Teaching Teens to Fly Fish the Three Step Method

Before I led Lillard Fly Fishing Expedition’s first teen fly fishing adventure I sat down for a beer with TU’s Director of Youth Education, Franklin Tate. We talked about the success TU has had engaging young kids with their Stream Explorer’s program, and the growing number of college students participating in TU college chapters. Then we talked about the challenges of engaging teens. Despite their efforts TU has not experienced the same success with teenagers that they have enjoyed with pre teens and college students. In the last few years I have worked almost entirely with teens. During that time I have come to the conclusion that there is no shortage of teens who are willing to give fly fishing a try, the key is presenting and teaching fly fishing in a way that caters to them. The three stage process I use I designed specifically to get teens hooked on fly fishing. It may not work for all teens, but if you would like to share your love for fly fishing with your teenager it is a good start.

Getting teens hooked on fly fishing is fun and rewarding.

Will helping one of the participants from the Blue Ridge Adventure land her biggest fish of the trip." />

Stage One “Presenting the Fly” or sparking an interest

Movies, Magazines and Blogs- We have all heard it, “isn’t fly fishing a sport for old men wearing tweeds and smoking cigars?”. A quick look at the increasing number of cutting edge fly fishing magazines, movies, and blogs shatters that stereotype. In magazines like the “Drake”, movies like “Geo Fish” and blogs like Moldy Chum “young” anglers are chasing fish all over the world. Start with some video trailers on sites like vimeo and youtube. If your teens show an interest graduate, to a full length movies, magazines and blogs. Some teens will fall in love immediately while others won’t show any interest in fishing. If anglers catching monster trout on mouse patterns in New Zealand or “trout bums” embarking on an epic adventure in search of fish in Mexico does not spark even a little interest it might be time to start looking for something else to bond over, but don’t give up yet.

Get Some Help-  Fly fishing can be a great bonding experience for you and your teen but when it comes to learning a complicated sport like fly fishing, sometimes teens learn best from someone other than their parents. Find an aunt, uncle, grandparent, guide or local TU member who connects well with teens to help teach the basics. Plan a day together but get some help with the bulk of instruction. It will save you both a lot of frustration.

Stage II “Setting the Hook”

Gear- Lets face it, one of our favorite parts about fly fishing is getting new gear. Remember how excited you were after your last fly rod purchase? Multiply that by 10x for teens. If you have caught their interest with movies and time on the water get them hooked with a rod of their own. It does not have to be a top of the line rod and reel, but it shouldn’t be a box store special either. You wouldn’t want to fish with a broomstick and neither would they. We use the Orvis Clearwater combos at all our camps because they provide a forgiving rod at a great price with a 25 year warranty. Warranty is key! Teens are hard on their gear. Don’t start them off with Grandpa’s irreplaceable hand me down.

Casting Games- When the fishing is slow your time might be better spent away from the water. Teens get easily discouraged when they are not catching fish, instead find a field and play some casting games. Teens love some light competition. See how far you can cast, aim for some targets, get creative.

Getting into the back country will lead to a action packed fishing adventure

Getting into the back country will lead to a action packed fishing adventure" />

Adventure- You have made a couple trips to the local river, caught some fish, and your teenager is pumped about his new rod/reel. Now it is time to set the hook with an adventure of you own. In my experience combining fly fishing with camping, a road trip, or better yet backpacking gets teens exponentially more excited about the sport. I think it is a combination of being in the wilderness and the fact that back country trout are generally more willing to eat flies. Never been camping before? Start with a night at a cabin and work your way up from there. Many outdoor stores will rent gear and provide you with information about local camping areas. Still have some questions? Give Lillard Fly Fishing Expeditions a call and I would be happy to give you some pointers to help make your first back country trip a success.

Stage III “The Release”  or creating a confident independent angler

Let Them Figure Things Out on Their Own- Teenagers are really smart. Once they have learned the basics of casting, reading water, choosing flies, and tying knots let them learn through experience. Hovering over their shoulder always telling them what they are doing wrong, will only frustrate them. Give them space to learn by trial and error, if they are struggling give them a “feedback sandwich”. Compliment them on what they are doing well, then offer some pointers on what they could do differently, and end with another compliment.

Teens have twice as much fun when they have friends to share the experience with.

Teens have twice as much fun when they have friends to share the experience with." />

Invite a Friend- This one is a win-win. Teens love spending time with their friends. If your teen can find a friend to share his/her new passion for fly fishing with they will not only be more likely to want to spend time fly fishing, they will also help inspire another young fly fisher. So next time you plan a day on the river ask if they want to bring a friend along.


Camps- Their are a growing number of TU Chapters, Lodges, and Fly Shops offering camps specializing in fly fishing. These camps range from one day to multi week adventures like LFFE’s CO West Elk AdventureTakeKidsFlyFishing.com has a pretty comprehensive list of camps listed by state. When searching for a camp for your teenager look for a camp that will challenge them on and off the river and matches them with similar age groups. I promise they will get a lot more out of the experience than just a love of fly fishing.


Last but not least, Join a Club- Once they have developed an interest in fly fishing getting involved in a club will help them stay engaged. TU is a no brainer, and a growing number of schools have fly fishing clubs. If their school doesn’t have one get some friends together and start one. Local fishermen and women are almost always willing to help with casting lessons, fly tying clinics, or supervising a day on the water.

Lillard Fly Fishing Expeditions was started in 2010 as a graduate thesis for my Master's Degree in Environmental Conservation Education at NYU. The operating premise was simple - by coupling amazing wilderness fly fishing camps for teens with environmental education and service learning we can help inspire future generations of fly fishing conservationists. We have been growing our unique list of trips and experiences ever since.

When it comes to choosing a summer program for your teen the options are endless. For the teen who loves to fish, be outside, and has a strong sense of adventure we have made the choice easy. We are the leader in teen fly fishing adventures and are dedicated to providing the best backcountry fly fishing experience with opportunities for teens to engage in leadership training, community service, and backcountry camping.


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Will Lillard, Founder/Director/Guide

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Lillard Fly Fishing Expeditions
2540 King Road
Pisgah Forest, NC 28768

(828) 577-8204