TENKARA AND KIDS
Kids don't want complexity, processes and problems, they just want to catch fish. The Tenkara way of fishing provides an intuitive, simple and fun method that can be learned at almost any age.
We do want to warn you however, you may end up learning some valuable lessons from them too.
If you STILL haven't caught on, it's intuitive, simple and fun.
Kids love the Tenkara way of fishing also because of how fun it is to "cast". It's not complicated or problematic. It's easily learned, practiced and improved upon all on their own.
Before we get started though, I do need to provide a small safety reminder in the form of a Public Service Announcement:
Before you do anything, make sure you are going over safety tips. It is very easy for kids to get distracted and there are several things that can occur which could easily ruin an outing (like a hook in hand, leg or head just to mention a few). Besides the obvious through, you have to remember they are not adults.
Also, don't force it. They will not want to stay as long as you, and if you make them, it could sour their perception of the trip, even if it was a great time up until that time.
Lastly, don't forget the essentials like, a life jacket, mosquito spray and/or sunscreen. Nothing can make a trip suck for everyone more than a bad sunburn or being carried off by a mosquito.
**please note - I have now stepped off my soapbox**
So, after all that, let's get them out there having fun and fishing the Tenkara way.
Making it Fun
Let us make sure we call this out first, let them be kids! Just don't force it! Your mindset will influence their mindset and ultimately guide their experience. If they are out there with you, connecting with nature, you have already won the first battle. Give them time to move in and out of what they are learning. Practice casting, then let them look for worms and bugs, or throw sticks or try to catch a minnow with their bare hands.
Then, practice again or move onto something else that may interest them, like, how to jig the fly. Ask questions to make them curious, such as, "How do you think we can make the fly swim/move like a real minnow when we are trying to catch a fish?". Then hand them the rod and let them do it. Don't ask then take the rod from them.
Learning is about internalization, experimentation, learning from successes and failures and ultimately the experience. Talk about what they are doing well and offer suggestions to help them improve - don't turn it into death by Powerpoint by the waters edge.
In the end, it's about connections and experiences. Your connection to your child, their connection to you, the connection to nature and a life-long connection to the experience. And, just in case we didn't mention it - HAVE FUN!
HOW to Teach Them the Basics
First let me start by saying, every child is different, and each one learns differently. Even in the same household, one of my daughters is very process and list driven, whereas my other daughter is all about the adventure and the experience even when learning.
It doesn't matter how you would learn, take the time to think about how to adapt to their style of learning. Some kids can focus easily even down at the waters edge, but others may need to have some time to play (practice) at home in the yard or any open outdoor area before getting to the waters edge.
Depending on age, you can even make a fun game of learning how to cast and jig/retrieve. Show them the basics, let them practice and then challenge them to landing the fly in a hula-hoop or foot drawn circle on the ground.
I will tell you though, just from my experience, often the best way to teach young children the Tenkara way of fishing is to show them the basics, check their understanding and then get the hell out of their way. Kids LOVE to learn and explore on their own... so let them do it.
WHAT are the Fundamentals
The fundamentals here are the same as with adults, with some minor modifications. The biggest of which is in the name - "fun"damentals. If you can make it fun, they will learn better and retain it longer. This is where you focus on your patience and their enjoyment as they learn.
Lesson 1 - The Grip
The traditional (often said to be the "correct") way to hold the rod is by grasping the handle of the rod gently and placing your index finger on top of the grip (as though you are pointing at something).
For many western fly fishermen, the thumb is often placed on the grip just to the side of the finger. For adults this can be difficult and uncomfortable, but for kids, it's almost always a deal breaker. Meaning, this is one of the pieces of minutia that doesn't matter right now - especially to them. It really doesn't matter if they point their finger at first, that is a small adjustment we can make later after they have learned the basics of casting.
The most important thing for the child to understand is to hold the grip loosely, but tight enough so that it does not fly into the water while casting or with a strike.
Lesson 2 - Casting
The Tenkara rod is easy to use, but with young children (under the age of 8), my preference is to first show them only using your arm, and then have them copy what you are doing with their arm. After a couple of times, they are ready to try it with the Tenkara Rod. As I already mentioned, the very first time you are teaching them the Tenkara way of casting, you probably want to be in a large open area (preferably grassy).
Begin by standing next to them, holding your arm out horizontal to the ground with a slight bend in your elbow. Then bring your arm up to the 12 o'clock position, pause a moment, then pivoting at the elbow bring your wrist down to about a 10 o'clock position. Point out that you are not stiff-armed as you do this. There should be flexibility between the forearm and wrist.
Once they have seen you do it, have the emulate what you are doing and have them practice a couple of time. Help them understand positioning if needed, but stay clear of overcorrecting or too much detail analysis.
Put the Tenkara rod in their hand, remind them of the grip, and have the follow the same exercise and path you just practiced. You will probably find, even if they are very young, the basics will come quickly for them. Have them practice and then challenge them with a target by saying something like, "you look like you are already a pro, I bet you can land the fly that (fill in the blank for where you are) in less than 5 tries.
Side Note: Make sure you choose a spot large enough for them to be successful.
*Optional - if they are catching on quickly, and open to a little more coaching, challenge them to put their index finger stretched out pointing on top of the rod/grip and use it as they cast to point at their target. Most of the time, it will immediately improve their aim.
Lastly - GET DOWN TO THE WATER and GO FISHING. Try not to make constant recommendations. If you need to correct something (or multiple somethings), choose one item only that will give the maximum benefit, provide feedback, but keep it light. Again, the most important thing is for them to have fun and WANT to come back again.
All of the steps may seem a little complicated for a small child, but if you approach it in stages (not throwing it all at them at once), have patience and it will be fun and easy for the both of you.
Let us know if you have any feedback, suggestions or tips that you have used for helping kids learn this fun sport.
It is their interest and enjoyment in the Tenkara way of fishing that will ensure it's continued success into the next generations.
So, get out there and go Tenkara fishing with your kids and have some fun.