Buying Kids Their First Fly Rod
Giving your child her first fly rod is like giving her the keys to the family car for the first time: you're pleased that she has reached this state of readiness but are more than a little apprehensive about what comes next. Perhaps the easiest way to get her a rod is to give her one of yours. Unfortunately, this can turn out to be an expensive proposition. The sequence goes like this: she gets the rod and is delighted. You smile. Soon the smile fades. You are looking at your rod rack and notice the vacancy. Initially, you are vaguely aware of a notion in your mind that the vacancy should be filled. The notion turns to desire and the desire grows to obsession. Suddenly, you're not sleeping at night, you're tired during the day, and your grouchiness hits stratospheric limits.
The pressure builds until you feel as if you will burst. With abandon you rush out and plunk down the next two months’ rent on a sweet piece of Tonkin fitted with nickel silver. There is momentary solace, a reprieve. Then, surely as winter follows autumn, you are swept away by buyer's remorse, coupled with an eroding sense of guilt that you did not really give your daughter your rod for her sake; it was purely a rationalization to justify your own gross consumerism and self-indulgence. You cad.
Take it from a cad who knows and save yourself from this shameful series of events. Be happy with your existing tackle. It has served you well and with the proper care you're giving it, will continue to do so. Besides, if you give her your rod and she breaks it, then despite your verbal protestations you will always be upset that she broke your rod. So go out and get her one that is truly her own, one that comes as straight from your heart as from your wallet.
On-the-Water Child Safety
I will always wear my cap and glasses when I am casting and when I am near anyone who is casting.
I will only wade with adult supervision, and I will obey the rules of safe wading.
I will use only barbless hooks.
For all fish not meant to be eaten, I will practice catch-and-release.
I will not litter.
I will not be profane, and I will respect the rights of other anglers.
I will be familiar with my local fishing regulations.
I will not engage in risky behavior whether on or near the water.
I will work hard in my life to I preserve and restore our natural resources.
I will not be a fly-fishing snob. This is our earth, and we're alt in this together.
And what should that something be? First of all, resist fiberglass. The low cost of a glass rod will hit your brain like the sweet perfume of an evil temptress. You've seen such rods hanging by the hundreds in plastic blister packs at your local department store. Although such rods were state of the art when we were kids, they just can't compare with graphite. The cost of graphite has come down since its introduction in the 1970s. Now the price differential between a glass rod and a low-end graphite model is almost negligible. When you buy one, insist on at least 96 percent graphite, not those composite jobs that contain mostly glass with a smidgen of graphite thrown in just so the manufacturer can put the word graphite on the label. If the salesperson cannot tell you the percent of graphite composition by checking the manufacturer's specifications, walk away.
Getting the Kinks Out
Here's a tip from fishing expert Joe Petralio: kinky or twisted nylon leaders mean trouble for fly fishermen. A kinked leader makes accurate casting difficult, ruins the fly presentation, and makes the correct drift or float of a fly unlikely.
There are several ways to get the kinks and twists out of a leader, but one quick and easy method is to draw the leader repeatedly through a folded leather wallet so the leather rubs the leader on all sides. A few quick swipes should straighten the leader perfectly.
Other ways to get the kinks out: draw the leader across the rubber sole of a hip-boot, wader, or sneaker, or use a small square of rubber from a tackle shop or cut from a discarded automobile innertube.
Another thing you should resist is a short rod. By short I mean anything less than 8 feet. Many reputable manufacturers of fine tackle sell youth outfits that contain short rods. Maybe they think small hands need small rods. I think this is crazy. With the advent of ultralight graphite materials, the weight difference between a long and short rod designed for a given line size is not worth losing any sleep over. A large rod will do a better job of enabling the child to lift the line off the water, and, more important, the longer length will keep the fly farther away from the child's head and body. I've not found the cork grips on longer rods to be too large for my children's hands, but Christopher and Amy are big for their ages. If your child's hands are small, a local rod maker should be able to sand down the grip for a nominal fee. Unless you are an experienced craftsman, do not take on this job yourself.
Every expert says never buy a rod that you haven't personally casted. Now this may make sense if you've had fly-fishing experience, but if the rod is for your daughter and she's never casted before, telling the salesman to rig up the rod so she can try it right there can lead to interesting results, one of which might be that your daughter never speaks to you again. However, don't think that just because you're genetically related to her, the rod will feel as right in her hands as it feels in yours.
In this situation, the best solution is to test the rod's action. This is a simple maneuver and nobody gets embarrassed. Grip the rod in the usual manner and extend it horizontally in front of you. Now briskly wag it back and forth. Fast-action rods flex mainly at the tip, medium-action rods bend down to the midsection, and slow-action rods flex all the way down to the butt. For children, I strongly recommend a slow-action rod. There are a number of reasons for this. The first is that when casting they are, well, slow. Using a slow-action rod means that the child's reactions do not have to be as quick or as refined as when casting a stiffer model. It also means that there is more time to recognize casting errors and to correct them while the line and fly are still in the air. Slow rods enable the caster to feel the rod load and unload during the back and forward casts; fast-action rods inhibit this. Slow rods are especially suited for turning over wind-resistant flies such as the poppers and hair bugs designed for the child's most likely quarry, panfish. When it comes time to cast smaller flies to more selective fish like trout, the slow rod permits a more delicate presentation. Finally, casting a slow-action rod is so much more graceful and pleasing than wielding a stiffer stick. Watch your child casting and see what I mean. You can imagine Robert Redford at your side, filming your child in slow motion for his next magnum opus.
Given these attributes, you might ask why every fly fisher is not using a slow-action rod. What a slow-action rod lacks is the rigidity to propel the line great distances, and this is why it has fallen out of favor with many adult anglers, especially the macho types. By and large, children won't care a hoot about this factor, nor should adults. The majority of fish in fresh water will be caught within 20 feet of where you're standing, anyway. For the average caster, a slow-action rod can perform nicely at twice this distance.
If these reasons still don't convince you that a slow-action, graphite rod is right for your child, consider this: for years, bamboo aficionados have been saying that graphite lovers are missing out on something incredible. If you've ever had the opportunity to cast a well-made cane rod, you'll know exactly what they mean. What is the major casting difference between bamboo and most graphite rods? The former are almost all slow action! It therefore follows that getting a well-made, slow-action graphite rod is the closest anyone can come to the feel of casting a fine piece of Tonkin—without paying a king's ransom.
Rules and Regs
Every year before fishing, you must first buy a state fishing license. Every state has a pamphlet that details specific fishing regulations. These “regs,” as veterans call them, may require you to buy certain stamps, depending on the species of fish or body of water you plan to fish. For instance, state regulations require that “anyone fishing from a boat or other floating device on the Colorado River or adjacent waters forming the California-Arizona border must have a special use stamp in addition to either a California or Arizona fishing license. The holder of a California license must have an Arizona use stamp, and the holder of an Arizona license must have a California use stamp.”
The soft-action approach has its limits. You don't want your child wielding a wet noodle that puts excessive vibrations in the line and sends it nowhere. To avoid purchasing a rod like this, go back to the action test described above. As you are wagging the rod back and forth and it is flexing from tip to butt, suddenly stop. The rod should oscillate once or twice and then come to rest. If it doesn't, you've got a noodle in your hands, so pass it up.
The rod should be designed for a 6-weight line. This is perfect for young hands. Rods built for lighter line weights are more difficult to control and rods for heavier line weights are more likely to tire the child. The 6-weight will also handle the largest number of species your child is likely to encounter, from bluegill through trout to small bass.
When you buy a rod, be sure to pick up a rod bag and tube at the same time. There is an unwritten rule in fly-fishing that the longer the interval between buying the rod and purchasing the tube, the more likely the rod is going to be broken by the time it's first put in the tube. Although aluminum tubes are traditional, the Orvis Green Mountain tube is made of high-impact plastic, is cheaper, and has a D-shaped circumference so it won't roll around in the trunk of your car. Be sure to show your kids the proper way of inserting the rod in the tube (keep the ferrules down and encircle the opening of the tube with your fingers to avoid tearing off a guide on the edge of the tube).
Reel, Backing, Line, and Leader
There are no startling revelations here. The single-action reel with adjustable drag is standard. While we're on this subject, let me air one of my biggest gripes. Have you noticed that spinning reels are a whole lot cheaper than fly reels but the spinning reels have so many more parts? I guess this is because the tackle manufacturers believe all fly fishers are affluent and naive, which most are not. So I have made it my personal mission to try to find a low-priced fly reel that performs as well as the top-of-the-line models. My search always comes back to the same item—the Pfluger Model 1594. Unlike the better-known 1494, the 1594 has the advantages of rim control and a counterweighted spool for only a modest difference in price.
This reel is a terrific buy. Like Timex watches and membership in the American Automobile Association, it's too good to pass up. It is sturdy as a tank, which is good if kids are going to use it, and it has an irresistible feature: when you crank it, it makes a delightful “put-put” sound, kind of like a finely tuned sports car.
If your child is a right-handed caster, he should reel with his left hand and vice versa. Then, following a strike, he will not have to transfer the rod to the opposite hand if he wishes to play the fish from the reel. Switching hands causes slack to develop in the line and hence the fish gets away.
Two admonitions about the 1594 are in order. Changing from right- to lefthand retrieve requires a degree in mechanical engineering and the patience to chase little parts that have fallen off the table and onto the floor. Have the tackle dealer do this for you. Second, buy a small screwdriver so you can keep the screws on the reel posts nice and snug.
Since most children begin fly-fishing in stillwaters where fish often lie deep, a slow-sinking line would seem a logical choice. I don't buy this. I believe it is better for a child to know where the line is at all times, so a weight-forward floating line is my preference. It's easier to pick up off the water, shoots better, and can always be used with a weighted leader or fly if there is a need to go deeper. Also, to aid visibility, select a bright color. I've never seen a fly line color stand out as much as does fluorescent orange. Some anglers make a big deal about using neutral or darker colors to avoid spooking fish. This is the purpose of the leader, not the line, so don't let their opinions sway you.
Rules and Regs
The pamphlet will also notify you about fish limits, restrictions, and catch-and-release-only areas. You'll also learn about proposed changes. For example, the State of California is considering establishing (1) a two-bag fish limit in a 2.3-mile area of the Upper Sacramento River, and (2) an 8-inch size limit, barbless hooks, and no more than one trout over 22 inches on all anadromous fish waters of the Klamath River system. Anadromous refers to a type of fish that normally lives in the sea but returns to freshwater rivers and streams to spawn. Salmon, steelhead, and shad are examples.
As an angler, you are required to know the regulations on the river or lake you are fishing. This is Important. You don't want to go home with a citation for $500! So be sure you know the rules.
We fish to reduce stress, not to pile on more stress. A little common sense goes a long way.
If you take up fly-fishing, eventually you will hook yourself. To cut down on such incidents, always wear your polarized sunglasses while fishing. Not only do they reveal the fish but they protect your eyes from ultraviolet rays and hooks! Wear clear glasses when night fishing.
Your hat is another protection from getting hooked in your head.
If you get hooked in the skin, you can usually take it out (especially if it's barbless). Sometimes you may have to push the point through to expose the barb. Then crush the barb or clip the hook near the end. Back the hook out of the skin.
If you get hooked in an eye, do not try to remove the hook. Cut the leader off, bandage the eye, and find a doctor immediately.
Use wisdom when wading or crossing streams. Moving quickly can result in a topple and can also disturb the fish. The sediment stirred up can put the fish downstream off for the rest of the day. And lots of insects are scrunched in the process. Never wade for any distance in the water. Get out of the water and attempt to walk near the stream. Avoid using the stream as a path.
For extra support, many fishermen use a wading staff with a metal tip.
Felt-soled shoes can prevent spills, but you should still proceed cautiously.
If you fall in a river, try to position your feet so they are down-current, and use your arms to maneuver yourself into shallow water.
If someone is fishing in “your” favorite spot, don't jump in. You might say something like, “Hi, how's it going?” If the person replies (and conversation is optional), you might ask if anyone is fishing upstream. If there is no response, keep going. How far? As far as you could fish in half an hour. Or a minimum of 100 yards.
Do not offer suggestions on what kind of fly to use unless asked. It is downright amazing what fish will hit on. If you are having good luck and a fellow angler isn't, you might say, “This Magicfly Special really seems to be working. I have an extra if you would like to try it.” Mean it, or don't say it.
When a thunderstorm is approaching, leave the water and find shelter away from tall trees.
Before you set off on a wilderness trip, make sure your tetanus shot is up to date and carry a snakebite kit.
One way to save some cash when buying your child's first fly line is to select a shorter one. He's not going to start out by casting 80 feet anyway—and remember that most of the fish he'll catch will be within 20 to 30 feet of where he's standing. Scientific Anglers’ Concept fly line is 57 feet long (most standard lines run 80 to 100 feet) and offers high quality at modest cost.
Do not expect your child to attach his leader to the fly line with a Nail knot. You've heard about braided line-leader connectors? Well, you may curse as you try to get the thing on the end of the line, but once it's in place he'll thank you for it—and you'll be relieved he won't need your assistance every time he wants to change a leader.
A word about backing. Everyone will tell you to put on enough backing so that the fly line comes to within one-fourth inch of the outside rim of the spool. This will keep your line from forming tight coils and will aid the speed of retrieval. For kids, I recommend you ignore this rule. Put on enough backing so that the line comes to within one-half inch of the outside rim. This way, there is less chance of loops of line falling astray when spools are changed, and there is less chance of line catching between the spool and the reel housing. Kids tend to go for flashy colors and now you can get fluorescent backing. Having fluorescent green backing attached to a fluorescent orange fly line in a black reel is, in my son's words, “truly maximum.”
Leaders will be of the knotless tapered kind. If you think your child is going to sit there connecting lengths of different-sized monofilament with Blood knots, you're dreaming. For now, tie a perfection loop at the butt end of his leader so he can make a loop-to-loop connection with the braided loop on his fly line. Assuming your child will begin with bluegill, the only leader size you need is 3X. This will handle flies in size 8 through 12, which are just right for the little critters. Add a spool of 3X tippet material to keep the leader from disappearing and you're all set.
Fly selection is determined by type of quarry. From my earlier comments you know I'm partial to kids beginning with panfish in general and bluegill in particular. This may seem self-evident, given that the bluegill's tendency to strike hard and often is perfectly matched to the child's relatively short attention span. But I have known purist parents who do not want their child to catch anything but a trout, believing that panfish are beneath the dignity of a fly fisher. Given the difficulty in taking trout versus the child's inherent need for immediate gratification, this is a poor match. I'd rather spend an afternoon on a farm pond with my kids catching a mess of bluegills than fishing with them for a weekend on some storied trout water and catching nothing. Not that I can't tolerate being skunked. On the contrary, I'm an expert at it. But at this stage in their development, my children aren't.
If you carry the elitist attitude that panfish are trash fish, so will your children. The attitude is an entirely unnecessary one. I must admit that at one time I harbored a senseless guilt over enjoying these fish, but my subsequent readings told me that if some of the world's most accomplished anglers can wax poetic about them, so can I.
Selecting flies for panfish may seem like a contradiction in terms, since panfish by nature are not very selective. Nonetheless, they are not easy to take on every outing, and there are patterns that are consistently more productive than others. Like most other species, panfish do most of their feeding under the surface, so we are partial to wet flies, particularly those that are yellow (like the McGinty) or white (such as the White Miller).
Panfishing has several close parallels to fly rodding for trout, not the least of which is that taking them on the surface is the most challenging as well as the most fun. Although dry flies will occasionally work, the Adams of panfishing is the small (size 8 to 12) popper. If you really want to hear your kids scream with delight, have them experience a bluegill smashing onto a popper which they are chugging along the surface of the water. It will be one of their most memorable angling experiences, as well as one of yours. (Adapted from Fly Fishing with Children, by Philip Brunquell, M.D., 1995.)
A Poem on Fly Fishing
Excerpted from The Compleat Angler, published in 1676 by Isaak Walton
Let me live harmlessly, and near the brinkOf Trent or Avon have a dwelling-placeWhere I may see my quill, or cork, down sinkWith eager bite of Perch, or Bleak, or Dace;And on the world and my Creator think:Whilst some men strive ill-gotten goods t’ embrace;And others spend their time in base excessOf wine. or worse. In war and wantonness
Let them that list, these pastimes still pursue,And on such pleasing fancies feed their fill;So I the fields and meadows green may view,And daily by fresh rivers walk at willAmong the daisies and the violets blue,Red hyacinth, and yellow daffodil,Purple Narcissus like the morning rays,Pale gander-grass, and azure culver-keys.
I count it higher pleasure to beholdThe stately compass of the lofty sky;And in the midst thereof, like burning gold,The flaming chariot of the world's great eye:
The watery clouds that in the air up-roll'dWith sundry kinds of painted colours fly;And fair Aurora, lifting up her head,Still blushing, rise from old Tithonus’ bed.
The hills and mountains raised from the plains,The plains extended level with the groundThe grounds divided Into sundry veins,The veins inclos'd with rivers running round;These rivers making way through nature's chains,With headlong course, Into the sea profound;The raging sea, beneath the valleys low,Where lakes, and rills, and rivulets do flow:
The lofty woods, the forests wide and long,Adorned with leaves and branches fresh and green,In whose cool bowers the birds with many a song,Do welcome with their quire the summer's Queen;The meadows fair, where Flora's gifts, amongAre intermix”, with verdant grass between;The silver-scaled fish that softly swimWithin the sweet brook's crystal, watery stream.
All these, and many more of his creationThat made the heavens, the Angler oft doth see;Taking therein no little delectation,To think how strange, how wonderful they be:Framing thereof an inward contemplationTo set his heart from other fancies free;And whilst he looks on these with joyful eye,His mind is rapt above the starry sky.
—Jo. Davors, Esq.