Kids at the Vise: Broadening Fly Fishing’s Reach (and We Need Your Help)

by Mark McGlothlin on December 10, 2012

in Flies

There are some impressive efforts underway to bring more fly fishers into the fold today.

While many of my Montana brethren might be quick to disdainfully utter the phrase ‘corporate fly fishing…’ in the same sentence as industry giants such as Orvis, they’ve done a great deal over the past several years to introduce fly fishing and tying to thousands across the country. Hell, Jake even taught a few of those classes in Austin last year before coming back home to mountain country.

A number of shops around the country have made teaching fishers a high priority; a quick online search this morning for ‘learn to fly fish’ revealed somewhat of a surprise – Gig Harbor Fly Shop’s learn to fish page popped up 5th in the organic rankings list. (The copy I wrote back in May as a filler was better key-worded than I thought…)

Lots of folks in the industry have weighed in over the past few years about several key fly fishing demographic issues – slow growth vs. declining numbers in overall fishers, barriers to entry and the challenging recruitment of new, passionate fishers.

As part of that discussion, back in September Kirk Deeter wrote an interesting piece on Fly Talk (What Keeps People from Learning to Fly Fish?) in which he (correctly) suggested that one of the very best ways to get a new fisher engaged was to mentor he or she into the fold.

We agree wholeheartedly and think the mentorship angle applies even more so to kids.

How to best teach kids to fly fish has been as shrouded in mythology as any aspect of the sport; as a father both of my kids had fly rods in their hands very early, though they really didn’t engage until around age 8.

They were in my lap ‘helping’ dad tie flies before their second birthdays, and for years thereafter they both ‘tied flies’ using a saltwater bobbin wrapping scrap materials onto a dowel threaded in an old vise at the tying table.

Neither really came into their own as fly tiers until they were 9 and 10 (in the middle of a long northern winter) coinciding with the time we got on a saltwater fly kick – bigger hooks and materials made it easier for them to develop a sense of scale and proportion for their flies.

That winter and early spring we together tied just shy of 4000 flies getting ready to move back home to Montana and ply the Texas coast on a spring break trip.

Those experiences, combined with unforgettable and humbling events like this, have convinced Jake and I (and others) that one very successful route to getting kids hooked on fly fishing is to help them become artists at the vise.

We’re part of a team now working to pull together a program to teach kids to tie and then move onto the water; it’s brought a fascinating exposure to some talented tyers and ideas and is gaining momentum every day. We’ll be sharing more over the next several months.

What say ye about kids and fly tying?