WARNING: Start off with fly fishing as a hobby and a new challenge, and you may join the likes of many anglers selling off all your conventional gear to fully pursue the purest form of angling – fly fishing!
Conventional anglers often relate fly fishing to the most pristine streams and rivers and to the older, more patient anglers, with an English skip hat on and a wicker creel at their side. This is still a common scenario in what can be a very traditional approach to fishing. However, these are some of the most diehard anglers whose connection to the waters runs deeper than most. Northeastern Ontario anglers are no exception!
In western Canada, fly fishers have changed the way people fish for steelhead, using long two-handed rods and sinking lines to chase winter steelhead. These same techniques are now becoming more common on the larger Great Lakes tributaries. Many fail to take full advantage of the true art that is fly fishing – it truly is a shame! I’ve often heard my fly angling buddies tell me there is more to fly fishing, and it's only a matter of time before I can be found with a fly rod in my quiver. Some fly fishermen can be as passionate and as competitive as a tournament bass angler!
Over the years, I've become friends with more and more fly anglers who have taught me a great deal about our ecosystems, forage, presentations, reading water, and how a tiny adjustment can make or break a day on the water.
The modern fly angler is often of the new and younger generation, some of the most humble and intelligent anglers in the business. They are pushing the envelope of the sport, demanding new equipment and better materials for flies. These anglers are chasing musky with powerful rods and huge flies. Fly fishing is becoming cool to the modern angler.
Getting Started with Gear
If a local shop isn’t in reach and you’re looking to have your local retailer order you in the perfect combo, here are some starting pointers:
- A rod in the 7 to 9 weight is a great place to start for our region, as we do have many predatory species and an abundance of bass that are an absolute blast to catch on the fly!
- For reel choice, you will want to look for one with a larger arbor that will help to pick up line more quickly, matched up with a smooth drag system for those fish that decide to take hard runs.
- An added bonus would be to find a reel with a cassette system that allows you to purchase and have different line types available for your use, rather than multiple reels.
Choosing Lines + Leaders
There are a wide variety of line types – you need to choose which species you’re targeting prior to committing to one. There are floating, intermediate, and full-sinking line choices available for all different conditions.
Many trout anglers utilize a floating line to stay on top of the surface in a river or a stream, especially when bugs are hatching. Lakes on the other hand, require your presentation to be deeper in the water column. A more lake-specific fly line is the type 3 sinking line, which sinks at a rate of three to five inches per second. This will allow an angler to get their bait into the strike zone quicker, and be able to fish up to 10 feet deep with some patience.
Another option is to have a floating fly line and attach a sinking leader, commonly referred to as a poly leader (available at fly shops or the fly fishing section of your favourite fishing store). This makes your floating line more versatile. If you want to fish shallow along the shoreline or throw poppers for largemouth you can, and if later you want to fish deeper, attach the poly leader and you’re all set.
When using a floating line, you want to have a 7- to 9-foot monofilament leader. If you decide to switch to the sinking leader, attach it right to your fly line and shorten your mono leader to 3 feet, as this will give you a better presentation and help you better detect strikes.
Your leader and tippet are very important for both presentation and casting. When using big flies, choose heavier monofilament and shorten up your leader as this will help turn over the fly when casting. If you're casting to spooky fish in clear water with smaller flies, lengthen your leader to 9 feet and choose lighter monofilament. The leader material runs from the main line to your tippet, which is eventually connected to your fly of choice. Monofilament and fluorocarbon are often chosen for these applications for their low visibility, and floating or sinking qualities respectively.
Picking Flies or Tying Your Own
Now for the fun part—picking out the flies you would like to use, or even test your hand at tying. Some Northern staples include clouser minnows, muddlers, wooly buggers, caddis flies, streamers, poppers, and crayfish patterns. These presentations will have you covered for small inland trout all the way to the larger deep lakes with smallmouth bass and pike awaiting your fly's arrival.
These are just a few of the top flies to use, but you can choose to tie your own to match local forage fish or insects. Experiment with different colours and materials to create your own pattern – think of the excitement of landing a fish on a fly you dreamed up and created all on your own, now that is satisfaction!
Fly anglers have to be so much more in touch with the conditions they are fishing as they can’t just throw on a heavier jig, deeper diving hard bait, or switch out for a live minnow. Fly fishing starts at home on the fly-tying vice, which can be as rewarding as catching a fish on the end of your line. This is where the true creativity flows and the lures and baits you use come to life.
Have you ever found bait in your local fishery and never had the lure, or couldn’t find the one that was just right? Or maybe you’ve thought about giving it a shot, only to turn the opposite way when it came down to the initial investment? Fly anglers can head home, hit the vice, and within a few hours and some modifications have the exact presentation they could have hoped for. This expertise comes with time, and is all a part of the process. Local shops offer fly-tying nights, and there are many excellent instructional books and YouTube tutorials.
Where to Go
There is a new open water season approaching and maybe this will be the year where you decide to finally give fly fishing a shot. There is nothing to be intimidated by – all it takes is a bit of research, lots of initial practice, and some fine-tuning to get your bait in the strike zone whenever you choose. It can be like learning to fish all over again, and rekindle some of that excitement you had as a kid just learning to fish!
A number of our partners offer fly-in fishing opportunities, and are great places to begin learning:
- Air Ivanhoe Limited (Foleyet)
- Cochrane Air Services Ltd. (Cochrane)
- Lakeland Airways (Temagami)
- Lauzon Aviation (Algoma Mills)
- Lodge Eighty-eight (Dubreuilville)
- Sudbury Aviation Ltd. (Sudbury)
Northeastern Ontario is a fantastic place to learn as we are surrounded by lakes, rivers, streams, and ponds each and everywhere you look. Book a fly fising trip with one of the operators above, or just stop at a local pond on your way home from work to unwind and practice your cast. The subtleties and excitement of your first fish will have you wanting more each time you hit the water.