The author with his daughter Lucy, then four years old, discussing fly color. Lucy has always been an arts and crafts kid, and her peripheral interest in fly tying began to grow when she associated it with time on Daddy’s lap and another opportunity to be creative. The actual link to fly fishing came later.
Many of us who tie flies and have children would love to see them take up the hobby.
If you aren’t a parent, maybe you have some young relatives or know some local youngsters who have shown an interest in fly tying.
Time spent tying with kids can be fun, productive, and higher quality than most people think.
Before you go down that road, here are a handful of things to keep in mind.
1. Keep it simple.
We’re not going to tie fully dressed salmon flies here.
By keeping the patterns simple, children can stay focused longer and have a greater appreciation for the fly building craft. Kids don't learn math by starting with calculus, so reflect on that principle when starting to teach kids how to tie flies.
Many youngsters enjoy the process of learning tying techniques that can broadly apply to many patterns. Just wrapping thread on the hook can be a good time for little newbies at the vise.
As for material and color selection, well, that can go on for some time and be quite amusing.
2. Start with large patterns.
“Large” is a relative term. This fly, tied by an eight-year-old student, is on a saltwater size 2 hook. Compared to most trout patterns it’s huge, but for many saltwater situations it’s below average. Note the sparsity and sense of proportion…Not bad for a youngster who'd only been at it for a few weeks!
In the interest of being able to properly gauge what's actually being tied to the hook, I advise that children start by tying larger flies.
This is for the benefit of both the teacher and the pupil. It's much easier to view the progress of a fly under construction when all ingredients are readily seen during the process, as well as being seen after the fly is complete. More advanced notions such as color blending, proportion, sparsity, and others are also more obvious when tied large.
As an added feature, I often used brightly colored thread that need not match the pattern being tied so a youngster can see the path of construction.
Who cares if the colors don’t match? Your student won’t, and neither will most fish.
3. Hands-on time matters.
Even basic concepts such as thread wraps can be entertaining for little ones. Notice the exposed hook point; this was an impromptu lesson where Lucy jumped on the author’s lap and wanted to help. Thread wraps were made far away from the point. Subsequent sessions had hook points covered.
Everything is theory until put into practice. Fly tying is no different.
Yes, showing technique is beneficial, but until the rubber hits the road and rookies start using the vise and tools themselves, they really won’t grow. Only watching and not actively participating can be discouraging to students regardless of age.
Of special note when teaching fly tying to children are a few safety measures, particularly when dealing with scissors and hook points. Good tying scissors are razor sharp and their use with young ones should be supervised. Hook points are an always present hazard for any fly dresser, but children can be especially unaware. My solution is to stick a pencil eraser onto the hook point and tell the student why it’s there and what could happen if it wasn’t.
With some common sense, kids can have fun cranking out flies at the vise without too much risk.
4. Manage the expectations.
Lucy (now 6 and an avid angler) soaks up knowledge from Sean Murphy at a local fly fishing expo. The fly is a psychedelic combination of material and color, a true extension of her creativity, and here she's observing how to perform a whip finish. The enthusiasm for the hobby can carry into the future where skills will continue to develop.
Don’t push too hard. Remember, kids who are learning to tie flies are kids.
It doesn’t matter whether or not the flies they tie would actually catch fish. Let them be creative with material selection and design. I've let my daughter use many fly tying materials for other arts and crafts projects because this lets her become more familiar with them and what they can do.
Fly tying is an activity that should be fun, not stressful with unreasonable goals. Every child is different, and because of that each will get something a little different from tying flies.
Above all, have fun!
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About Captain Mark Dysinger:
Mark is the owner of Flyosophy Charters. He's located on the Connecticut coast and guides in the nearby waters of Long Island Sound, where he specializes in the Northeast slam of striped bass, bluefish, and false albacore. Mark is a recognized authority on fly fishing for northern pike. His works have appeared in numerous online and print publications, and he has contributed to a handful of books. Mark is a regular fixture at the Northeast fly fishing shows, where he readily shares fly tying tips and fishing strategies. His fishing activities can be followed on the Flyosophy Charters Facebook and Instagram.