Every year I learn something new about our Fall Ontario Steelhead. This season was no exception. Normally by November our rivers fill up with autumn rains and the Steelhead move in. This 11th month of the year is typically the start of Steelhead guiding season for Calmwaters Fly Fishing. This year as we know was tough – the rains did not happen.
Walking along painfully long, low, extra skinny stretches of river one would certainly shake their head and move on. I’ve said it many times “there is no way a Steelhead could navigate through this lack of water.” Yet these chrome bullets proved me wrong again.
We did receive a few bumps of water and the fish came in. Anglers had success on the stretches closer to the lakes. Some fish, mountains of people. Yet even before the bumps of rain our Steelhead made their journey through inches of water much farther upstream. We began finding them in the deeper pockets miles above the Great Lakes. Their determination and will to survive is incredibly strong. This is not new news but when you wander the rivers in these drought conditions you can’t help but shake your head in disbelief at the incredible power of Mother Nature.
Always keep moving and walking when Fly Fishing for Ontario Steelhead. If your determination and will to catch these fish is as strong as their will to survive, you will hook up.
Yesterday’s incredible downpour has got my Steelhead senses tingling. We are still a bit away but it won’t be long before the silver bullets will be making their trek up our Ontario Rivers. Learning to fly fish for these migratory trout is indeed a thrilling quest. Different set ups for nymphing rods are needed. Quite a complex array of fly lines for swinging methods. But one thing remains the same, they are just fish and we must not put ourselves in a dangerous situation just for a hook up.
5 years ago I headed out to my favourite Steelhead River by myself. Water was high but perfect. Hiking for about a half hour I found myself at a perfect run with no one in site other then a few mallards, geese and 2 curious deer. I began my routine and worked the run 3 times with no hookups. I decided that crossing the river was needed as I was sure that I would have better luck. As I approached the far bank I had one last deeper portion of the river to cross. My mind was focused on the Steelhead and feeling omnipotent, I pushed through the deep area. This is where my right foot got lodged between 2 rocks and I became stuck.
Laughing at first, I worked my foot back and forth thinking I would just pull it out and trudge on. No such luck. The rapids were strong and were thrashing against my waist. I realized then that I was in trouble. My foot was not coming out and if I toppled backwards from the force of the river I would be done. This was the first time I ever thought to myself that this could be the end. I said out loud “it’s only a fish Jeff. What have you done”. Obviously I’m writing this story so I was able to bend down and loosen my boot while almost falling over numerous times. This took a long, agonizing 15 minutes. I wiggled out from the two rocks, turned back and sat on the bank of the river to reflect. This was the day that had changed my life and how I fish and guide for Steelhead.
I say 2 – 3 times every Steelhead guide day. “It’s only a fish. Do not put yourself in peril. Move on to a safer spot or river run. Again, it’s only a fish”.
Stay safe while pursuing these Ontario Steelhead. Water will be high. Never underestimate the power of the river.
Vail, Colorado – Beautiful. Cold. Those misty mountain mornings on the Eagle River – The epitome of bliss. This is where it all started.
As goosebumps ran down my arms and legs, I knew I was in the right spot. Just minutes away from the ski runs that my wife, Kellie, was floating down, I had hired a flyfishing guide to show me his home river – to help me understand what those waters truly held. Fly fishing has always come naturally to me, though I knew deep down that there was (and always is) much more for me to learn about this silent sport. To me, it doesn’t matter how good you are. You can never truly predict what the creatures of the water will decide. That day, I was looking for some fiery river knowledge, like the type of flies I should use or a tip here and there on my cast. I wanted a great day, with a great mentor, chasing down silvery rainbows and buttery browns.
The most important lesson of the day – more important than anything I’ve ever learned about the sport – Was how not to be a Guide. My River Guru was overly tired, cranky, and held an ego that darkened the waters. Tiger Woods, Clint Eastwood – these were the people he spoke mostly of, and how he graciously led them through the rivers. We used one fly all day. Just one. The “Lucky Eagle”. This bad boy was nicknamed after the Governor of Colorado, just a month prior. As you might have guessed, my eyes were in constant rock and roll. I was told to cast the fly “over there” and wait for the ‘big one’. Folks – I couldn’t wait for my day to end. I politely shook his hand and bid him farewell at the end of our day.
In that moment, just as I was leaving the man who I had such high hopes for, dreaming of laughs and tight loops, I decided to become a Fly Guide. A Guide needs to be real. He/She needs to be honest. Understanding. Thoughtful. Caring. The fish don’t care about what celebrities were in their home. They don’t care about how good you are. A Fly Guide…guides through the rivers. They guide through tough situations. They guide through beautiful landscapes. They will allow you to connect with the ebb and flow of life through a rivers many surrounding eyes. The main ingredient here is patience, and the knowledge that we’re all just visitors in these waters. A Guide will see you as you are, and treat you with the respect and attention you deserve. That the rivers and its inhabitants deserve.
Guiding is not just about the Fish. It’s about sharing knowledge, moments and epiphanies.
Cast into the waters, and you might just pull out something bigger and more profound than the fish you were expecting.
I hired Jeff for a day of steelhead fishing. This is a species I’ve had a lot of trouble dialing in over the last couple of seasons, but in less than an hour of being on the river with Jeff I soon realized where I was going wrong. With some minor tweaking of my tactics and approach, Jeff had me hooking some beautiful steelhead. Jeff is not only a great guide who puts you onto fish, he’s an even better teacher. His keep it simple and no nonsense attitude is both refreshing and welcoming, but most of all his methods work!
Jeff is friendly, knowledgeable and most of all a lot of fun. He makes you feel comfortable with your abilities, compliments you along the way and most of all corrects you when it matters most. He wants you to be successful and is just as excited as you are when that fish is on the end of your line. He’s the best fly fishermen I’ve had the pleasure of sharing the river with.
After spending countless hours on the steelhead rivers in Southern Ontario I was continuously coming up short handed. I honestly believed that my timing was always off and was too stubborn to realize it was a combination of not only timing the runs with the weather but also my rig setup, as well as reading and observing the water for potential staging areas.
I took a week off work in hopes to finally land that trophy Great Lake Steelhead. Three days flew by and not one fish was even spotted- time was running out! I contacted Jeff Parks of Calmwaters in need of help to dial these fish in. This was the was the second time that I have hired Jeff for a lesson/guide. The first outing was on the Upper Grand, fine tuning my nymph fishing for those big browns that the Grand River is so infamous for.
The day started at 8:00am and by approximately 8:15am we had seen our first fish! Having an expert guide that spends all of their time learning these systems definitely pays off for the client. It didn’t take long before Jeff was putting me onto fish in tough conditions. His methods, tactics, and fly selection that he preaches proved to work time and time again!
As a full time Fire and Rescue instructor, I know what is involved in running a successful course. Jeff has this perfected- great personality, friendly persona, expert fishing knowledge, and down to earth attitude. If your in need of tweaking a specific skill set or looking to land that trophy fish while sharing the water with an all around great guy, I would highly recommend Jeff as your next professional fishing guide, can’t beat him!