Story: Kallie Markle Photos: Michael Caranci
FLY SHOP KIDS' FISHCAMP
Your kids already love catching bugs, playing in the water and tying knots in any string, shoelace or knitting yarn available, so why not channel all that energy (and get a week to yourself!) by sending them to FishCamp?
FishCamp is a fun, outdoor week of hiking, games and fly fishing instruction designed to teach 10- to 15-year-olds everything they’ll need to know to enjoy a healthy, lifelong hobby. Campers stay at the beautiful Antelope Creek Ranch, owned and operated by The Fly Shop. There are three kids’ FishCamps every summer, wherein campers learn fly tying, knots, basic entomology and what fish eat, reading the water, safe wading techniques, catch and release, leave-no-trace and related skills. There are classic camp requisites, too: contests, games and campfire stories such as the playfully ominous “Legend of the Man in Waders.”
“The whole premise behind FishCamp is to welcome new generations to the joys of fly fishing and the outdoors,” explains FishCamp Director Michael Caranci. “During the week we learn as much as we can about fly fishing and enjoy being outside.” All equipment is provided, and campers needn’t have prior experience. Caranci, ever the teacher, believes “inexperienced campers are perfect because they don’t have any bad habits yet.”
FishCamp began in 1998 at the Bailey Creek Ranch in Manton before moving to the 328-acre Antelope Creek Ranch, northeast of Mt. Shasta. For Caranci, that there are no rattlesnakes, poison oak or mountain lions means campers are free to safely focus on scouring the creek for the best bug bait and perfecting their cast.
The ranch provides more than just scenery: there are fish in abundance, so campers triumph from careful application of their counselors’ instruction. “We’ve had numerous kids whose first fish taped out at 30 inches or more,” Caranci explains. “That’s a benchmark that some people try to reach their whole lives.” For perspective, consider the excitement of catching a two-and-a-half-foot-long fish – maybe within hours of learning how to cast – when you’re only about four-and-a-half feet tall yourself. It’s not hard to understand why Caranci and his staff love what they do. “The best part is seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces when they make a good cast or catch a fish. Some of these kids never get outside the city, so for them to come up and spend a week in a wilderness environment and enjoy that… watching them look at the stars up there… it’s just amazing. That’s the reward, their reactions.”
FishCamp is a foolproof experience for all involved. There have been few alterations from the formula established 13 years ago, and the only significant change has been positive: the ever-increasing amount of female campers. “There have even been camps in (recent) summers where we’ve had more girls than boys,” Caranci recalls. “It’s getting really popular among young ladies.”
Caranci’s staff don’t want campers to get lost in a crowd, so camps max out at 16 kids per week to guarantee a one-to-four ratio of instructors to students.
“If we were to expand anything it would be our scholarship program,” Caranci says. “We do a dozen or more every year and that’s just so important.” Annually, 25 percent of campers attend FishCamp on scholarship, which amounts to $9,000 in donations. Scholarship opportunities come through local fly fishing clubs, such as the Shasta Trinity Fly Fishers and the Shasta Mayflies, and national clubs like the Golden West Women Flyfishers. The Fly Shop hosts several scholarships each year in conjunction with the Fly Fishing & Tying Journal and several individuals donate funds. “We’re constantly looking for more sponsors,” Caranci explains.
FishCamp also receives product donations from individuals and companies within the fly fishing industry, which allows them to give away choice prizes. Caranci has often been able to gift valuable rods and reels to campers.
For interested anglers outside the 10- to 15-year-old age range, The Fly Shop offers family camps and welcomes all varieties of families. “Every combination: mothers and sons, grandma and grandpa, cousins and uncles – we’ve seen it all,” recalls Caranci. There is also a week of advanced camp for kids who have already mastered the basics.
Sure, your kids might come back from camp telling you more than you ever wanted to know about what makes certain bugs so tasty, but if the payoff is their newfound hobby and love of the outdoors, it’s worth it. Think of it this way: you helped them learn to fly.