To those who have never tried it before, fly fishing might seem a bit intimidating—the kind of activity that requires expert knowledge, loads of equipment, and entry into a tight-knit clique that might not be to welcoming to new members. In fact, the opposite is true: fly fishing is one of the most accessible outdoor activities a person can take up, easy to jump into, and, for those casting a line in the waters of Northeastern Ontario, a welcoming community and a nearly endless selection of places in which to wade.
Those are all points stressed by Mark Melnyk, producer for The New Fly Fisher online TV series aimed at helping anglers of all experience levels more about the sport, who has helped teach countless newbies about how easy and fun fly fishing can be.
“It can be overwhelming when you walk into a fly shop, but it absolutely doesn’t need to be complicated,” he says. “I try to tell people that they should just dive in and do it.”
We spoke with Melynk about why those who may have held off on trying their luck at fly fishing should consider giving the sport a try.
It’s Welcoming (Hi There!)
One of the biggest misconceptions Melnyk says he hears about fly fishing is that it is something of a fusty or elitist pastime. These days, he says the barriers to entry that may have existed in the past have largely fallen down and that the sport has seen an influx of younger and more diverse people giving it a try.
“It's not your father’s pipe-smoking , tweed-jacket-wearing sport anymore,” says Melnyk. “You see kids out doing it, you see a surge of women doing it—women are the fastest-growing segment of the sport.” (In fact, the very first mention of fly fishing in the English language came from 12th century nun and author Dame Juliana Berners.)
This growth is not accidental. Fly-fishing organizations and suppliers such as Orvis, Simms, Costa and Yeti have worked to expand their offerings to women fly fishers, offering classes, mentoring programs, and expanded gear options aimed at bringing more newcomers into the sport.
“Fly fishing manufacturers have realized that there is an opportunity to get youngsters into it, to get women into it—I've seen people in wheelchairs in the river,” says Melnyk. “You’re never too young or old to start—I just bought fly rods for my kids for the first time this year And they're dying to get out,” says Melynk.
It’s Easy to Get Started (find water, go fish)
Part of this effort from manufacturers is to produce equipment and fly-fishing starter kits that help make this entry that much easier.
“You can get into fly fishing for less than $200, all decked out,” says Melynk. “If you can buy yourself a starter kit and you live near water where there's fish, you can catch them.”
As for which starter kit to try, Melynk says it depends on the species that you're fishing for, but that a good all-around option for catching most small freshwater fish is a nine-foot six-weight rod with a floating fly line. For example, Orvis offers this Encounter rod that it dubs “affordably awesome.”
“That’ll get you probably into most fish in Northeastern Ontario,” says Melynk. "If you catch a big pike on it, it's going to be sporting, but that's part of the fun, you know?”
As for clothing, “it depends on your level of adventure,” according to Melynk. If you want to go fishing for brook trout during ice-out conditions, you’re going to want to buy a pair of waders, but if you want to wait until late spring or summer when the water warms up a bit, then you can just “wet wade,” wearing just a pair of snug sandals and shorts–no special outfit required!
“There's so much out there that it can be overwhelming when you walk into a fly shop,” says Melynk, who described standing in a shop at that moment, looking at a display of “literally 5,000 different flies.” But he said that while these vast choices ensures that those who develop a passion for angling can discover new gear and gadgets for years to come to come, in reality, “you don't need it—it doesn’t need to be that complicated.”
“When I started out, I had four flies in my pocket and a pair of shorts and I was catching brook trout on my home string,” says Melynk. “It can be as basic as you want or as involved as you want.”
The Options in Northeastern Ontario Are Endless (Thousands of lakes and rivers to explore)
In Northeastern Ontario, newcomers to fly fishing have no shortage of destinations where they can cast a line. You can start with favorite fishing spots, targeting northern pike in Lake Nipissing or trout in Lake Temagami. French River and Kesgami Provincial Park are also popular fly-fishing spots–or go further afield to find a place that’s far off the beaten path. Another option is to check out Northern Ontario's Experience Fishing program which is designed help you plan an easy, all-inclusive guided fishing-trip for beginners.
“If you were to jump in on river and just walk, you’re going to find places that maybe have never been seen before—especially in Ontario,” says Melynk. In a province of more than 250,000 lakes and rivers, there are countless spots that have been untapped by other anglers, “but with a little bit of a sense of adventure, you can get in and you can catch the fish of a lifetime.”
To figure out the best place for you, seek out fishing guides from your favourite vacation destination or go more local and find a fly shop or outfitter near you and just walk in the door and ask where they recommend casting a line.
“Anything that swims and eats is able to eat a fly,” says Melnyk. “So, there’s no reason why you cannot target any species of fish with a fly rod. If you can access a water body that has fish, you can catch them on fly.”
When it comes to those fishing with flying lures, “trout are king” followed by northern pike and smallmouth bass. Melynk describes trout as an “all-or-not fish” in that you can catch them readily or not at all, and one of the most “predatory” fish in the system. Northern pike are “notorious fighters…if you can get a big Northern pike to eat a fly on a surface fly, there’s no adrenaline rush quite like it.”
There Are Many Resources Available (guides, books, videos, and more!)
Not only is your local fly shop a good way for a newbie to find out the best places to fish, but they can help with just about any other questions you might have, according to Melynk.
“Go to the fly shop and just say, ‘Hey, I'm brand new.' There's no stigma in it and I guarantee you that 99% of fly shop owners will be eager to help,” says Melynk. “They can take you out and guiding you through the process.”
For those who don’t have easy access to a fly shop, they can utilize the Orvis Fly Fishing Learning Center, which Melynk produces, and which offers a vast range of how-to videos and instructional material to help newcomers with tying knots, selecting equipment, and successfully catching specific species and figuring out any other aspect of the sport.
And, of course, there are Melynk’s The New Fly Fisher videos, providing deep, and entertaining tutorial into all topics related to fly fishing,
“We really break down how to get started in season one and then get more advanced in season two,” he explains.
It Can Be a Lifelong Hobby (plus it's better for you than just scrolling on your phone)
Melynk emphasizes the feeling of community that the angler will find almost immediately upon jumping into the sport.
“It’s just a fantastic group of people who want to help,” he says.
He reiterates that it’s a sport that can appeal to a person whatever their skill level. The young and adventurous can discover new parts of the province while going on fishing outings into untapped parts of Ontario. Those older or looking for something more low-key can stay more local and enjoy it as a relaxing hobby for years.
“Once you start,” he says, “fly fishing is a sport that can last your entire life.”
To learn more about fly fishing in Northeastern Ontario, including where to stay and how to travel here, visit us here.