It was a surreal adventure. One day last year, Ken McCagherty and three buddies arrived in Canmore, Alta. at 8:30 a.m., lattes in hand, to rendezvous with a helicopter that took them 20 minutes away to “the middle of nowhere”. They spent the day at 10,000 feet, on a mountain lake filled with cutthroat trout so plentiful “it was almost a fish a cast.” Come 4:30 p.m., they flew back to reality, and half an hour later they were eating dinner at a nice restaurant in town. “What an experience,” reflects McCagherty, president and CEO of West Energy Ltd., a Calgary-based oil and gas exploration firm. After eight years of fly-fishing, it’s the adventure, relaxation and fellowship of fly-fishing that keeps him hooked.
Canada is home to some of the best fly-fishing spots around, and that accessibility, along with the thrill and adventure, has more and more Canadians wading into the sport. It’s easy to learn but difficult to perfect, and enthusiasts are passionate about it—obsessed, even. And while you don’t have to spend much money or stray far from home to give fly-fishing a go, once you’ve tried it, you just may want to.
“You become entranced with the art of the sport,” agrees Lou Maroun, executive chairman of ING Real Estate Canada, a real estate management firm based in Toronto. “It’s about the fly cast, the perfect selection of the fly, getting it in the right spot and controlling the line to make it do exactly what it should.”
It’s perfect for entrepreneurs because it requires intensity, focus and creativity, says Maroun: “But it’s so absorbing that it gives you a break from business. You simply cannot stand on a river fly casting while worrying about whether the bank is financing your project.” Not counting local jaunts, Maroun goes on four to six fishing trips a year, each lasting from three days to a week.
Maroun hooked his wife Kathryn on the sport, too. Now she’s one of only three Canadian women to be certified as a fly-casting instructor, and is the director, producer and host of What a Catch!, a TV show featuring her worldwide fly-fishing adventures. “I love to go breathe in the green,” she says, “and listen to the water flow against the rocks, and slow everything down.”
But it’s not all Zenlike. On a recent trip to the Eg-Uur river in Mongolia, Kathryn spent 40 intense minutes before landing a 56-in., 85-lb. taimen from a pool of water thought to be barren. It was the year’s largest catch on the Eg-Uur watershed, and as a result she got to name the pool of water (Gingersnap Eddy).
Such action may be why participation in the sport has increased 20% in the past five years, says Jack Simpson, publisher of The Canadian Fly Fisher magazine and founder and chairman of Fly Fishing Canada, an organization that promotes fly-fishing and conservation practices. Despite this surge, when people think of fishing, they think of spin-casting or bait-casting, which involve casting out live bait or lures, which are often attached to a float or weights.
In fly fishing, the line itself is the weight you throw, and it’s “pulling this little [imitation] fly much like rhythmic gymnastics with the ribbon,” says Kathryn. You can learn enough about how to cast in 15 to 20 minutes, she says, “But then you spend the rest of your life perfecting it and learning how to get accuracy and distance.”
With the right gear and technique, you can fish successfully for any species of fish in almost any stream, lake or ocean. But fly-fishing is a full-on, full-body workout, says Kathryn: “When you’re walking against the current, or balancing on the bow of a flats boat [used in shallow, open water], hauling 80 feet of line out of the water, or climbing a cliff or hiking for an hour to get to where you’re fishing, it’s very physically demanding.” Of course, you can tailor expeditions to meet your abilities.
You can get into the water with basic gear: a fly rod and reel (starting at about $150 for both); a selection of flies (about $2.50 per fly); and waders (starting at $100). But the sky’s the limit. The Marouns, for example, each own about 35 top-of-the-line rods—each designed for specific water bodies, conditions and fish species—that cost about $1,700 each.
Most fly shops offer instructional courses, as will your local public fly-fishing club. A day of instruction, including equipment and some fishing time, will typically run about $200, says Simpson.
Experts recommend that beginners invest in hiring a guide. For about $150 a day, you will benefit from a guide’s knowledge about local conditions and fish feeding preferences.
But once you’re proficient, you’ll want to venture farther afield. The Marouns fish in remote and exotic locations around the world, their favourites being Iceland, the Bahamas and Mongolia. “For us,” says Lou, “a year of fly-fishing is all about where next in the world we want to go.”
FLY ROD AND REEL
Experienced fly-fishers buy rods for different water conditions and fish species. But beginners can’t go wrong with a general-purpose rod in the 5/6/7 weight class, which is adequate for most fly-fishing situations across Canada.
Don’t skimp on quality here: cheap waders may tear easily—and leave you cold and wet.
Choose a vest that’s roomy enough to allow you to layer clothing underneath and still move easily.
A compact fly box will keep your flies neatly organized, and tucks neatly into your vest pocket within easy reach.
5 SPOTS TO FLY AWAY
“Canada has the most varied, the richest and the most wilderness environment for fly-fishing in the world,” says Chris Marshall, editor of The Canadian Fly Fisher magazine. “It’s superb, offering everything from pristine places north of 60° to virtually urban fisheries.” Here are five locales he recommends:
¢ The Campbell River, B.C.: Located on Vancouver Island, this area offers both ocean and river fishing opportunities. Excellent fishing for cutthroat trout and Pacific salmon.
¢ The Bow River system, Alta.: Downstream from Calgary is particularly fruitful, boasting big rainbow and brown trout.
¢ The Grand River, Ont.: This Canadian Heritage River flows south from just below Georgian Bay and into Lake Erie. Says Marshall: “People come from all over the world to fish here.”
¢ The GaspÃ© Peninsula, Que.: Boasts several pristine rivers, including the York, Dartmouth and St-Jean. Offers superb fishing for Atlantic salmon and sea-run brook trout.
¢ The Miramichi River system, N.B.: “One of the world’s top Atlantic salmon rivers.”