Kids and fly-rods

Gavin Hicks
Let me start by saying that having kids is without a doubt the best thing that has happened in my life; apart from getting married (my wife will more than likely read this!). I will be totally honest and say I was somewhat nervous before the arrival of our first child, for a lot of reasons. There were all the usual worries and uncertanties that go hand in hand with parenthood, but I also had a few of my own to sort out. For the past eight or so years my life had pretty much evolved around my love of fly-fishing. My wife had milked cows seven days a week for that period of time which left me free to fish when and where I liked. Now I was faced with the prospect of losing my freedom, along with the constant stirring from my work mates that my fishing life would be over, and I was not sure of what was going to happen.
When the day finally arrived and our first son was born I was over the moon, as I would have been had we had a girl but now I had a fishing mate and I couldn't wait. Straight away I was planning ways to get him out on the water with me. And of course I would have to start building up a collection of rods for him!
On a shopping trip to Launceston we decided to have a look in the Kathmandu store to see what was available. Walking around the shop I noticed something that immediately I could see would be very handy for our outdoor adventures. It was a baby carrier backpack which was purchased without hesitation. All I had to do now was wait for Jobie to be old enough to ride in it.
Our first trip using the backpack was not until New Years Eve 2006 whilst staying at the family shack at Miena. It only consisted of a short family walk around the shore of Swan Bay to see whether Jobie would be okay riding in it. After about twenty minutes Allison noticed that Jobie's head was looking a bit floppy and sure enough he was sound asleep, and remained that way for the rest of the walk. I made the comment to Allison that he wouldn't  be much fun to take with me if he goes to sleep all the time. At least we knew he felt safe and was warm which would be good as the pack would be getting most of its use in the highlands.
It wasn't long before Jobie became old enough for me to take him for lengths of time by myself and this is where the real fun started with the pack, FISHING. Our first outing was to a farm dam close to home for a trial run. To see how I would be able to manage the job of casting a fly rod safely and effectively fishing my flies with Jobie on my back. After a bit of playing around and getting comfortable with the straps etc we were ready to do a bit of fishing.
Whilst on the subject of casting and safety, if you are going to fly-fish with a child on your back, or anywhere near you for that matter always take a moment to think about what you are doing and how the conditions will effect your flies in the air. This can be hard to do if you have rising fish in front of you. If you cant already do so learn to cast off your opposite shoulder so the wind is always taking the flies away from you. I by no means claim to be an expert caster but it is not a hard skill to learn and can be very valuable at times. Plus it is always nice to add another cast to the repertoire. If you get the chance, and you don't have someone experienced to teach you the art of casting I highly recommend you enrol in a casting course. When I first started fly-fishing I did an adult education day course with Ashley Artis, and a bit later on enrolled in an on the water course with Peter Hayes. Both men are highly skilled casters and just as important fishermen. What you can learn off them in a day can otherwise take years to pick up by yourself.
Having spent the majority of the past few seasons fishing by myself with my dog Ross for company it was nice to have some human interaction for a change. I already had a size 6 foam Chernobyl Ant dry fly tied to the end of my 6 pound tippet. I decided to leave that on so Jobie could see it on top of the water and didn't he love it. Watching the fly splat down and swim back across the top of the water leaving a wake as it went really had him intrigued. Listening to him get so excited made me realise that it didn't matter if we caught a fish or not, which we didn't. The fact that I was finally able to take my son fishing was pleasure enough. The dam also has an abundant array of waterfowl living on and around it. Jobie was right at home watching and listening to them go about there business. Especially popular was when the Swans would pitch in to land near us. When it finally got too dark to see anymore we set off on the short walk back to the car. This turned into quite a journey, as we had to stop along the way to moo at all the cows living in the surrounding paddocks and see if we could scare them.When we arrived home Jobie nearly talked his Mothers ears off telling of his big adventure.
On a trip to a creek that is full of small brown trout I decided to turn over a few rocks and see what aquatic life was attached to them. I knew if Jobie could see something crawling on the rocks it would grab his attention. He would get his first entomology lesson without even knowing it. After shifting a couple of rocks for no result we found one that was worth looking at. It was full of caddis grubs that had built there cases out of grit and attached to the rocks surface. Crawling amongst these were some small nymphs and they were what I was really after. We picked a couple off and let them crawl around on our hands for a while just watching. Through Jobie being with me, I found I was slowing down a lot and taking notice of my surroundings again. The aquatic life that I had taken so much interest in when I started fly-fishing, but for the last few years had taken for granted was suddenly interesting again. We sat on the side of that creek for what seemed like ages. Turning over rocks and playing in the water to see what we could find. I think the main attraction for Jobie may have been getting to throw the rocks back in after we were finished with them. At least he was on the water with me.
Now I had a young family to take fishing I decided I would buy a boat. It needed to be suitable for my fly-fishing needs, but also allow me easier access to the different fishing situations and techniques Jobie and any future siblings would need to learn. After doing some research on the internet and talking to different people I made the decision to purchase a four metre Hornet, made by Quintrex. Being that size it would be simple for me to handle by myself whilst launching and retrieving with small children, be able to cope with the different conditions I intend to throw at it, and won't cost an arm and a leg to run. This is a very important consideration when raising a young family, with skyrocketing fuel costs not looking like slowing any. I decided the boats maiden voyage would be to Lake Barrington to chase the large salmon that are released there on a regular basis. It was a fine winter's day, but on the water it was very cold due to the wind chill. We left the ramp and went for a run up the lake toward the dam wall and back to see how the boat would perform. Jobie thought it was great, with his new life jacket on and a chuppa-chup lollipop in his mouth he was ready to captain the ship. Once we stopped and started fishing Jobie was right up there on the front casting platform with me stripping flyline and trying to drive the electric motor. Finally after drifting and fishing for a while the wind chill became too much so we headed for home and the warmth of the fire. Fishing wise that first outing was not very sucessful but I knew Jobie was going to be happy enough out in the boat with me.
After that first outing the boat and all boats in general became Jobies main focus in life, apart from chuppa-chups and ice-cream. We now have the problem where everytime we go outside Jobie has to get in the boat in the shed. I leave one of the rear covers off and he gets his jacket for me to put on. He will sit in the boat all day if you let him, pretending to start the motor and navigate it through the dangerous waters that are the shed. I guess it is one way to keep him occupied for a while if I am trying to do something else. Now if we are within a five kilometre radius of the Mersey River at Devonport he will be singing out " Dad, big boat" in anticipation of seeing the Spirit of Tasmania docked there, along with all the other boats that are in the river. He will even go as far as saying it if we see someone in a canoe, much to everyones amusement.
I decided Jobie was now old enough to have a rod he could call his own. Sitting in the corner of my fly-tying room was the tip section off an old two piece fly rod. After looking at it every time I walked past it for a week or two I came up with a plan. I decided that it wasn't worth the effort of putting a proper cork grip and a reel seat on it. I had an old reel that I didn't use which I strapped to the butt of the rod section with electrical tape to hold it in place. Next up I wound on a short length from a double taper flyline that was only being used to tie stick caddis patterns. It was a fairly crude set up but it would do for him to play with, as it would more than likely only be used to hit the dog or his baby brother Kai. When I gave it to Jobie and told him it was his very own flyrod like Dads you couldn't take the smile off his face, or mine. He went straight outside and played with it for what seemed like hours. When he had finished playing around it was time for his first official casting lesson. This was the moment I had been waiting for since the day he was born, to show him how to cast his own flyrod. I knelt down on the ground behind him and put my hand on top of his on the rod. That way he would be able to feel what was going on all the time. When I started to go through the casting motion with him you could tell by the look on his face that he was really intrigued by it. I would do the full casting stroke with him a few times and then take my hand off the rod and he would do a forward or backcast by himself. We would then wander around the backyard pretending that different objects were fish and try to land our short piece of leader material near them. It wasn't long before he decided he didn't need the instruction anymore and was off by himself. He was a bit lazy watching his back cast, as his baby brother would attest to, but he was definitely enjoying himself. Then he had to have a fly on the end of his leader so he could catch the fish. I raided my vest and found an old wet fly to tie on for him. After cutting the barb off and bending the end up so there were no nasty bits he was really set for action.
Sitting outside watching one day I noticed Jobie kept putting the fly up to his mouth all the time. I finally worked out he was trying to bite the fly off like I do sometimes. I might add this is not a good idea when you can buy perfectly good line cutters designed to do the job for you. I have the chips in my front teeth to prove it. I have truly been amazed the different things Jobie has picked up and tried to copy that you would think would be of no interest. Especially the cursing at a missed fish, which his mother doesn't think is too funny when we get home and he tells her all about it.
Practice sessions with the flyrod have now developed to include evening bath times, which for those that know me won't paint a very nice picture. We have to sit in the bath, one at each end and I get the job of jigging the rod up and down so he can watch the fly swim underwater. Some of the fly-fisherman out there may well laugh at this but we have had some valuable lessons in that bath. Quite a few flies lately have ended up in the recycle bin due to poor actions or incorrect sink rates. Sometimes I even find myself leaning over the side of the bath when nobody is home checking different flies to see how they look. Who knows what people would think if they ever walked in and caught me in the act?
Having children certainly wasn't the end of my fishing life as I thought it was going to be. In actual fact it has probably been the best thing that has happened. I have started to slow down again and appreciate all aspects of the sport that I was unknowingly taking for granted. But most importantly for me I have been able to give my son what I think is the greatest gift a father can give, teaching him to fish with a fly.

Gavin Hicks
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