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Tripleheader on the Grand River

John Valk hoists a Grand River steelhead with a client. • Credit: Bob McGary
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Tripleheader on the Grand River

Fish the Grand River with John Valk

Fish the Grand River with the guide from this story, operating since 1993, the experience of our guides is second to none on south central Ontario’s wilderness waterways. In 1995, Grindstone introduced the McKenzie style driftboat to the province and pioneered the guiding on many of the larger cold water rivers of southern Ontario.
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Fly Fishing for Rainbows, Browns and Smallmouth

Fishing for several different fish species on a new river, from a drift boat, and working on fly fishing technique.

John Valk launches his drift boat on the Grand River and looks over at me. "You’ll be into a fish within five minutes," he says. I love his optimism and quickly get my fly rod ready for action. My fishing partner, Stan Pilarczyk, makes the first cast and hooks a spirited smallmouth. The fish is landed and quickly released. I catch Valk with a smile on his face. A sign of things to come.

Drifting the Grand

It’s late June and we are on Southern Ontario’s Grand River to fish for rainbows, browns, and smallmouth bass out of a 16-foot drift boat. John Valk, owner of Grindstone Angling, and recognized as one of the best river guides in Ontario, is our host for the day. Valk is the first river guide to introduce west coast drift boats to Ontario and for over 20 years he’s been using them to access some of the province’s premier rivers.

The first thing that impresses me about the Grand is its size. The width of the river averages 100 feet and the depth ranges from six inches to ten feet. Valk reads the holding areas and directs our casts with accuracy. "Put your fly just in front of that big boulder and let the current sweep your line past," he says. Two fish dart out and I miss the hook-set but Stan casts a spinner to the same area and hooks a smallmouth.

John Valk has the landing net close at hand while he watches a client play a fish on southern Ontario’s Grand River. (Photo credit: Bob McGary)

Spinning gear is allowed in this section of the Grand but the hook must be single-barbless. The healthy 14-inch bass is released. "These smallmouth are extremely slow-growing. A fish of 17 inches could be 20 years old," Valk says.

Bass, Browns, and Bows

We catch a few more smallmouth than Valk shows us a bend in the river. "In front of you, there’s a 10- to 12-pound brown that we haven’t been able to land yet. We’ve hooked it three times but it's broken off each angler," he says. Suddenly my casting rhythm is totally out of synch. We make a dozen casts each, without any sign of the brown, and move on.

At 280-km long, the Grand is the largest flow in Southern Ontario and has been designated as a Canadian Heritage River. The area we are fishing, from Kitchener to Caledonia, is the middle section and home to smallmouth, browns, resident rainbow, and steelhead. As we move further down in our drift John gives me advice about my fly casting technique and it's starting to pay off.

Rainbow become active late in the day and we have the opportunity to target rises with dry flies. Although my distance and accuracy are improving, it's Valk who hooks a large rainbow before darkness encroaches.

Today I’ve fished a new river, experienced angling from a drift boat, and improved my fly fishing technique; a Grand tripleheader.

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