WHITEFISH — Sometimes, kids follow in their parents’ footsteps. And sometimes they take their own path entirely, and the parents end up following them, shouting support and offering encouragement as they go.
Craig Prather likes to think that’s how his family ended up as fly-fishing fanatics, after his son Hagen, now 10, took to the sport like a rainbow trout to a clear Montana stream.
“I’ve always kind of fly fished a bit, but I wasn’t really that serious,” Prather said. “I was kind of a bike guy.”
Prather is the former owner of Great Northern Cycle and Ski, and both of his sons ski and bike. But Hagen and Axel, 7, love to hit the rivers and cast a line into the currents, he said, a habit he partially attributes to the youngsters growing up near the Lakestream Fly Shop in Whitefish when the Great Northern Cycle and Ski shop was located next door.
When the boys went all in on the sport, the Prathers searched for resources for kids and fly fishing, but generally came up empty. Hagen, who started fifth grade in the fall, offered an explanation.
“Most kids are starting at 13 and 14 and not younger,” he said, looking up from his fly-tying bench in the family living room.
So the family decided to do something about it. Thus, Kidz on the Fly was born. It’s a resource to get kids into fly fishing, the younger Prathers explained, and also outfits them with modern gear, such as T-shirts and hats.
“The kids are coming up and they want to bring some of their culture to the sports and activities,” Craig Prather said. “They want to make it their own and make it cool.”
Slowly, the family started building the Kidz on the Fly website and social media accounts, chronicling the family’s fly-fishing adventures around Montana and generally advocating for outdoor recreation.
Now that the store has launched and the site is live, people are sending in pictures of other kids getting out in nature, which are added to the site’s social media feeds. It’s a way to encourage kids to keep up with their outdoor interests, the Prathers said.
“I just like to be in the outdoors, really,” said Dacia Prather, Hagen and Axel’s mom. “It gets them away from the TVs and the electronics. It’s been really fun to watch.”
Craig said he realized that Hagen’s desire to fly fish ran deep when his son asked him to go fishing for steelhead, a notoriously difficult fish to battle and bring in.
“He just seemed more into wanting to go and do it,” Craig said. “After a while, I started learning more and wanting to know more.”
The boys still like to hang around Lakestream Fly Shop, where Hagen has taken on some official duties, shop pro Jonson England said.
“Hagen’s been coming in every couple days and helping out in the shop,” England said. “He’s kind of like a little shop guy in training.”
England teaches fly tying to fourth graders at Muldown Elementary, and had Hagen in his class last year; the boy already knew how to tie flies and when the best time was to use them, England said.
“For a fifth-grader tying flies, he does a pretty good job,” England said.
For instance, at his bench at home, Hagen was working on foam bugs to tease the fish to the surface of summer waters. Then he launched into a well-reasoned discussion about which flies would be best for the upcoming fall season, and why.
“I like tying flies a lot,” he added.
Hagen’s dream trip would be to fish the waters off Christmas Island or Thailand, where there are several species of catfish that offer battles to anglers.
At 7 years old, Axel is just starting his fly-fishing journey, though he’s been at it since he was 4. He likes to be outside, catching fish or just playing by the water.
And that’s just fine, his parents said. Kidz on the Fly is about sharing the joy and inspiration that comes from “mountain-lifestyle” activities, Craig said, which are the little things that bring their family closer together.
“It helps us as a family,” Craig said. “We ski together and we bike, but fly-fishing is kind of a fun little journey in the last few years. It’s about being on the fly, doing things outside as a family. Right now it’s focused on fishing, but you never know what could come of it.”
For more information on Kidz on the Fly, visit www.KidzontheFly.com.