I learned to read and teach kids through guiding, and I knew that their attention span was limited (especially a kid with my DNA.) If any part of their first experience fishing sucked, they were way less likely to be into it.
My daughter Harper has been around the water and fly fishing since she was a baby. I wanted us to have that time and those memories together for the rest of our lives, so I knew this much, “don’t F*** this up.” I’ve seen the dude that brings little Timmy to watch Dad throw streamers in the cold all day, (not cool dude) and Timmy looked miserable.
So I knew that I had to keep it as interesting as possible. From the time she was big enough to hold a fly rod, I have worked with her. She learned to cast on a floppy five-weight fiberglass rod since they load so easily.
I have heard more times than I can count, “can’t wait until my kids are big enough.” Guess what, they’re big enough. Kids are amazing. Their brains are little sponges and they seem to be able to absorb info way quicker than most adults. I wanted everything she absorbed about fishing early on to be perfect. Kids love games, so at home, we made up different games and got creative on teaching her how to cast and make hook sets with those short little arms.
I waited for a day when I knew everything would be perfect for her when she was four years old (weather, water, fishing) and that’s what I’ve done ever since. That way no matter whatever happens in life, she’ll be able to close her eyes and imagine those 75 degree days in Arkansas catching fish in the sun.
This particular day I’ll have forever. We had stopped to wade Rainbow Island on the Little Red River. It was her first time wading. She had fished from a boat plenty, but wading takes a certain sense of “fishiness” to be really successful. I witnessed something most people will never witness. A fly rod yielding, three feet tall little girl completely massacre a pile of rainbows.
They might has well have been trophy browns to her and I. I set her up with a set amount of line out of the reel, just enough to make an upstream cast, a mend, and then a swing on the downstream end of the drift. Towards the end of every other drift when her fly would start to swing up, a fish would tag it. She fishes with a 10’ 3 weight rod with a butt below the reel, so she can have the leverage of a 10ft rod and a weight small enough for her to be able to lay back on the rod and fight her heart out.
Harper is 6 now and fishing better than ever, but it isn’t about the fishing at all. Sure, someday I’ll fill her in that catching and fishing are two different things, but for now, I’ll just enjoy that she thinks fly fishing is all sunshine, rainbows, and unicorns.
Story and photos from Cameron Lester. He is not only a dad but a husband, lake bum and fly fishing guide on Greers Ferry Lake and The Little Red River in Arkansas. You can also check out his Leadercast Podcast or give him a follow on Instagram.