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Teaching Fly Tying to Kids: Where To Begin?

If you aren’t a parent, maybe you have some young relatives or know somelocal youngsters who have shown an interest in fly tying.

Many of Us Who Tie Flies and Have Children Would Love To See Them Take Up the Hobby

Time spent tying with kids can be fun, productive, and higher quality than most people think.

Before you go down that road, here are a handful of things to keep in mind.

1. Keep It Simple

We’re not going to tie fully dressed salmon flies here.

By keeping the patterns simple, children can stayfocusedlonger and have a greaterappreciation for the flybuildingcraft. Kidsdon't learnmath by starting with calculus, soreflect on that principle when starting to teachkids how to tieflies.

Many youngsters enjoy the process of learning tying techniques thatcan broadly apply to many patterns. Just wrapping thread on the hook canbe a good time for little newbies at the vise.

As for material and color selection, well, that can go on for some time and be quite amusing.

2. Start With Large Patterns

“Large” is a relative term. This fly, tied by an eight-year-oldstudent, is on a saltwater size 2 hook. Compared to most trout patternsit’s huge, but for many saltwater situations it’s below average. Notethe sparsity and sense of proportion…Not bad for a youngster who'd onlybeen at it for a few weeks!

In the interest of being able to properly gauge what's actually beingtied to the hook, I advise that children start by tying larger flies.

This is for the benefit of both the teacher and the pupil. It's mucheasier to view the progress of a fly under construction when allingredients are readily seen during the process, as well as being seenafter the fly is complete. More advanced notions such as color blending,proportion, sparsity, and others are also more obvious when tied large.

As an added feature, I often used brightly colored thread that neednot match the pattern being tied so a youngster can see the path ofconstruction.

Who cares if the colors don’t match? Your student won’t, and neither will most fish. 

3. Hands-on Time Matters

Even basic concepts such as thread wraps can be entertaining forlittle ones. Notice the exposed hook point; this was an impromptu lessonwhere Lucy jumped on the author’s lap and wanted to help. Thread wrapswere made far away from the point. Subsequent sessions had hook pointscovered.

Yes, showing technique is beneficial, but until the rubber hits theroad and rookies start using the vise and tools themselves, they reallywon’t grow. Only watching and not actively participating can bediscouraging to students regardless of age.

Of special note when teaching fly tying to children are a fewsafety measures, particularly when dealing with scissors and hookpoints. Good tying scissors are razor sharp and their use with youngones should be supervised. Hook points are an always present hazard forany fly dresser, but children can be especially unaware. My solution isto stick a pencil eraser onto the hook point and tell the student whyit’s there and what could happen if it wasn’t.

With some common sense, kids can have fun cranking out flies at the vise without too much risk.

4. Manage the Expectations

Lucy (now 6 and an avid angler) soaks up knowledge from SeanMurphy at a local fly fishing expo. The fly is a psychedelic combinationof material and color, a true extension of her creativity, and hereshe's observing how to perform a whip finish. The enthusiasm for thehobby can carry into the future where skills will continue to develop.

Don’t push too hard. Remember, kids who are learning to tie flies are kids.

It doesn’t matter whether or not the flies they tie would actuallycatch fish. Let them be creative with material selection and design.I've let my daughter use many fly tying materials for other arts andcrafts projects because this lets her become more familiar with them andwhat they can do.

Fly tying is an activity that should be fun, not stressful withunreasonable goals. Every child is different, and because of that eachwill get something a little different from tying flies.

Above all, have fun!

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