the case for all types of fishing including fly fishing. This is not only going to affect the fishing industry, but drops in licenses sales means less money to manage our favorite fisheries.  This can be attributed to many things… More kids being raised in the city, some in single parent families, and fewer parents are exposed to it, so naturally, fewer kids are getting to go fishing. You can also blame technology; kids are glued to TV’s and video games more than ever. It is up to us to get kids interested in fishing.

Over the last 5 to 6 years I have enjoyed taking my daughter, son and two nephews fishing. Watching their excitement grow reminds me of when I was that age. It does not matter what we are fishing for or how, as they are just so excited to go.

I just returned from a family vacation at Crane Prairie reservoir just out of Bend Oregon with my wife, daughter, son, parents and two nephews. The kids range from almost 5 years old to 10 years old. The kids wanted to go fishing so much that I got little relaxation time in my favorite camp chair, with a cold beer and a good snack. But even though I was exhausted at times, I still took them out. It was all worth it. The kids caught several of Crane’s large rainbows between 16 and 22 inches. Towards the end of our trip, my youngest nephew Ethan (not quite 5 years old yet) caught a 28 ½” 10 lb Crane Bow! It was one of the largest trout I had handled there in my 27 years of fishing Crane. The excitement of this huge trout surged like electricity through the kids. We adults were excited, but the kids, well I wish I could bottle that excitement.

Travis Duddles and Ethan
Ethan will never forget this one! Nor will I for that matter...

This got me thinking about my journey into fishing and how my kids/nephews are now on a similar path. Although my 7 year old daughter Maddie, and my 10 year old nephew Colton, both have interest in fly fishing, they really just want to fish. They don’t care about what type of fish or how. All that matters is that they go. Both Colton and Maddie have the Ross Journey Youth Fly Rods/Outfits which are excellent kid’s rods. They have yet to get the casting down, but they do love to practice. They have both caught several trout, bass, bluegill and crappie with these outfits, but I have also seen them get a little frustrated in some situations with the fly rod. When things get tough, their interest starts to fade. As much as I would love to have them just fly fish, I have learned over the years that if you push it on them they will lose interest in all of it.

So I would like to share some of my experiences teaching kids and parents about fishing. Sometimes it is hard for us that love to fly fish to want to do anything but fly fish. But, I have found that to keep kids interested you need to make sure they are having fun. Sometimes this means we have to set the fly rods aside and break out the old Zebco spin cast and drown some worms. I know that may not sit well with some of you, but think back to your earliest memories of fishing, and most likely, this is how you got started.

Austin Duddles
Austin loves it out there

Returning to these roots is easier for kids. They not only have an easier rod to handle, but the techniques needed to be successful are simpler. They can play on the bank or the boat while their rod fishes for them. This also means that you will be keeping a fish or two. When kids first get started, they have this need to keep a fish once in a while to show off, get pictures ect. So break out your fish cook book and get started. I have a strict rule that if they keep it, they have to eat it. And this is not to say that you have to keep every fish they catch. Even with bait, fish can be released safely when hooked right and handled properly. More and more when the kids go fishing, most of their catch is released. They now understand the importance of releasing fish, and fly fishing is emphasized more and more on each trip that we make. I have learned to pick my battles, but at the end of the day, I make sure they are having fun fishing.

When teaching kids to fly fish, I have found the best way is to start them out is lake fishing for trout, bass or panfish. The nice thing about a lake is that it is open and makes for easy casting. When fishing the fly rod I try to choose locations where good dry fly or popper action is almost a sure thing. Watching a 12” trout inhale a dry is a great way to show a kid why they should set down the old Zebco 202 and pick up the fly rod. In most situations I place the cast for them or help them cast. Then, I hand the rod over to them to fish. This cuts out the frustration. If fishing gets tough and I can see their interest start to wander, I stretch the line out behind the boat and start trolling. Trolling a fly rod is a great way for kids to use a fly rod with little complications. They can play in the boat, play with bugs, watch birds, etc… while the rods fish for them.

Travis Duddles and Maddie Duddles
Nice one Maddie!

Also keep your eye out for fishing opportunities that wouldn’t normally interest you. One year at Crane Prairie there was a large school of small (very small) crappie hanging around the dock. So I took Maddie and Colton down on the grass by the dock with their fly rods. I tied on a small beadhead damsel nymph 2 feet below a strike indicator. I casted each of their lines out to the edge of the dock, then handed them the fly rod. They would make a small strip and hook a crappie on just about every cast. We continued to do this every morning for the next several days until we went back home. The large rainbows out on the lake haunted me! I wanted to be on the lake hooking those big bows, but the kids were hooked on catching the crappie. Two years later they still want to go down to the dock and look for those crappie. They have not been there since, but you can see the excitement in their eyes every time we get close to the dock.
The more they see how successful a fly rod can be, the more they will want to do it! The goal is to get them hooked on fishing. The interest in fly fishing will come with exposure. Don’t force them or they will lose all interest. Work them into it gradually and they will get HOOKED!

Colton on the Net
Colton on the net

Thanks for reading,
Travis Duddles

Article originally posted on our blog for our August 9th post.

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