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Getting kids hooked on Fly Fishing

The Roaring Fork Conservancy brings the next generation into the sport.

“I am so happy I finally get to tell you some awesome news,” said fly fishing enthusiast, 10-year-old Kenny. “I entered a fly casting competition at Mountain Fair. And, guess what?! I won! I even beat all of the old people. They didn’t even have to measure how far I was away from the target because I landed RIGHT on it.” 

It is no secret. Anglers from all over the world travel to the Roaring Fork Valley to fish the world-class Frying Pan, Crystal, and Roaring Fork Rivers.  Fly fishing brings many here, seeking an opportunity to catch a beautiful rainbow, brown, cutthroat, or brook trout. They seek a river that a few hours ago was snow in an idyllic Rocky Mountain setting. This is a dream for many. Which is why ROARING FORK CONSERVANCY (RFC) staff were inspired by an observation they increasingly noticed over the years – the lack of children fishing the internationally acclaimed rivers in their own backyard.


Many staff members of the local watershed protection organization fish. Some are even former guides. All are passionate about bringing our community together in the stewardship of our rivers. So, they began offering fly fishing instruction as part of their already well-established watershed education program. In fact, RFC educators quickly realized that this is the perfect culmination of its programming because students can apply the content learned in school to a higher and loftier goal – to catch a fish.


The backbone of RFC’s education programs, whether for adults or children, is studying aquatic macroinvertebrates – fish food. While many refer to them as bugs, macroinvertebrates are actually insects (such as mayflies, stoneflies, dragonflies), crustaceans, and even worms. In addition to being fish food, they are important indicators of water quality.

The healthier the river,  the more diverse the macro-invertebrates, which also means a better fishery. The healthy, cold rivers of the Roaring Fork Valley are home to abundant aquatic life. For an angler, understanding the life cycle of macroinvertebrates can ensure greater success at catching fish.


The mayfly only lives in very healthy streams. Over 3,000 species of mayflies can be found living on rocks in the fastest flowing section of a river and some even live in the sediment. Their life cycle can range from 30 days to 2 years, with 99% of that being underwater. When they are ready to emerge and become adults (on land, with wings), they slowly crawl out of the water onto a rock or the stream bank and wait for metamorphosis – in the case of mayflies, for their wings to grow AND for their digestive system to be replaced by a reproductive system.

That’s right – no digestive system means that adult mayflies do not have a mouth!  An adult mayfly’s sole objective is to find a mate, procreate, lay eggs, and then it dies; using all its energy from what it ate underwater to produce offspring. When mayflies emerge out of the river to become adults, that’s called a hatch. Thousands of mayflies hatch at the same time so that mating can occur and the next generation of mayflies begins.

Interestingly, the trout know the life cycle of mayflies. So if an angler is trying to catch a trout during a specific mayfly hatch, it is usually a good idea to use the fly that resembles an adult mayfly and to fish it in such a way that the trout sees an “emerger” or “adult” laying eggs on top of the water.


Many different schools of thought exist around fly fishing instruction. So finding a concise, yet complete, program was a high priority for RFC. The organization’s instructors are certified teacher trainers in the National Fishing in Schools Program (NFSP), a fully accredited school curriculum. RFC educators adapted the curriculum and use it to teach week-long youth fly fishing camps, 3-day youth fly fishing clinics, and even 1-day beginner fly fishing clinics for adults. Over the last seven years, RFC has taught hundreds of students, teachers, and adults how to fly fish using this curriculum. 


Building on the NFSP curriculum, RFC assembled an experienced team of instructors and mentors to help successfully execute fly fishing programs from start to finish. The Roaring Fork Valley Fly Fishing Club has become a consistent and instrumental partner with all of RFC’s fly fishing programming. In addition to volunteers bringing many years of angling and fly tying experience, they are passionate and eager to share this sport with the next generation of anglers.

“It all started about 60 years ago, fishing on a small lake in Wisconsin,” said club president Tom Skutley. “I cast and hooked what I thought was a fish. But no, it was a fly rod. From then on I was hooked on fly fishing.” Skutley taught his sister to fly fish, and many years later became an outfitter and guide in Colorado. “I found great joy introducing new and young anglers to the sport. To me, there is nothing better than seeing the joy of that first catch. Many times with young anglers, the fish is as long as their arm. That is when you can really see their excitement and joy, which makes the effort of teaching them worth every minute.” 


Discover aquatic macroinvertebrates (fish food).
How to select a fly.
Assemble a rod and reel.
Basic fly casts.
Streamside etiquette and ethics. (Like not fishing too close to the next angler.)
Proper fish handling.
How to be a compassionate angler. (Understanding why its critical not to fish when flows are low and water temperatures are high.)

And of course, go fishing!


Fly fishing continues to gain momentum, reaching a broader audience now more than ever. It is a sport that spans many generations and generally has some mentoring associated with the introduction to the sport. RFC instructors, both male and female, range in age from their 20’s to 60’s. Club volunteers often take time off from work to “hang out with the kids.” The children, in turn, bond with the volunteers as they joke with one another and tell fish stories, but also carefully listen as knowledge is being shared. Pretty quickly, the children look forward to seeing their mentors, having created a new friend; one that is often many years older and might be reminiscent of a favorite aunt, uncle or grandparent. Witnessing the multi-generational relationships that are created through fly fishing has been an unexpected highlight for everyone involved.


Fly Fishing 2

Gone Fishin’
With Dad (a.k.a Rick Lofaro)


About Christina Medved

Christina joined the Roaring Fork Conservancy in 2014 and is now the Director of Community Outreach. She has been a watershed educator for over 25 years and has taught stream ecology to thousands of students and adults across the U.S., Costa Rica, and Peru. Career highlights include two watershed treks to give high school students a full-immersion experience tracing the drinking water supply of New York City and Wilmington, DE. In this edition, she shares how RFC is inspiring the next generation of watershed stewards through fly fishing.