We met on an early morning of a very rainy day in Sault Ste Marie, Ontario. It was a guest appearance on the TV show the New Fly Fisher that brought us here. We are going flyfishing in Northern Ontario!
Fly Fishing Ontario
Dave and I have been on a few news programs and talk shows, but this is our first appearance in full length episodic TV. Needless to say, we were very excited.
Bill Spicer is the host of the popular fishing show The New Fly Fisher.
We knew we were in good company when every fisherman on the river came over to shake his hand or take a photo with this celebrity angler.
Dave and I have never been big on fishing, but being ‘good Canadians', we fished as kids.
Our adult years took us away from the lakes and rivers of Ontario and we've really not thought about picking up a rod again since our childhood days.
Why Go Fly Fishing?
When asked if we would like to try fly fishing, we thought it might be fun to give it a try. Regular rod and reel fishing wasn't exactly our things, but fly fishing?
That was something we could get behind. It always looks so romantic in movies and on TV, and to learn a new skill that we can continue on for years to come, sounded very appealing.
On St. Mary's River
The rain had picked up speed by the time we were dressed in our hip waders and boots. We were heading out to the St. Mary's River dividing the twin cities of Sault Ste Marie in both Canada and the United States.
There are some excellent rapids at the mouth of the river making for perfect conditions to catch Steelhead fish.
St Mary's River attracts fly fisherman from all around for an astounding 10 months of the year. Early Spring and Summer are popular times for the salmon run and Bill tells us that this place is packed at that time of year.
Fly Fishing Group
After a walk along the forested path and a precarious crossing of a rocky creek, we were surprised to see the amount of people standing in the river fishing. Men and boys of all ages were out on the water working on creating the perfect cast.
Fly fishing is nuanced and graceful. Watching people cast their rods over and over again as they place it in the exact spot where fish are swimming is mesmerizing.
Something we love about fly fishing is how most of the fish caught, are released.
On this day, everyone who caught fish around us took a photo of it and sent it back into the water on its merry way.
Bill showed explained that the hooks we were using had flattened barbs so that it would be easier to free the fish from the hook once it was caught. He also explained that you are better off to cut the line if a fish swallows a hook than to work it out.
The fly is only a few dollars and the fish will survive. I always thought it was a myth that the stomach acids of a fish would dissolve the hook, but he assured us that it would.
I felt so much better.
Not that we had to worry about our fish swallowing a hook today. Each hook was taken out with speed and skill by Bill and his fellow fly fishing buddies.
Finding the perfect spot.
We were fishing in Sault Ste. Marie with the Soo North Fly Fishing; a gear and guiding company based downtown. The guys from the shop had been out since 5:00 am saving a spot for us.
When I thanked the owner Brad, for coming out so early he said: “this isn't work, I get to come out here and fish all morning, I love it!”
We arrived at a little after 9:00 am and took over their positions for our training. So they had a good four hours of fun before we joined the festivities.
Fly fishing was a lot more difficult than I expected.
When fly fishing, your first instinct is to flick your wrist and arms with all your might. That only ends up making the line go in all the wrong directions. Once Bill showed us a few moves, we started to get the hang of it.
Patience is key. The casting is so different from traditional fishing. You have to wait for the fly to get all the way behind you before you bring your arm forward. It's not about strength it's about finesse and timing.
I used to think that they did the motion of flicking the line back and forth to attract the fish on the top of the water, but it's actually about getting the line out to where you want it. Each time you cast, more line feeds out until you choose to let it land in the water.
The reel is secondary. Surprisingly you don't really use the reel much. You feed the line out with your hands and even when you set the hook once a fish bikes, it's about the tension in your hands.
When it comes to fly fishing you are much more of a participant than regular rod and reel fishing. What we never liked about traditional fishing was the monotony of it all.
You just sit there and wait for a fish to bite. With fly fishing, you can constantly work on improving your cast and creating a graceful motion. It is the fun and challenge of working on perfecting your motion.
Once you have your technique perfected, you can precisely cast into the right spot.
Fly fishing is about accuracy and timing.
Something we loved about Bill is that he never said one way was the right way.
He explained to us that everybody's cast is different. In the end, the results are meant to be the same. Whether you cast from the side, or straight up in the air, if you have your technique down, the line will make it to the spot you want in the position you want.
Time flew by while we were out on the river. The rain was pouring and the water flowing from Lake Superior was freezing. Even though we had wool socks, booties and big hiking boots, both our toes went numb.
We stayed in that river for hours. Fishermen are a different breed than the rest of the world.
From morning to night, we stood in the water fishing. Snack time, lunch time and coffee breaks went by without us. We fasted and held our bladders until the end of the day. These guys don't notice time and we can understand why.
When you get in the rhythm of casting and placing the line, you nearly go into a trance. It's like a form of meditation.
We went into a calm relaxing state as we set our cast in the water over and over again.
But when a fish catches hold, it immediately it takes you by surprise and the adrenaline starts pumping through your veins. Bill and Brad talked us through reeling our fish in.
If we didn't have them helping us out, we'd lose the fish for sure. That's when we found out that it's not only casting that takes a lot of skill, but reeling the fish in as well.
If you pull too hard you'll break the line, if you don't pull fast enough, the fish will let go. If you don't set your hook, the fish will simply take a nibble and swim away.
It's amazing how you need to find a balance of knowing when to let the fish swim away and when to reel it in.
A right way to release fish
Once we got our fish in, my hands were shaking for a good half hour after the fight. It was a huge high and I couldn't believe how much excitement I felt. Especially because I was allowed to let the fish go.
How to properly release fish
After taking a photo, we released the fish. Mine was frisky and still had a lot of energy.
- Since I don't have a lot of experience holding fish it jumped quickly out of my hands. Dave's put up a bit more of a fight so he had to release it slowly back into the water.
- If a fish fought hard, you can't simply throw it back in the water, it could die. You need to make sure it has it's bearings.
- Brad told us that you have to put the head of the fish upstream so that it has a chance to get reoriented.
- Also, if it isn't moving a lot, you need to hold it gently to keep it right side up.
- Once it gets it's energy back, it will swim away.
- If you were to let it go and toss it back in the water, it would be disoriented and probably go belly up and wouldn't have the strength to right itself.
- Meaning it would die.
It was amazing to see how the fish sat quietly in Dave's hands for quite some time. I was worried it was never going to revive, but without warning, it came to its senses and leapt away into the water. It was amazing to see it wake up suddenly and hightail it out of here.
Fly fisherman are concerned about conservation and are careful to place them back in the water when they are done with them. Even fly fishing derbies don't kill fish like regular fishing derbies.
That's pretty cool in our opinion and when it comes to fishing…if we ever do it again, you can be sure it will be fly fishing.
Visitthe New Fly Fisher onlinefor fishing information and online episodes. The New Fly Fisher can be seen on PBS and the World Fishing Network.
For tourism information on Sault Ste Marie visit the Algoma Countrywebsite accommodation provided by Delta Hotels. To book fly fishing excursions in Sault Ste Marie or to buy or rent gear visit the Soo North Fly Shop