Griswold Family Fly Fishing Trip

August 13, 2014

"This is Going to Be the BEST Fly Fishing Trip EVER!"

There is a Clark Griswold in every fly fisherman that has a wife and kids.  This Friday at about 5:30 pm I went from pro-guide to a regular dad trying to take his family on a weekend camping trip in the mountains outside of Ellensburg.  Like most camping trips with young kids, it started out with its hiccups.  I forgot to pack our sleeping pads and my sleeping bag when we were 20 minutes outside of town.  I had to turn around and the kids were fussing and complaining about how hot it was, how long the car ride was, and pretty much every thing else they can think of.

We were delayed enough that we gave up on the idea of having a fun camp dinner upon arrival and settled for some U-Tote-Em burgers (you locals know that is actually a big win).  We rolled into camp about 8:00 pm that night with just enough time to discover every single organized campground in the Salmon La Sac area near Cle Elum was full.  My wife's one request when we camp is that we stay in an organized camping area, which I personally despise.  Typically at those campgrounds I have a guy running a generator all night on one side of me and teenagers playing hip-hop music on the other so I was secretly delighted when the "FULL" sign was posted outside of all the campgrounds.  Time to rough it kids!  Yaaaayyyyy

We found a great spot on upper Salmon La Sac Road just before dark that had good access to the Upper Cle Elum River.  Not so close that my wife was worried about the kids falling in and drowning, which means it was it was just more than 100 yards.  She is a worrier.  

Gear for Family Fly Fishing Trip:

I only brought one fly rod with me for the entire trip, I litterally threw it in at the last minute.  I have so much gear trying to siphon off just the right stuff for the Upper Cle Elum River sounded like too much work.  Did I mention that I forgot my sleeping bag?  I didn't forget the fly rod though!

Redington Butterstick 370-4
3 Caddis flies (already debarbed in the visor of my pickup truck)
Sunglasses (if you were to see my kids whip the fly around you would probably want a welder's mask.  They are aggessive)
That's it.  No floatant, nippers, tippet, nothing.  I told my kids that if they lose all the flies or tangle up the leader in a tree then fishing was over.  They didn't lose a single fly!  They false casted to dry their fly. Old school.

I'll be honest with you.  I guide for a living, sell gear, write about fly fishing, video fly fishing, and talk about fly fishing all day every day.  I love it all, but to say I get more than my fair share of fly fishing exposure would be an understatement.  When I get away with my family fly fishing is not at the top of my priority list. However, I have been very successful (because of how I handle these trips) in getting my kids to develop a sincere passion for fly fishing.   My kids LOVE it.  And since I love my kids we did as much fly fishing as we could on this trip.  Which was about 2 hours hahahah.  You don't have to fish long days to have a great time.

Creek Fishing With Kids

I am not a dad that pushes his kids to fly fish.  At all.  I would rather take them hiking, hunting, huckleberry picking, or sit around and eat camp food on these trips.  Did I mention that I get to fish... A LOT?  They love to fly fish though, so this was the perfect trip to let them develop some skills.  I think it is so important to start your kids fishing in a small water environment.  In fact, it is very important that if you are a beginning angler that you start in a small water environment for so many reasons that I can't even begin to list them.  Get yourself into creek fishing.  Right now is prime time by the way!  August is a great month in the mountains.

As my kids progress, I don't want to have to babysit them the whole time and play the guide when we fish.  I want them fishing without my help, tying their own flies on, taking care of their own tangles, releasing their own fish etc.  Its not that I don't love helping them, but they develop so much more self confidence and kids actually love to be challenged.  Fishing on small water allows you to leave them alone to figure things out.  Let them have success because of them, not because of you.

Things that my kids did/learned this weekend that I thought was important:
  • Wading.  They got comfortable IN the river wading, climbing over rocks, and scampering around a river bed with large boulders.  They also learned to "river dip" which is where we practiced floating on our backs in case they fall in.  Super important.  I gave my boys a piggy back ride back and forth a couple times but they were pretty much on their own.
  • Line Management.  This is a big one, and I will say that one of the biggest struggles the kids had was the line sliding back down through the guides of the rod.  This is one huge advantage to Tenkara fishing that I didn't realize until this weekend.  We were making "rod length" casts is all and the kids often let the fly line slide back down through the guides which turned into a whole ordeal for a 7 and 10 year old learning to fish without my help. We didn't "feed line", "mend", or do any of that stuff. 
  • Cast-up Walk up.... Cast-down Walk down.   When you are working up a small stream, cast up and let the fly drift back down towards you. Focus on the near side of the creek.  On the way down, take a fixed amount of line, cast down and across and let the fly skate from the far shore to the middle.  Creek fish love skating flies.  Super simple.
  • Fish handling.  They released their own fish, gently.  
  • Casual is ok.  We were just out trying to have some fun and fortunately I get to fish a lot so I wasn't trying to fish much at all.  I made them share the rod, they helped each other, watched each other, and they got along really well.  When one kid was fishing the other was scouting, swimming, or doing something to keep themselves busy.

A Life Long Sport

All 3 of my kids have a pretty good grasp on fly fishing.  They aren't great casters, in fact, they aren't good at all.  I hate to admit that, but  I see lots of kids with far more skill at our events at the lodge, on the river, and around the shop.  They are average kids, but we now have a sport that we can do as a family on every vacation that we go on.  If there is a small stream in the area you can bet I'll have some rods and a few flies that tag along and we'll get in the river as a family and catch some fish.  I let them set the tempo.  If they want to fish, we go.  If they want to sleep in and eat pancakes... we sleep in and eat pancakes.  

The cool thing about fly fishing is that it doesn't have to be the center of your recreational life.  For us this weekend it was just a small "add on" that we did in addition to our camping trip.  Our big event was a long hike that we took the kids on, fly fishing was just the kicker.  It wound up being the highlight for the kids so it shouldn't be hard to get them signed up for the next round of fly fishing/camping.

You have to get the gear.

If you are reading this and thinking that you want to have a similar experience with your kids just make sure that you get the gear.  Get them a small fly rod to start.  We have a couple of rods that we use for this.  I have a Redington Buttersick and we also have a 276-4 Redington Classic Trout that we use as well.  Both rods are easy for kids to cast, and they are light enough that they can actually learn to load the rod at close range and set the hook with some haste.  It just isn't the same experience with a 9' 5 weight. Not even close.  Flies, leader, and gear are all simple.

Kid's Fly Fishing Gear List:

Rod (2-3 weight is very nice to have for so many reasons)  The Redington Minnow is an 8' 5 weight but it plays pretty well on small water.  Get this rod if it is only for the kids, if you will use this rod buy something a bit higher end.

Flies - A dozen flies is plenty to get started.  Try our Dirty Dozen program.  DEBARB THEM!  Never let a kid cast a fly with a barb on it.

Shoes - Old sneakers or basketball shoes work fine.

Bug Spray - Bugs can be an issue.

Candy, Ice Cream - Candy during the trip... Ice Cream on the way home.  ALWAYS.  This might be the most important tip.

Other Stuff - You know your kids better than I do, whatever you think works.  Hopefully these other tips help.

  1. Great article Joe!! I couldn't agree more with all of your points, most of which I have learned the hard way. I will be a much better fishing pal to my grandchildren than I was to my children by following these same rules.
  2. Hey Jensen, Faith and Jacob, You guys are amazing fishermen. I love the way Jacob and Jensen work together catching and landing that fish, great teamwork. Did you guys learn all this from your Mom? Fun, fun, fun.
  3. Excellent post!! It's so refreshing to see a posting like this on a fly fishing web site. As the father of two young children, I too am trying to ease them into fly fishing without being overbearing or taking the fun out of it. I know that if they enjoy fly fishing, then we will have some great trips together in the future. Thanks again for taking the time to post your family trip and insight on what has worked best for you.
  4. Love this post - just took my 10 year old son to Rattlesnake Creek ( the first day with a Reds guide and second day on our own) and we enjoyed a similarly fun experience with small stream fishing and our 2 x 3 wts.
  5. Thanks for the kind words guys!