The notion of taking your kids to the river so you can fish, while also being a decent parent, sounds completely overwhelming, I know. I actually miss the days when my kids didn’t have opinions about what we were doing but instead could just sit jolly in a backpack. But something I’ve learned through the last ten years of river parenting is that for every phase of your child’s life, a place exists on the river where simultaneously kids are entertained and parents are reeling in fish (disclaimer: not all of these experiences have been merry). So as summer approaches, it’s time to start planning, building up your confidence in taking your family outdoors, and re-assessing the value of river-time for children and our next generation of fly fishers/river-keepers. Here are a few suggestions to get you going….
- Plan ahead, but don’t over-think it. There are three things you must plan for: extra clothes, a few toys, and food, lots of food. I have this special thing I do for my kids when we go to the river, I let them eat what ever they want. “Do you want to eat two bags of M&M’s? Go for it, son, we’re at the river.” This makes going to the river a vacation from some of the stuffy rules we have at home, so everyone loves to go. Side note: this has also back-fired on me with little tummy aches, so be wise. This may be terrible advice (see disclaimer).
- Find the perfect spot on the river. This spot needs to meet everyone’s needs- a shallow stretch of river with a slow current, a chunk of sand for the kids to play in, a small pool area for the swimmers to swim, and fishy sections of water above and below where the kids are playing. You may have to drive a while to find this magical stretch of water, but it exists; I promise it is worth the search. It’s also essential you find a safe stretch of water where you feel comfortable watching kids near, otherwise you will be stressed out the entire time.
- Go for the parental tag-team approach. If you can find another pair of parents to join in on the child-care tag-team, it’s a fun idea. One parent takes turns entertaining the kiddos, while the other parents fish for a while. Bringing walkie-talkies is a plus so you can communicate about taking turns, (and if one of the parents decides to be a fish addict, you can get in touch with them to bring them back to reality). A few of my friends and I do the tag-team-mom-fishing dance with our kids every summer– the kids have an absolute blast and we get to fish!
- Teach your kids how to enjoy the river. Get them started on fly-fishing while they are young by teaching them how to look for aquatic insects under rocks, or sifting the water with a silk screen to pinpoint a hatch. Another way to engage the kids, while still being able to fish, is to take a family hike next to the river and play a make-believe game I like to call, ‘Lost Family’. I usually pretend to be the daughter who needs to catch fish for dinner. Make sure you yell every once in a while, “I’m still searching for food, dad!” The kids love it and will usually encourage you to keep fishing, (It’s a win-win). Take several moments throughout the day to show your kids how much you love the river; but most importantly, show them how much you love having them there with you. We can always ‘get our fish on’ throughout our lives, but to be able to teach your children how fly-fishing connects them to the outdoors is an honor– don’t miss out. When your children near the age of 4 years old, it’s time to get them their own little 3wt rod to practice on. And as teenagers, when they complain about not wanting to go, take their phones away and tell them they can only earn them back if they catch a fish. 😉 Tying flies at home together is also another wonderful activity for families to enjoy together.
- Give the kids time to settle into being river-kids. Every time I get my kids outside fishing, they throw a fit at the beginning and claim they have nothing to do. It takes them a while to realize they don’t need to be entertained and they find creative ways to explore the outdoors. This may sound harsh, but ignore the kids for a bit so that they learn how to make up their own ways of interacting with the outdoors. If they can’t seem to get started, help build a fort out of sticks or haul out some toy trucks to build a racetrack. They will figure it out– I promise.
- Show off your catches. Bring a plastic photo tub, or a bucket, to put the fish in while you take pictures. This is a great way for kids to be able to examine the fish from all sides. Point out the colors, shapes, and things kids would notice on the fish. Teach them the safe way to release the fish back to its habitat and let them take turns releasing each catch. Then, sit back and enjoy as the kids chant, “More fish! More fish!” It easily becomes a family sport.
- Don’t set expectations. Do not be surprised if your plans fail and you spend more time changing diapers, or feeding kids, than you do wetting a fly. Remember, everything you are doing next to the river you would most likely be doing at home anyways. Why not enjoy your surroundings while parenting? Also, remember that with each stage your children reach, your river-time will change. When they move out of the backpack-phase and are walking around, you will miss the backpack stage. But pretty soon they will understand what river-time means and what they can do by the river. There will be times when it all falls apart, but even then you will notice a smile on your face and cherish the story you get to share when the kids are older.
- Just go. You need to stay true to yourself and follow your passion, even if you have little children in your nest. By putting away the things that bring you joy in order to be a parent, you are not only going to have regrets, but you are missing out on an opportunity to share your passion with your kiddos. You may not feel like you are ready, or qualified, or can plan far enough in advance, but you can, and you must. Some of our best family fly fishing days were the days when we decided last minute to head to the river. Sometimes, unplanned and unorganized is also part of the adventure.
Chances are, if you raise riverside kids you will have fly fishing teenagers, or at least young adults whom cherish the feeling they get when in the great outdoors– and that is always worth the hassle and difficulty of hauling the family to the river. Also, pulling your family away from technology and exploring together creates a unique opportunity to build relationships which is otherwise are hindered at home. Get out there, good luck, and tight lines!
*Blog note– I have too many stories to count now, but I’m fully invested in building The Mayfly Project www.themayflyproject.com, freelance writing for magazines, and *cough* fishing. Thanks for stopping by to say hi! If you have questions about The Mayfly Project email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Cheers!