Wow. That’s a bold statement. If any of you know me, I am not a person who stands on the top of a rock and beats his chest with bravado. But I guess it’s time to monkey up.
I have never been as excited and confident about our Fly Fishing School as I am now. The Trout opener is only days away and the trout flies are rapidly in production for our upcoming students. Each day I get “the” question. “Do you think we will catch a fish?” I politely nod and say “well that is up to the trout”. It’s called fishing. Not catching.
What I do love to hear however is “Why did the fish finally decide to bite?” This usually happens nearing the end of our Learn to Fly Fish Day. When ever I hear this question it is time to sit on the side of the bank and explain why we had some hookups. Quite simply, the fish did not suddenly turn on. Or for some magical reason the guide found that “lucky” fly. I explain that it has everything to do with the student”s ability. Sure there is luck in fly fishing but just a little. Most times if there is a hookup (especially for trout) it is due to skill. If we are streamer fishing then the student moved that fly fast enough to entice the trout. Or if we are nymphing or dry fly fishing usually the student has grasped the concept of mending the line or other casting or fishing skills.
The trout did not decide to finally get hungry. It is the skill of the new fly fisherman that has brought these fish to the fly. The smiles on each of my students is always the expression that brings me back to the river anticipating another fun filled Learn to Fly Fish Day.
Good luck out there. We have the whole season ahead of us!
Take a look at your fly boxes. A real hard look. Be honest with yourself. How many of those flies buried deep among a hundred other flies actually worked last year. If you’re like me there are only a handful of them that truly performed.
To open up a fly box and see the whole container filled with different patterns and colours is an awesome sight. Trout, Steelhead, Smallmouth Bass and Musky containers just don’t look professional enough unless they are busting at the seams. Right? But realistically, we probably only use 25 -30% of what lies deep in our fishing packs or vests.
This season try and go skinny. Skinny meaning less flies in your packs and more emphasis on your technique and presentation. While working resident trout take 5 – 7 patterns each with a few different colour combinations. Same with Steelhead or Smallmouth Bass (even less) or Musky. Working the river and getting the fly in front of the fish is more important then changing patterns every 5 minutes to finding that lucky fly. Most good fly fisherman have a few “go to” patterns that they constantly use and fish with confidence.
It is this confidence that gives you the focus to drift that fly towards the fish. Travel light, and fish smart.
Let’s face it we all want our children to grow up having the same interests as ourselves. Fly Fishing is no exception. Yet, the more we as parents push our kids to enjoy our hobbies the more they seem to turn away. My daughter at the young age of 8 took an interest in following her dad along the river banks and I couldn’t have been happier. Yet, keeping her focused along the way at that young age was a challenge. She was not unlike any other child. If the fishing was slow, the fidgeting began. Luckily, I found the solution to continue our day on the water. Timing and of course, crayfish.
Many customers ask at what age can they start teaching their youth. Of course it depends on the child but 8 years old seems to be a good age. Start them in the summer months where the water is warm and the crayfish are plentiful. Why crayfish? Smallmouth Bass love them. And if I may add, if crayfish hunting was an Olympic sport then I would have won the gold medal hands down. When I’m teaching a young child we start our fly fishing lesson learning the cast. Kids can grasp this much quicker then adults. 40 minutes is all that is usually needed on dry land. Once we move to the river I find we have about 25 minutes before the fidgeting begins. Once this starts, we put the fly rod away and begin our search turning over rocks for smallmouth’s favourite food source. Usually 30 minutes of laughter and squealing will enable us to have the young ones back with the fly rod in their hands.
Picking through the fly box for a crayfish pattern that is similar to the one that attached itself to a finger is as fun as trying to catch these quick crustaceans. Yet when a nice smallmouth bass hits this hand picked pattern all boredom has left the river. Yes, the fly fishing lesson will be over shortly but the day will be remembered for a long time. Both by the youthful student and of course by Mom or Dad.
It’s not always about the technical part of fly fishing that is the most important. It’s also about the experience above and below the rivers that gives us happiness. My daughter still to this day will hunt for crayfish on our many Ontario rivers. Her passion for the art of fly fishing and her love of the river has made her a perfect choice to be our newest fly fishing guide for Calmwaters Fly Fishing. She also would be a Gold Medal contender to the “Crayfish Hunting” event.
I’ve spoken before regarding fly fishing packs verses fly fishing vests. Both have their own practical features and benefits. Yet for the past 6 years I have moved to a shoulder sling pack and have not looked back. I have been using the Orvis Guide Sling pack and have found this particular piece to be extremely functional and durable. I would recommend this pack in a heartbeat. However, it is time for a new purchase and I’m looking at the three other major players for packs. Simms, Fishpond and Patagonia.
I’m looking for Waterproof materials, accessory loops, storage areas, dividers and of course durability. I do try not to overload my pack but that is much easier said then done. But when I need a certain fly or tool it needs to be easily accessible while I’m waist deep in the rapids on our Ontario Rivers.
There are so many packs and options to choose from that I decided to speak to Rob Cesta who is the owner of The Drift Outfitters and Fly Shop located at 199 Queen St. E. Toronto, Ontario. Rob’s fly shop is packed with everything to accommodate a novice, intermediate or expert fly fisherman. Rob has all the newest and greatest packs the industry has to offer. Here are a few options available that have the Drift Outfitters Fly Shop’s seal of approval:
Simms Dry Creek Z Hip Pack (waterproof)
Fishpond Nimbus Guide Pack (kitchen sink)
Patagonia Stealth Hip Pack (all around use)
Fishpond Flint Hills Lumbar Pack (minimalist)
Simms Dry Creek Z Packpack (Waterproof)
Simms G4 Pro Packpack
Simms Waypoints Dual Chest Pack
Fishpond San Juan Vertical Chest Pack
Every option works well yet I do find the Waist Packs run to low while wading in our Ontario Rivers. There are definitely moments when wading waist deep or more is needed. Chest Packs also are efficient but it would be better to have a smaller pack as they can get in the way. Love the Backpacks but it is an option to bring along for the driftboat or set along the side of the bank while working a run. Again the winner for me is the Sling Pack option. They ride comfortably on your back and stay out of your way while casting. It is a simple quick move to spin the Sling Pack into position when looking for a fly or tippet switch. Pack runs higher so stays out of the water much better. I also use a pack exclusively for Saltwater fun. Either waist deep in the ocean or walking the flats the shoulders can handle the weight easily with the Sling.
The fly fishing pack is an important part of your day for wading on our beautiful Ontario Rivers. Hop down to the Drift Outfitters Fly Shop in Toronto and see which option is best for you.
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.
Normally this time of year on our Ontario rivers we are happily walking or drifting our main systems with our two handed Spey Rods. Heavy rains bring on big water which in turn brings silver Steelhead. That’s the usual weather pattern. We tie big flies full of colour and bling to entice these chrome beauties. Normally swinging these flies with a Spey rod is by far our best bet to attack our larger rivers enabling us to cover the heavy flow.
Not this year. This drought that we are experiencing has our Ontario Rivers down to a trickle. These low flows are making it very difficult to actually get any kind of a swing on the normal runs that we target. However this doesn’t mean that we should stay home and pout. Dig out your single handed fly rods and dust them off. Work with a slow sinking line and head to the softer water. A slow retrieve will get those Spey flies moving which in turn may ignite a strike. The water isn’t high enough to swing but if you work the fly yourself you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Regroup and grab your single handed 7 or 8 weight. There’s fly fishing fun to be had out there!
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.
This year has been an awesome season for Smallmouth Bass here in Ontario. The low warm water has these powerful brutes active and aggressive. As usual, a well placed brown or green Crayfish pattern will most likely trigger a strike. However I’m finding this year that my best producing colour of a fly for the big boys is good ol’ White.
I have in my fly box 4-5 different white patterns at all times. Different sizes and different materials. Not one pattern seems to work for every river system. Smaller flies work for one river while larger flies work for another. But one thing remains the same. White flies produce. Rabbit tail, marabou and synthetics should all be used. Keep these flies near the river bottom with some good mending and some rod tip twitches, making sure you have no or little line slack between your trigger finger and the fly.
My favourite colour of a popper? Yep, White.
Salt water flies work great for Ontario Smallmouth Bass
Unbelievable, but we are approaching August. Many more days for these Smallmouth Bass. Yet as the cooler nights approach we can begin to dream of our powerful Steelhead.
What’s a great colour to have in your fly boxes? You guessed it. White. Among all those beautifully tied purples, pinks, chartreuse, blacks and oranges make sure some white is tucked in with them.
I’ve said it before “if it ain’t white, it ain’t right”.
Fly fishing education comes up often in my blogs, but this year I am really excited about Calmwaters Fly Fishing School.
Our year to date has been extremely busy. We have had anglers of all ages come in search of fly fishing education – from 10 years old to 85. In addition, they have come places near and far – local, out of province to overseas.
Calmwaters focuses on all aspects of fly fishing here in Fergus, Ontario. The Grand River has been fishing well with lots of opportunities for all types of fly fishing – dry fly, nymphing, streamers…
It’s pretty hard to fly fish if you can’t cast, therefore the first thing we concentrate on is casting. This is the easiest part of the fly fishing education for me. Teaching a customer to cast usually takes about an hour. By the time our day is over the cast for most people is very natural. Hence we can move to on-the-river education such as mending the line, presenting the fly and general river maintenance.
Take a drive up to Fergus, Ontario. You’ll find the Grand River a delightful river to fly fish. After Calmwaters Learn to Fly fish course, you’ll be ready on your own to wander our glorious rivers that Ontario has to offer.