The rhythm and grace of fly fishing have long attracted me.
Watching a solo fisher hip deep in a stream or river cast their line so that it dances overhead before reaching forward and dropping it into the precise spot, upstream or down, is such a pleasure.
It looks so relaxing and yet challenging.
After many years of holding this romantic view of fly fishing in my head, last week I finally had the opportunity to learn how to fly fish on the Grand River in Haldimand County, Ontario.
I discovered that fly fishing requires technical skill with the rod and line as well focused attention to read the water and fish. And yet my expectations of fly fishing were met. It's relaxing to be out in the river, away from others, in nature. It’s also relaxing to be so engaged that the brain can think of nothing else.
To me, that's therapy. River therapy.
Learning to Fly Fish on the Grand River
My instructor for the day was Peter Charles of Hooked4Life Fly Fishing. We met at York, a tiny town on the Grand where the river is shallow enough to walk across. After I geared up, with his water shoes and socks, we practiced casting without a hook in an open area near the water's edge. Then we headed into the river.
Crossing the river on foot was an interesting experience. The deeper the water is, the more power it has. In certain circumstances you'd want a staff of some sort for stabilization but at this point in the Grand River it isn't necessary.
Once on the other side we found a spot about 15 feet from the shoreline where Peter's experience told him there would be carp. Yes, carp. Bass season was still a few days away so we were fishing for carp – not the most tempting fish but catching them providesa lot of excitement.
At this point Peter reviewed how to cast and pointed out where I should aim my line. Peter could see where the fish were based on the mud plumes they were creating as they moved along the bottom. On occasion I could see what he saw but Peter's trained eye certainly saw far more than I did.
My casting was not perfect by any means but I did get a few good ones to places reasonably near the target. On almost every cast Peter had a word of advice. Here are some of Peter’s tips for fly fishing and casting in partcular:
- Fly fishing stance. For a right-handed person the right foot should be forward.
- The overhead motion. The back and forth casting motion over your head only covers about 30°. The range of movement is about the same as if you were painting a ceiling. On the photo below my arm is too far back. If the line is not flying well you can make that motion a second time.
- Look back as you cast. As you're casting, when your arm moves to the back look back. I can't explain why this makes the cast more effective but it does.
- Strip the line. Once your line is cast give it a little tug to pull the line straight. This is called stripping the line.
- Watch the leader. With a straight line you can see whether a fish takes a bite, that is, if you have experience you can. Watch the leader and if there's movement, give the line a tug to try to set the hook.
- Repeat. Once your line has traveled downstream, repeat.
Yes, repeat. This is one of the things that I really liked about fly fishing. It's an active sport. (See Peter's video on swinging a fly in a small creek below.)
Women and Fly Fishing
It seems I'm not the only woman intrigued by fly fishing. Peter told me that women are joining the sport more quickly than men. I can see why as it's somewhat like solo travel. It can be quiet, contemplative and relaxing and then, suddenly exciting. In fly fishing most of the time is spent casting but once a hook is set you're in for a lot of excitement.
On the day I was out I didn't manage to set a hook on any of my casts however Peter cast a number of times then handed the rod to me. On one of those casts we got a carp on the hook, which I then lost fairly quickly. But it was a lot of fun while it lasted.
I wrote most of this post sitting on the fabulous porch of Lalor Estate Inn, Dunnville where I spent the night. After perfect weather for a day on the water, the evening served up more dramatic weather. Under the protection of the front veranda I watched a fantastic thunder storm pass through the area.
A perfect end to a perfect day.