The Early Years
Like many young anglers in Manitoba, I grew up fishing a healthy dose of Len Thompson spoons, pickerel rigs, and gummed up jigs left over in Dad’s tackle box. As years passed, gaudy push button reel combos were upgraded with spin reel setups. When I was old enough to carry a wallet I started purchasing more expensive lures for my own tackle box. At some point in my teens the routine pike and walleye fishing lost its allure. I was curious about other species and eager to learn different tactics. Being opportunistic I poked around the local water in the city. I was surprised with the number of species: goldeye, drum, catfish and carp, just to name a few. Annual family trips to Saskatchewan and rumours of rainbow trout in Lake Diefenbaker left me mystified. I had never seen one.
Curious for Trout
Reading through magazines I was even more intrigued by trout. Authors would qualify them as a hard fighting, beautiful and difficult to trick. Those reasons were enough to set me on a new path. A couple mildly successful years followed, my Dad, brother and I caught some trout under bobbers and on spinners. I was convinced that trout were my new muse. I still felt I was missing something. A couple instances of deep hooking trout with bait, had me second guessing our approach. From time to time the trout would bleed out, or turn belly up after releasing them. Dad, still with the old school mentality had no issue with this, “Dinner.” I like to see the fish swim away, especially the trophy fish.
With the return of autumn, high school sports and studies resumed and the fishing gear was often stored away early. As winter slowly dragged on, I was tormented by all the fish that got away from the previous year. Restless for spring to arrive, the only thing that could satisfy my urge was bettering my knowledge and reading stories from other anglers. I even noticed patterns in the Master Angler registry; certain lakes seemed to produce more than others. The same few names kept repeating: East Blue Lake, Bower Lake, Tokaryk Lake, Bower Lake, East Blue…and so on. Finally, I was headed in the right direction. Internet searches for these lakes brought me to the FLIPPR.ca website. There were lists of contour maps, articles and stories about fly fishing. “Fly fishing?” I scoffed, “Only seen that on TV” I read on. Photos of plump trout far bigger than I had ever caught was sufficient persuasion. “This spring I am buying a fly rod.”
I begged Dad to take me to the local fishing store to buy a fly rod. I found a reasonably priced starter combo. My dad, knowing nothing about fly fishing and a little skeptical, pulled me back, “Are you sure you want to do this?” I was taken aback, I have never backed down from a challenge. “Yes, I’m sure.” To myself I thought, “What can I lose?”
The Learning Curve
Returning home, I second guessed myself. Now I’m stuck with this rod and absolutely no idea how to use it. I don’t even know anyone who fly fishes. How was I going to learn? Maybe I had been too hasty. Well I got to start somewhere; off to the library. I borrowed a couple books on fly fishing. The first suggestion was to avoid learning to cast on the water. Start out on a grassy lawn, where there are no fish to distract you from learning the essentials of casting a fly rod. With a book in hand, a 9 foot rod in the other, I headed to the park across the road early in the morning, hoping no one would take notice. It was awkward waving this rod back and forth, lucky for me I wasn’t the only one making a scene. Johnny from down the block somehow managed to pick the lock to the fenced-in park, revved his truck and started ripping up donuts on the soccer field. I imagined this scene from any given kitchen window that overlooked the park. I’m sure someone was stumbling over words as they called the cops, trying to figure out what kind of dance that lanky kid was performing.
It didn’t take more than a couple hours to learn the feel of how the rod loaded up, as the fly line slowly unfurled from a loop in the air to a straight line. I could only manage about 30 feet of line to begin, but that was enough to fish from shore on small ponds and creeks.
The Journey Begins
For the first couple years I carried two rods, a spinning outfit and a fly rod. The spin rod was backup for when I really just needed to catch a fish. Eventually, I stopped grabbing for it. Casting a fly rod felt much more enjoyable. Seeing my progress from month to month was rewarding and pushed me forward to other aspects of fly fishing. Continuing to chase trout seemed like the natural fit for the fly rod, but I quickly learned that fly fishing was not only limited to trout. My journey had come full circle. I returned to my favourite fishing haunts in the city and the Whiteshell to challenge the species I grew up fishing, except this time with a fly rod.
Exploring local creeks with a fly rod can trick even the most fickle fish.
Fly fishing is widely misunderstood by anglers, especially here in Manitoba and the prairies. Perhaps it is stereotyped as a technique reserved for high mountain streams and trout fishing. Fly fishing has been adapted to almost every fish species on the planet. Learning something new can be intimidating. Best advice, is just take the risk, and buy a fly rod. If I could learn how to cast from a book I’m sure you can do even better. Learning resources are more accessible today than in the past. The best resources are online fly fishing forums and social media. Connecting with local fly fishers that are willing to share tips is great way to learn and make new friends. Check out your local fly fishing clubs and associations if you are interested in learning or need a hand improving in any aspect of fly fishing.
A popular hotspot for fly fishing is just North of St. Andrews dam, on the Red River – including the mouth of the spillway. MFFA members and local fly fishers can frequently be spotted wading the reefs. Say Hello and I’m sure they will help you out.