Teaching Girls Fly Fishing

Bob Boese - June 8, 2009

Fishing is about quality time. This article will provide hints on how to teach a little girl to fly fish. Why girls? Because it is harder than teaching little boys and because the idea of a fly fishergirl is a foreign idea to most young women and practically all old fly fishermen. But, if you can teach a girl you can teach a boy using essentially the same approach, only a lot easier.

I coach little girls (10-14) in 3 sports and have done so for 16 years.

Watching the drift (Frying Pan River)
While there are exceptions to every rule, the experience, the skills and the technique for coaching girls is completely different from that for boys. Physiologically, psychologically, emotionally and environmentally girls differ from boys in every imaginable way. In America, it is the norm for boys to spend much more time with a ball in their hands than their girl counterparts. Fortunately, girls are no longer forbidden by society to play sports, but, two toddler boys with a ball will fight for possession. Give two toddler girls the ball and they share. By the time most parents decide to introduce girls to sports they are nine or older, and may never have attempted any athletic skills. Fly fishing is not basketball, but it is an athletic endeavor that requires hand-eye coordination, muscle memory and a certain amount of stamina.

Psychology tells us that males and females approach decision-making differently. Men are impulsive (reactive) and will make a quick decision, even if there is a good chance they are wrong. Women are more thoughtful (contemplative), and ponder longer over decisions, wanting to make the right choice. The competitive spirit encourages boys to learn as much as they can on their own (right or wrong) before they deal with a coach. Girls wait to be taught the correct way. Boys often have to un-learn incorrect skills while girls are a clean slate. On the other hand, boys have usually developed strength and hand-eye coordination that the girls lack. On balance, the advantage is with the boys and the result is that it appears boys have natural skills girls lack. Not true, but you don't want to try to teach girls like they were boys. It won't work and you and the girl will get frustrated.

As you begin, remember that some forms of fishing are easy. Learning to like any form of fishing at all is the first step in learning to like fly fishing. With a cane pole and a can of worms the only difficulty for a girl is putting the worm on the hook, something you will have to do for her. Boys can hardly wait to impale a worm. Spincasting takes a little practice to get the timing but even George Jetson could handle it (push one button then let it go) and there are several kid-friendly spincast outfits you can get cheap. An open-face spinning reel is a bit tricker (but easier nowadays better bails) and a level wind casting reel is harder yet (but also easier today with backlash controls). Still, all of these pale in comparison to casting a fly rod. Many experts insist that fly fishing is casting, but this article is not about how to cast. Casting experts can do a much better job of explaining the mechanics of a cast than I ever could. Getting a kid to want to cast is something entirely different.

Why would you want to teach a child to fish? Because it offers quality time you can share. Because it gets them outdoors. Because it exposes them to nature and the need to protect their environment. Because it offers quality time you can share. Because it will help them get away from the stresses young people face today. Because it offers them a chance to learn how to succeed. Because it offers quality time you can share. Because it is hard to take drugs and fly fish well. Because it is hard to get drunk and fly fish well. Because it is hard to fly fish while having sex. And most of all, because it offers quality time you can share.

Okay, you have an afternoon to share with your child. How do you get her to want to fish? Fishing is fun for you, so tell her it's fun. Don't drag her by the pony tail to the pond. Tell her it's fun. Tell her this more than once. Kids are curious and if there is fun going on they aren't having they will want to have some of it. Eventually (usually) there will come a time when you ask her to go fishing and she will say yes. Boys will usually nag you to take them - but, of course, they are easier.

Once she's willing to go, pick a place with fish. She doesn't need to catch big fish, just some fish. All you are looking for is panfish or gullible trout. While you've been trying to get her to fish you should have somewhere in mind, preferably somewhere kid friendly. Going to a hard to place fish with no fish caught will be her first and last trip. Next, keep the equipment simple. If she's never fished before, swallow your pride and hook a bobber and cricket hook to your leader. Your 9'- 5wt. is now a cane pole. No casting required. Why do this? Because girls learn skills in increments and, if she catches anything on a fly rod, it will seem like a more friendly tool to her. Pick a safe spot and let her get comfortable. (Boys will run up and down the shore chasing after fish they think they see.) Sitting down on grass is acceptable but don't bring a lounge chair. You eventually want to wean her from the cork and cricket, you don't want to have to wean her from a lounge chair. Bait her hook until she asks to do it herself (boys almost never want you to do it for them) and focus on her.

Kiss and Release
Don't fret if your own line never gets wet, help her catch fish. When she catches one she will be excited. Take it off the hook and release it gently. She will want to be sure it's not hurt. (Boys will try to throw it as far into the middle of the pond as possible.) After a few fish she may ask to hold and release a fish. At that point you have earned a pat on the back and you probably think things are going perfectly. Then she will loose interest. No matter how well the fish are biting, she will find something better to do than catch them. (Boys want to hook every fish in the pond.) Don't try to stop her as long as she's doing something safe. A half-hour fishing today, an hour next time. Be patient. Try to take her out often and when you finally practice casting with her, do it on the water. Practicing fly casting in the yard is something adults do. Kids equate that to homework. Practicing on the water presents at least a remote chance of catching something and so - not homework.

At home, take time to work with her on tying knots. While it may seem like the most boring thing you can do with her, be enthusiastic. Tying a good knot is instant gratification - success. Boys learn to tie shoes as a necessity, girls do it as a skill and when the skill is first learned a girl will frequently untie shoes just to have a chance to retie them. A girl who learns a Palomar, Pitzen, Improved Cinch and UniKnot or Duncan Loop is not only on her way to being a good fisherman, but can show off her skills to non-fishermen or may volunteer to tie knots for your gear. Let her. Once she can do some fly fishing skills, the whole process is easier. At this point she can tie the hook on her line, see the cork go down and set the hook, and hold and release a fish. Kinda sounds like fishing, huh? For fly fishing, let her choose the fly to use from a selection you have assembled. Load a fly box especially for her of easy to fish patterns. Next, let her tie on her fly. You want to oversee this, but girls are better knot tiers than boys because they always want to get it right. Boys just want it done fast. You might even get her to tie on her own tippet with a Double Surgeon's Knot but don't expect her to be licking the line to wet it before tightening.

Wet Wade Outfit - Girl Style
Having succeeded at these skills, she will be more likely to want to try to use her freshly knotted on fly. If you haven't taught her to cast yet, this is a good time to start in earnest. But, some things to keep in mind. Don't hand her a 9'-9wt. and expect good results. A medium action 8 foot - 4/5 wt. is a good choice. Use a weight forward line, put on a very short leader and a small but easy-to-see-on-the-water barbless dry fly. Don't make her double haul (you'll teach her this later) and make sure nothing is behind her, especially you. (Boys will hook you more often than girls because they go at casting willy-nilly with little regard for possible consequences - hence the need for a barbless hook.) Be patient (casting is hard) and praise any half-decent effort. Focus on getting her to have a firm wrist - otherwise your 8 foot rod's tip will hit the ground on every backcast. Gently repeat instructions while she is casting and never ever get mad (that will insure it is her last trip). Let her wear pretty much whatever she wants. You wouldn't wear a skirt fishing, but she may need one so the experience is not quite so foreign. Don't wade in waters too deep or too fast for her to stand comfortably. Whether she's in a river or a boat, make sure she has on a PFD (SOSpenders are great) to lessen her fear. Bring a camera and take a picture of anything she catches. Even if she's not thrilled with everything about fishing, she might be willing to go again simply because it's a good photo op. And always remember why you're there.

When you take her to a trout river (moving water), remember her height and weight. Consider a kids-only site. There are trout rivers and ponds dedicated to kids. These are usually fish-rich and worth visiting. In Mountain Home, Arkansas, take her to Dry Run Creek next to the North Fork Hatchery. At that location, Arkansas Game & Fish stocks Dry Run Creek with big trout and fishing is reserved for children aged 16 and under and the handicapped. AND ALWAYS REMEMBER WHY YOU'RE THERE.

Previous Bob Boese Columns
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