While COVID-19 did not keep me from fishing, it did prevent Julia Randall Elementary and Rim Country Middle School kids from participating in the After School Fly Fishers program at both schools for most of the school year.

Normally, the students have two semesters of once a week after school fly-fishing activities to look forward to. In the fall, that includes tying flies for two sessions and then trying the new flies out on the fish at Green Valley Lake during the third week’s session. This routine continues throughout the semester as they learn new fly patterns, and have the thrill of catching fish on flies that they have tied themselves.

In the spring, fishing is much better than in the fall as crappies and bluegills move well within the range of novice casters. That is when the new fly fishers at both schools often get started in the program.

During the spring sessions, we typically spend time comparing spinning and spin-cast rods that the kids are familiar with to fly rods, and learn how fly rods work differently. We talk about useful fly-fishing equipment and flies. The kids also enjoy seeing the aquatic insects found in Rim Country streams that fly fishers try their best to imitate with their flies. Prior to COVID-19, when Tonto Creek Hatchery was open, we did a field trip on a Saturday to learn about the hatchery and then spent time in the creek looking for aquatic insects with parents and siblings.

We learn the important fly-fishing knots, make lanyards to attach essential fly-fishing gear that is provided for the kids to keep, have some casting practice, and then spend quite a bit of time fly-fishing at Green Valley Lake for the last several weeks of the program.

Typically, there are 10 to 12 kids at both schools who participate in this program each semester. This year as we emerged from COVID-19 restrictions, the opportunity for an abridged version of the sessions took shape.

The number of participants allowed to participate was six students at each school this spring. The program was reduced to just the last five weeks, and was limited to the outdoor components that included one session of introduction to fly-casting, and four weeks of fly-fishing. This allowed for equipment to be dedicated for each child’s use, and reduced the number of Payson Flycasters Club/Gila Trout Chapter of Trout Unlimited (PFC/GTTU) volunteers that were needed to help with the students.

Those five weeks also included some instruction on important fly-fishing knots as the kids were expected to know how to tie their flies on to the tippet and also be able to add tippet to their fly leaders if needed. Every week, the students set up and broke down their rods from the cases that held their respective rods.

These skills were important to practice, as students were given the opportunity to borrow fly rod outfits for the summer if they demonstrated an interest and showed that they were responsible with the equipment.

The wind this spring seemed especially tough on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons when the kids were fishing. While wind is a challenge to even the most experienced fly fishers, these new anglers were not deterred, and caught several fish each day.

During the last session, each student was presented with a fly box and several flies tied by fly fishers, community members and PFC/GTTU members for the students to keep. Up until that time, they borrowed flies from me and were very successful, but as soon as the kids got their own fly boxes, those flies were the ones that they chose to use. The kids appreciated the gift, and knowing that they had flies that were successful at catching fish in a variety of Rim Country stream and lake settings.

We had a great time fly-fishing this spring. Several students borrowed a fly rod outfit for the summer, and we are looking forward to next fall’s fly tying sessions. If you have a fourth through eighth grader who will be attending Julia Randall Elementary School or Rim Country Middle School next year who would like to learn to fly fish, I hope they will join us.

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