P.E.I. fly fishing guide welcomes return of season and 'being in touch with nature'

·6 min read
Fly fishermen use a lightweight lures that are meant to imitate the look of the animals fish usually feed on. (Fly Fish PEI/Facebook - image credit)
Fly fishermen use a lightweight lures that are meant to imitate the look of the animals fish usually feed on. (Fly Fish PEI/Facebook - image credit)

Floating on the banks of the Morell River is a fly which, upon close inspection, looks nothing like a fly. But while a human can tell, a trout won't be able to if Cameron Ross does things right.

"You're imitating the flies that the fish are eating," said Ross, a fishing guide who's been coming to the river for decades. "For P.E.I., one of our main hatches that comes out all summer long is mosquito, so I tie a fly that looks like a mosquito. It's quite small, and you catch a lot of fish."

The faux mosquito is one of Ross' main tools as a fly fisher, a type of angling that uses lightweight lures called flies, as opposed to live bait.

"[With] a bobber and a worm, you throw it out there and you just wait for the bobber to go down," said Craig Ono, who has been running a fly fishing tour business as a sort of retirement gig since he moved to P.E.I. a couple of years ago.

"Fly fishing is different in a way. You're always casting the fly out there ... There's different types of flies. There's flies that sit on top of the water, flies that kind of are in the middle of the water column, and then essentially there's flies that you can kind of drag along the bottom too.

"There's a lot of technique involved in finding where the fish are feeding in the water column. And then choosing the fly that they'll take."

Submitted by Cameron Ross
Submitted by Cameron Ross

Angling season in the province began April 15 and will continue until late fall. For fly fishers, the main catch is currently trout, but at the end of the season, they'll be out in the rivers looking for salmon.

For fly fishing guides such as Ono and Ross, this season is particularly important, following two years of almost no activity due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It's been very slow. But now this year is opening up," Ono said. "I can easily do 100 excursions on the river a year. That's just for clients. And then myself, I'm always out there on the river. So I could get 150 days on the river, easily."

Mastering the technique

Ono said a lot of his clients are couples who have no previous experience, but want to try their hands on the sport.

Fly Fish PEI/Facebook
Fly Fish PEI/Facebook

"I'll teach them the different types of flies," Ono said. "There's the basic cast, that's very important. And how you present the fly too is very important. If you have your fly smacking the water all the time that hits the water, that's going to spook the fish ... So you want it to land very naturally, like how a moth or a fly would land naturally in the water."

A good fly fishing technique requires a soft touch, Ono said. A knowledge of the river, the wildlife and good observational skills are also a plus.

"You're hunting almost. You're trying to figure out where the trout are hiding," Ross said.

"Brook trout, they don't like to be out in the open too much. There's eagles and osprey here that come get them, so that lots of times they'll hide under an overhanging tree or an undercut bank and then in the summertime when the weather gets really hot, they'll usually hit the cold springs. And it's nothing to see two, three, 400 fish just sitting in the springs."

Knowing your flies

Avid fly fishers also must know which type of fly is required on a given occasion.

"I had a fella from the States. He was probably 75 years old or so ... I think he had about six or seven books in his pouch. And each book had about 200 flies in it," Ross said.

"As soon as that fly hit the water, he'd say, 'Oh, I think about two inches too short or four inches too far.' And then he hit the part of the stream where he knew that fly was gonna go over the exact same spot. He caught hundreds of fish that day. It was just amazing to watch."

Meg Roberts/CBC
Meg Roberts/CBC

Most fly fishers tie their own flies, some of which are based off patterns that have been passed down for generations. Ross usually carries with him over a hundred different types of flies of different colours and sizes. Some tried-and-true patterns include the Adams, the Caddis and the mosquito.

Nevertheless, fly selection isn't an exact science. Fishermen will have their own preferences on which patterns to use in different occasions — and they definitely have the opportunity to add their own flair.

"I'll take some red silk thread and I'll tie that around the bottom," Ross said. "It's actually like the red butt [of a female mosquito], to imitate that it's already sucked blood. It seems to work a little better for me. I think red is kind of an attractor colour anyway."

Ross has been fishing since he was a child, having spent most of his summers in P.E.I. before moving to the province in the 1970s. Back then fly fishing wasn't as popular on the Island, and it was only in his 20s when he decided to give the sport a try.

"I didn't have a whole lot of instruction or anybody ... that could teach me how to fly fish, so I got a set of Popular Mechanics Do It Yourself encyclopedia and there was a piece in there on how to fly fish," he said.

"I don't even know where I got [a fly rod] to be honest with you. It wasn't the greatest one, it was just a cheap one and I just started with that and got my casting down. Practised out in the yard for a while before I went to the stream."

Ono said other forms of angling are more accessible for newbies, which is one of the reasons the sport is not as popular.

Both tour guides hope to boost the appeal for the sport. Ross doesn't charge people under 16 so long as they are accompanied by an adult. And Ono is looking to start some tour packages that will be catered toward women.

Submitted by Cameron Ross.
Submitted by Cameron Ross.

Ono said that whether he's fishing with other people or out there relaxing on his own, the main appeal about fly fishing is that it connects him with nature in a way not many activities can.

"I was out in the fall. [The leaves were] in full colour. And I don't even know if I caught a fish that day, but just the solitude and just hearing the water was just the perfect day," he said. "For me, it's not always about catching fish. It's just being out and, you know, being in touch with nature."

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