Many parents choose to spend the early years of their children’s lives stuck at home thinking there is no way they can keep up the outdoor pursuits that they love until their children are older. I can tell you this is simply not true. My name is Tim Hepworth; I am a husband, father, medic, and fly-fishing guide in Southern Alberta.
I was born and raised in central Alberta. My parents started taking me on hunting and fishing trips at a very young age. However, when my wife and I first started talking about having children I was very resistant to the idea. I feared that if we had a child, all the things I loved doing would no longer be possible. I could not have been more wrong.
My daughter Wren and I took our first fly fishing trip when she was 6 months old. I carried her on my chest and to my surprise she did amazing. Eventually she graduated to a backpack carrier which made things even easier. That first Spring and Summer I got her out multiple times a week. Wren is now almost three and we have had an amazing few seasons together. I will admit that not every trip goes smoothly. There were many times when we would arrive at the river and be packing up to go home shortly after. Adaptability is the name of the game. You need to ask yourself what is the goal? Do you want to catch a ton of big fish every time out? Or do you want to show your child the beauty of the outdoors?
In today’s world it is so easy to set your kid in front of a screen and let it do all the teaching. However,I believe most people want something different. We want our children to appreciate the outdoors the way we do, and to be the stewards of taking care of it for the generations to come. I have chosen this path for my daughter, and it excites me to see so many others doing the same. I have fielded countless questions about fishing with Wren, so I figured it was time to put some words together and try to pass along some of what I have learned. I have come up with 5 tips I feel are essential to a positive day with your child on the water.
1. Don’t Have A Timeline
Fishing with an infant is actually quite easy. More than likely they will fall asleep in a pack and sleep for hours, giving you all the time in the world to fish. However, with toddlers and small children they decide when your day starts and ends. You have to manage your own expectations for the day and be realistic with yourself. You may get to the water, make two casts when your child has a meltdown or diaper blowout. This may end your day and you need to be ok with that. The worst thing you can do is force your child, who is obviously restless and no longer engaged, to stay out fishing. If you do then they will start to hate it and that completely defeats the purpose of encouraging your kids to be in the outdoors with you. Listen to your kid. When they’re done, be done.
2. Buy the right outdoor gear
One of my biggest frustrations is trying to find good quality gear for Wren. It took me months to find her a pair of toddler waders. These have kept Wren warm and safe and helped her be comfortable on our adventures. However it is still difficult to find warm gear at an affordable price. But don’t give up. Be prepared to put the money out for your kids. It’s an investment in the experience you are hoping they will love as much as you. If anyone actually needs the best warm, and durable gear it’s actually our kids. So don’t give up the search for good gear, it can be found if you're willing to look for it.
3. Snacks, Snacks, Snacks!
It’s such a simple thing, but having adequate amounts of food for your day on the water will save your butt a thousand times. You can lengthen your day by having just that one more granola bar or bottle of milk. Overpack what you think you will need for them and you won’t be disappointed. Always bring lots of water. My daughters “comfort food” has always been her milk. If I have forgotten it at the truck I may as well turn around immediately and go back and get it. Find what that comfort food item is for your child and don’t forget to stick it in your pack!
4. It’s a bug’s life
Once your child is big enough to be spending some time out of the pack. Get them on the shoreline digging in the rocks. Yes it may mean a lot of ruined holes as inevitably those rocks get thrown into them, but what it will do is get them looking at some bugs. Kids are fascinated by the creepy crawling things, which just so happens to be a perfect opportunity to teach them about the flies we are using. For every hour you are on the water go spend 20 min helping them find some bugs. Trust me they will appreciate it and it will probably spruce up your knowledge too!
5.Let them practice!
More than likely your child has spent hours watching you whip your rod around and will want to try it too. Now I’m not saying you hand them your $1000 T&T rod but have a rod there they can try to cast with. I started by buying my daughter a couch rod for inside. She spent weeks playing with it. I then started bringing along a rod I had bought for her (it’s the Echo Gecko kids rod), to practice with. Yes you will untie a thousand knots and tangles, but just be patient and let them “play” because for them that is what it is, and playing is supposed to be fun. I haven’t actually taught my daughter that much when it comes to casting, but I tell you what, it is uncanny how much they learn from watching you! At two and half years old my daughter casted, hooked, and landed her first solo fish. I wish I could say I had more to do with it than I did! But she learned by watching and practicing, give your kids that chance to learn. In the end they just want to be like you, so give them the chance to do so.
To conclude, remember what all of this is for. Yes you want to share your love of fly fishing with your kids, but furthermore this is about spending quality time with your kids in the outdoors. Cherish it and don’t take it for granted. One thing hours of time together can give you, is the chance to create a forever lasting bond with your child that cannot be replaced. Talk your kids, be their first teacher and guide them down the path you want for them. I can’t tell you how many hours I practiced the “abc song”, or sang the “itsy bitsy spider”. Much of the time you are just a walking day care centre, but it’s these moments that I know will be some of my best memories for the rest of my life. Don’t fear the difficulty or inconvenience of taking your kids fishing, I promise it will never be something you regret.