S4:E4 Fly Fishing on a Family Vacation

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Fly fishing on a family vacation is a nice idea in theory but often impractical in reality. Often, you simply make the family unhappy with you. In this fun episode, we regale each other with family vacations gone awry and offer a few practical ideas for fly fishing on a family vacation. You may want to have your family listen to this episode with you. Or maybe not!

Listen now to Fly Fishing on a Family Vacation

Great Stuff from Our Listeners. At the end of each episode, we often include a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” It’s the last segment of each episode, where Steve reads one of the comments from our listeners or readers. We enjoy hearing from you, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experiences.

We’d love to hear your family vacation stories. How have you integrated fly fishing with family on a vacation? Please post your comments below!


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The Fly Fisher’s Book of Lists

We’ve published a book for regular-Joe-and-Jane fly fishers called The Fly Fisher’s Book of Lists: Life is short. Catch more fish.

One person who purchased the book called it “cliffsnotes for fly fishers.”

To switch metaphors, perhaps it’s more like a handful of potato chips. It’s an entire book of lists. The goal is to help you find practical help quickly and in an easily digestible format!

Buy it today on Amazon for only $13.99!

Fly Fishing Language for Parents and Teens

Communicating with my teenage boys was no small challenge. But fly fishing provided a language that made it easier. Last weekend, I hung out with my 29-year-old son, Ben. I left amazed at all the wisdom I picked up from him. He offered insights about financial planning and about my workout regimen (which needs to be ramped up a bit).

This weekend, my wife and I will travel to Grand Forks, North Dakota to watch the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks play their first ever football playoff game since moving up to Division 1 (FCS) a decade ago. They are ranked 8th nationally. Our 23-year old son, Luke, is a senior tight end and a team captain. He has blossomed into a fine leader and is heavily involved in community service in Grand Forks.

I am grateful for the way my sons have emerged from those challenging teen years. This is due primarily to the grace of God. Seriously. It covered a multitude of my parenting blunders. But I also have to give credit to one of God’s gifts which enabled communication during the tough patches.

That gift is fly fishing.

The Language of Life

My boys and I laugh about some tense moments during their teen years. A lot of them involved over-reactions on the part of their dad. Uh, that would be me. We laugh, for example, about scathing note I left for Ben when he didn’t make it home from gopher hunting in time to go with us to his sister’s high school graduation. My purple prose expressed bitter disappointment in Ben and outlined a long list of consequences. I was still seething when I reached the front of the high school auditorium and saw Ben waiting for us. He had his friend drop him off so he wouldn’t be late.

So how did we manage to communicate through the teen years? Fly fishing provided a language which made it possible. We found our voice in the laughter that fly fishers share. Conversation flowed like the river itself, moodiness evaporated like the morning fog. In this setting, my sons were quite willing to listen to my advice — at least about fly fishing. Fly fishing together even created a bond which led to some rather deep conversations about life.

Something else happened too. The conversations we began on the river followed us home. So did the ease with which we communicated. It seemed like our shared experiences on the river nurtured conversations marked by transparency, respect, honesty, and kindness.

By the way, both of my boys still love to fly fish — especially when we can do it together.

Fly fishing is not a magic pill that solves problems between parents and their teens. But time together on the river may yield much more than fish. It may provide a common language, which takes communication to a more productive level.

5 Life Lessons I Learned from Fly Fishing

Recently, it occurred to me that fly fishing has taught me a few life lessons. That shouldn’t surprise me, I suppose. But because I pursue fly fishing for the love and joy of it, I guess I had overlooked its lessons. Here are five life lessons I’ve learned over four decades of fly fishing.

1. You have to schedule time for what you love most.

I always thought I’d have to guard against fly fishing too much when I became an adult.

To my surprise, I found that I had to guard against not fly fishing enough. There are always meetings, chores, and scheduling conflicts that crowd out my time on the river. So I have to be intentional to make myself do what I love. That’s the way it is with life. It keeps you so busy with the day-to-day responsibilities of life that you have to make time for the people and pursuits you love most.

2. You only get lucky when you work hard.

Do you ever drool over the Facebook photos of friends cradling a monster rainbow trout?

Those lucky dogs, you think.

But they are lucky because they’ve made time to get out on the river, because they’ve taken “one more cast,” and because they’ve done their homework (which flies to use). Show me a “lucky” fly fisher, and I’ll show you a persistent, hardworking fly fisher. Luck is a result of hard work. That’s true with everything from product development to real estate sales to getting published.

3. Skill is most often made, not born.

Yes, some people have a knack for fly fishing. They remind me of my younger brother, Kevin, who got up on water skis on his first attempt — while the boat was still idling!

But there is no substitute for skill development. Read. Listen. Observe. Practice. Practice again. And again. Skill will only take you so far in fly fishing — and in basketball, in marketing, in web design, and in dentistry.

4. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

This is an especially hard lesson for the male species.

I once spent fifteen minutes looking for powdered sugar in a grocery store because I didn’t feel like asking a sales associate for help. But after years of picking the brains of folks behind the counter in a fly shop or fly fishing guides or friends who practice the craft with more skill than I do, I finally figured out that it’s less painful to ask for help than it is to keep bumbling along while making no progress.

Thanks to my fly fishing experiences, I’m more likely to ask for help with software, building a deck, and even locating the aisle with powdered sugar.

5. There is always someone better than you.

If you’re obsessed with being the best, you’re going to be a frustrated fly fisher. Or a frustrated basketball player. Or a frustrated heart surgeon. Or a frustrated writer.

Some folks operate on a different level. My brother, Dave, is like that. He has regularly out-fished me at a pace of about two fish for every one I catch. That has been the case ever since I was six and he was four. Once I made peace with that, it was a whole lot more enjoyable for me and everyone else around me. I can now take joy in the success of others, as well as in my own.

The tag line of our podcast says it all: “for the love of fly fishing.” Yes, that’s why I fly fish. I love it, and it brings me joy. But it’s taught me a lot about life, too. I’m grateful for that, and so are the others in my life.

Teaching Your Kids to Fly Fish

So you want to teach your son or daughter to fly fish. How can you make that happen? The truth is, you can lead a child to water, but you can’t make them fly fish.

I have a few suggestions, though, to help along the way:

Get them on the river early and often

I still remember the first time my dad took me to the Kilchis River near Tillamook, Oregon. He was fishing for steelhead. I was four years old, mesmerized by the smell of the river — as well as by the smell of the fish. The experience was formative, creating in me a love for rivers.

Last summer, our family stayed in some cabins on Montana’s Boulder River. I watched my two sons-in-law fly fish while toting their little kids in backpacks. Now my sons-in-law were not wading, nor were they near deep water. So my 3-month old grandson and my one-year old granddaughter were safe! I was proud of the guys for getting their young children into the great outdoors at the river’s edge.

The time to introduce your kids (or grandkids) to the river is even before they are old enough to fish.

Get them hooked on brookies

When we lived in Helena, Montana, in the early 1990s, we occasionally made the 40-mile trip over MacDonald Pass and then up the Little Blackfoot River to a national forest campground. We fished the river—not much more than a little stream at that point—and caught quite a few brook trout.

My technique was to get a brookie on the line, hand them the rod, wait a couple seconds, and then say, “Hey, I think you’ve gone one!” Later, when they were old enough to go solo, I taught them to fish with a spinning rod and drown a worm. They eventually graduated to fly fishing.

Brook trout are a beginner’s best friend. They can be wily at times, but they are often forgiving of sloppy casts. If you do not live near a trout stream, even blue gills or sunfish will do. It’s important that your youngsters catch some fish.

Get them started on nymphing

Once your kids are ready to handle a fly rod, nymphing is a great way to get them started. Their casts do not have to be as precise as in dry fly fishing, and it’s easy to teach your kids to watch the strike indicator (I like the small plastic bubble) as it floats down a run.

About the only thing your kids need to learn is to mend their line. I’m surprised how early my boys caught on to this technique. Both of them caught some nice rainbows in the Madison River with nymphs. Later, when they became more proficient, they graduated to dry flies.

Make it fun, not too technical

Most six-year-olds are not going to respond well to a lecture on tippet size or your instructions for tying an improved clinch knot. Nor will they care much about the difference between a copper john and a prince nymph. Just let them fish.

This is also not the time to refine their casting. Be patient, and be prepared to take some deep breaths—and to spend time untangling lines and leaders.

Give them a break and let them explore

Don’t be upset if your child loses interest in a hurry and wants to explore. Encourage it. My youngest son, Luke, would often stop fishing after a few minutes—even if he was catching trout!—so that he could look for frogs and garter snakes. It’s all part of the outdoor experience. Your child’s love for fly fishing may develop later, after they first become enamored with all the cool things they find along the river’s edge.

There are no guarantees, but if you teach your kids to fly fish, they may continue it or even pick it up again later in life.

A funny thing happened last summer when we were camped out on the Boulder River. My sons-in-law taught my daughters how to fly fish. My daughters remembered the days we spent catching brookies on the Little Blackfoot about 25 years earlier and decided it was time to try fly fishing.

Meanwhile, my older son taught his wife to fly fish. Then, in the biggest surprise of all, my youngest son taught his mother (my wife). He was there when she caught her first trout on a fly rod. At first, he felt bad that he didn’t let me teach her how to fish. Both my wife and I reassured him that it was for the best. He was more patient with his mom than I would have been!

Later, as we watched the sun set from the porch of our cabin, we realized that we were seeing the results of a commitment to teach the kids to fly fish.

Give your kids a video game, and you’ll make them happy for a few hours. Teach them to fly fish, and you’ll make them happy for a lifetime.