It is strange how big changes often present themselves in modest ways, like the first ripples on the water before the storm or the small blue marks on a stick that indicates a major change is in the makings. Up until the encounter with the blue stripes, my biggest angst as a fly angler had been whether wind conditions and water flow would mess up the next fishing trip. Being a simple-minded fly angler, I never planned longer than the next weekend. But, half way to work the morning of the blue marks I suddenly had a rare moment of clarity: “DUDE, in 9 months it is the end of May and the start of dry fly season! What have you done?”
Fly fishing has consumed every available (and at times also unavailable) resource of time, energy and money in my life since the early 90´s. For years, we would nerd-out completely on fly fishing. We chased the mayfly hatches all over Scandinavia in the summer and traveled the world in our off season to hunt for big trout in Montana and New Zealand. In my mind, we had the perfect life with an intense focus on fly fishing. We even got engaged on a river in New Zealand and honeymooned on the Bahamas with DIY bonefishing. I guess that the bells of the biological alarm clock had been ringing for so long while we were off fishing that the sound had blended into the background noise of my life and I had forgotten all about it.
The blue markings brought the bells right back to my frontal lobe and filled the space in my ears that used to hold the screaming of fly reels. My primitive reptilian brain even went through the fight and flight debate before I realized that parenthood was the only way for me to be able to keep fishing my brains out and not lose my fantastic wife. So I followed the drill for dramatic events, “breath normally and put on your own mask before helping others.” The first days as a father I tried to figure out who had caught who and eventually I realized that my little girl had caught me and she had no intention of releasing me, so it was time to try to change the way I relate to my hobby.
Our laid-back fly fishing-obsessed selves were in for a major nose dive into adulthood and our fishing buddies were placing bets on how long it would take before the rods were on craigslist. We made it 6 days as serious adults before we had to go fishing. So, we dressed the baby up in homemade waders (can you believe they don’t make waders in size infant?) and headed for the nearest creek. Those 45 minutes of fly fishing were a real epiphany for us. “Heeey, this is doable even with a baby!”
What better to do during your maternity leave than take your husband and baby (meaning man and daughter, not man and baby being the same person) on an 8 week road trip in the western USA? We decided that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to go fishing and still get paid, so we booked flights from Oslo to Denver in September of 2012 and rented an RV the size of a standard Scandinavian apartment and fished our way from Denver to Fort Smith and back. We had to make some changes in our standard routine and make equipment changes to make room for the baby sling where our chest-packs used to be, but all-in-all things worked out great. We fished 5 states, 16 rivers and spent 51 nights riverside in our RV (a real luxury upgrade from the tent we normally use).
Epic fishing trips have a cunning way of changing from a “once in a lifetime” to a really expensive habit. You simply have to go again. We started saving for the next trip before we left Denver and we made it back to Montana in October 2014 and 2015. In 2015, the financial situation dictated that we had to rough it up a notch and use our tent instead of an RV, but that worked out fine. We spent the summers of 2014 and 2015 back-country fly fishing north of the arctic circle in Norway, so our daughter had plenty of experience with camping in not-so-pleasant weather. With a good sleeping bag and wool clothes, camping in 16F is no problem for a 3 year-old. Just make sure mom has warm feet and you´ll be fine!
For years other fly anglers have asked me "why do you bring your wife when you go fishing?”
I don’t bring my wife, we fish together and share the joys and frustrations of trout fishing. To me fishing with Solvor is not like driving with the handbrake on, it´s more like driving with two feet on the gas pedal. She sees the world through a different lens than I do and often sees opportunity and trout were I do not. Most importantly she fishes because it is fun. For me, it is great to get a way from the “my-fish-is-bigger-than-yours” mentality and just fly fish for the pure fun of it. Fishing with a baby can still be quite controversial. We have seen guides run their boats aground because they could not believe that a mom was walking the river bank with a fly rod and a stroller. The way I relate to fly fishing has changed since we started bringing our daughter, I used to think that fly fishing was the toughest most difficult and hard core hobby a dude could have, but she made me realize that it is just a combination of back-packing and rhythmic gymnastics. This was of course a disappointing realization at first and meant that I had to change my view of myself. The up-side is that fly fishing is no extreme sport and anyone can enjoy it!
Kids love being outdoors but just like grownups they only enjoy it when they are dry, warm and happy. Starting slow and easy is the key in any new undertaking, so we started with a 45 minute trip to the local creek and gradually increased the distance and longevity of the trips. My daughter turns 5 in May and has been on three trips to the USA, spent three summer holidays canoeing north of the arctic circle in Norway and lots of weekends in tents and cabins all over Scandinavia. But, don’t think that bringing a kid or a baby won’t change anything, it will, but with the right attitude and some adjustments fly fishing does not need to be a past hobby.
Our top tips for fly fishing with kids:
1: Don’t confuse baby formula and dry fly powder, that will sink your dries!
2: Choose easy access rivers. You will be hauling a lot more stuff so do yourself a favor and don’t haul it too far into the bush.
3: If you want to get in to the back country, get a canoe. It is much easier to paddle remote creeks in the back country lakes than to hike with all the gear needed.
4: Don’t bring a lot of toys. Kids love to play with sticks and stones.
5: Don’t forget the pacifier. That will hurt your fishing more than not bringing your fly boxes!
6: Use a baby sling to carry babies, that way you have both arms free. Use a child carrier from age 1 year.
7: Get your kid a pair of kid’s waders, not for wading but for staying dry.
8: Remember why you fly fish. It’s for fun.
9: Let the kids take part in the fun. From age 3 our daughter has been netting the fish. She is super exited and so proud, but you have to accept that some might get away, so don’t let them net the trophies.