It was time they caught their first fish on a fly. The boy was ready. He was 3. The girl was more than ready; she was 5. Both had been fly-casting in the living room with the trainer rod and out in the yard with a yarn fly, throwing to a Frisbee target.
How to accomplish it had been in my mind for some time. We would reach the fish with a canoe on an evening in July.
Fly-fishing isn’t hard when you’re a kid. It only gets hard when you’re an adult and you aren’t open to new things. We get so hung up on how far we can’t cast and how we look when we do cast. We worry about what flies to use and which rod to buy.
Those things don’t matter to fish. And they don’t matter to kids.
After the splash-and-giggle crowd had loaded up their paddle boards and floaties and gone home, we slid the canoe in the water. My oldest daughter, Tiffany, was in the bow with the two kids between us.
As the canoe paddles cut into the water, we began to hunt the fish. They move around in this lake and give the location away when they come to the surface to swat mosquitoes.
When we had seen a couple of splashes in the shade near the cliffs, I steered us in that direction.
For the kids’ first fish on flies, I had told Tiffany, we would not cast for them, we would not touch a rod when it was in their hands. We would not present the fly nor set the hook nor land the fish. It was up to them.
Their rods were a Cabela’s 2-weight and a Douglas 3-weight, both fiberglass, both loaded with floating lines and 7-foot fluorocarbon leaders. We knotted rubber-legged beadhead nymphs to the business end.
Tiffany started with the Douglas rod, to show the kids how it was done. With small rainbows, which we expected, it’s not necessary to reel the fish in. In fact, reeling is counterproductive if the fish is 10 inches or under. Better to strip the fish in.
Six minutes after we shoved off, Tiffany was fighting a 12-inch rainbow. Ava netted it for her mommy.
It was a good start.
Now it was time for the kids to fish. Holden would have the right side of the boat. He put the fly in the water.
“Now strip line off the reel.” He pulled a few feet of line out.
“Shake the rod.” He shook it and line flowed through the guides.
As I paddled, the line straightened out behind the canoe and the fly began to sink. In two minutes Holden was battling a trout. His sister netted it for him. First fly-caught trout for the 3-year-old. And he did it without casting 30 feet. In fact, he did it without casting.
The 5-year-old, casting from the port side, hooked the next fish, a fat 12-inch rainbow that her little brother netted for her.
When she caught her second, the sun was on the smoky horizon.
With the sun off the water, the trout began to spread out. I took the little Douglas rod back from Ava and made a short cast to a rise ring. A brook trout grabbed. After that it was a rainbow. The 3-year-old netted both of them.
Sometimes late at night, I try to remember the first fly-caught fish for each of my daughters. Those memories are buried in a stack of journals, but I remember my first fly-caught trout at the mouth of a tiny creek when I fed a sparsely tied No. 14 Hare’s Ear into the current and a 7-inch rainbow attacked.
At 3, Holden might not have been old enough to remember his first trout on a fly. But Ava will remember hers. And both will remember a lifetime of fly-fishing.
This year, the boy is 4 and the girl is 6. And they have each caught a handful of rainbows on fur and feather and landed nine crappie between them.
It’s never too early to start fly-fishing. And it’s never too late.
— Gary Lewis is the host of “Frontier Unlimited TV” and author of “Fishing Central Oregon,” “Fishing Mount Hood Country,” “Hunting Oregon” and other titles. Contact Gary at www.GaryLewisOutdoors.com.