For as long as I can remember I’ve been fascinated with fly fishing. I’m sure it started with seeing a young Brad Pitt in A River Runs Through It and the way he could cast a line. As I’ve gotten older, it’s been the grace, peace and connection to nature that’s continued to draw me in.
Last fall I decided 2017 would be the year I’d learn. Shortly after opening my Wild and Found instagram account I started following members of the fly fishing community. Many of the photographers shooting this sport are incredibly talented and the scenery is unreal.
I learned fairly quickly how small the community is and that there were some pretty awesome fishermen in the GTA. I was fortunate to come across Rob Reid who was an excellent resource and more than willing to help a newcomer enter into the community. He providing me with good recommendations on local outfitters and fly casting instructors.
I was set on experiencing the Grand River, so I connected with Grand River Outfitting and Fly Shop, who Rob highly recommended. They’ve been operating in Fergus, Ontario for over 15 years (the store for 3 of them) and are highly respected retailers, guides and instructors. Their team offers convenient Fly Fishing 101 classes for individuals and groups to learn about the sport; plus a wide variety of other more advanced technique lessons, as well as fly tying. (Check out their episode on The New Fly Fisher!)
Rob, Scott and Tania, co-owners of the shop, were super supportive in helping me plan. A group I’d organized were unfortunately flooded out on our first attempt in July, but my brother-in-law and I got out last weekend to squeeze in a lesson before the river’s season closes at the end of September.
We rose at the crack of dawn on Saturday to drive to Fergus. My sister and nephew had plans to spend the day in St. Jacobs. Rob and I were meeting professional fly casting instructor, Mikey Metcalfe, owner of Metcalfe Fly Casting.
Mikey has traveled the world fly fishing and is one of Ontario’s leading instructors. On top of that, he’s an incredibly nice guy and a staple in the fishing community.
After meeting at the shop, Mikey led us to a trailhead just outside of town. We geared up in waders and headed to the river. Rob and I were pretty excited!
It was an absolutely beautiful day and a far cry from the kind of weather that stopped us from getting out in July. Mikey told us how the heavy rains flooded out the entire river basin. So much so, the entire trail in the picture below was under water.
It was only a short walk to the river. I laughed as Mikey said hello and each and every fisherman and resident down at the water. Through the brush they’d yell back and forth, “Have you caught anything? Are you seeing anything?”
He told us the guys had been there since 9am the morning before and slept in their truck. They were taking advantage of the last few weekends available to fish the Grand. One would think they’re crazy, but these fishermen really love being out there that much!
Match the Hatch
We found our spot to learn about casting and the various types of flies used in the sport. To gain a better understanding of what we were attempting to do, Mikey asked Rob to get a rock from the water.
He pointed out the larvae squirming around and explained the stages they go through before they hatch. He then took out the flies he’d tied to imitate the same growth stages.
“Match the hatch” is a saying you hear all the time when people talk about fly-fishing. It’s all about knowing which kind of fly or insect is attracting the fish, what stage it’s at in the life cycle, where they’re situated in the water (river floor to above water) and imitating all of that with flies on your line.
It’s definitely more complicated than dropping a worm on hook and waiting for a fish to come along!
Seeing Mikey demonstrate this in person was a light bulb moment for me. Everything made more sense. I’ve spent the bulk of my life spin fishing with Mepps and Cyclops lures, or a baited hook. It’s absolutely amazing how tiny the flies are and how they’re still able to attract such impressive fish.
Relax and Enjoy
The art of fly casting (and it really is an art) is very different from spin casting. You’re not launching a heavy lure, so body movements are softer and more controlled. This is where grace comes in. It requires time, patience and a willingness to relax your body.
If you’re able to ease in to those changes, you’ll likely really enjoy the sport. I found it very meditative – once I got into the rhythm and stopped tangling myself with line!
It didn’t take long for Rob and I to get in our groove, so Mikey suggested we head down closer to Elora where the river widens and there’s more space.
They call it The Grand for a reason
I’d only been to Fergus once before this trip and was taken aback by the size of the river. Having just returned from a trip through Alaska and Yukon Territory, my perspective on scale is a bit skewed, but it’s still pretty impressive.
To get to the spot Mikey wanted us in we had to wade our way across the river and up the along the shoreline.
What looked like a calm river actually had a significant current running through it. It was a workout just making our way upstream. My legs were burning!
We crossed boulders and tip-toed through low spots. I was praying not to take that one wrong step the entire time even though Mikey was guiding me through.
There are definitely benefits to being taller than 5’3 while waist deep in a river!
Once we got ourselves situated, Mikey switched us over to streamer flies and I was a mess. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what I was doing wrong. Rob adjusted really well and seem to hit his stride. I learned later in the evening that it was the extra weight that I couldn’t get my cast around. I struggled for a good part of the afternoon.
Fishing makes fast friends
Rob and Mikey went off on their own to explore, while I tried to get my casting in check. When I’m trying to figure something out I usually prefer my quiet concentration, so that worked out perfectly for me. It was such a stunning afternoon I didn’t really care if I caught a fish. I was simply enjoying being out in nature in a way I had never experienced before.
I think that’s part of the allure of fishing. Whether you catch something or not, you’re still out there breathing in fresh air surrounded by beautiful sights and sounds.
We waded down the river, fishing different holes and around submerged boulders, then turned around to make our way back. I don’t think there was a fish in sight the entire time we were there, but that’s the way rivers go. Fly-fishing, unlike lake fishing, is very weather dependant. Fish aren’t always there for various reasons, like water temperature and time of year. Regardless, it was a perfect day to learn and have a good time outside.
Cheers to social hour
To celebrate a great day out, I brought along some new amber lager from Thornbury Brewery called Ladder Run. I admit I bought it because it was “on theme” for the day, with its fish jumping on the front, but it turned out to be a great beer!
We finished up and made our way back to Fergus. My family members left to drive home and Mikey invited me down to the river for what he called, “Social Hour”. This basically meant the time of day when everyone is waiting for the hatch to come so they sit and relax by the river.
We returned to where the day began. The guys from the morning (Leo, Matt and Tyler) were still (yes, still) on the river fishing when we arrived. Everyone was super welcoming and happy to see me out there learning a sport they were clearly passionate about.
Mikey continually joked that I wasn’t allowed to go back to the city until I caught a brown trout. I didn’t think my chances were all that high until Leo landed one only steps from where I was standing.
Only 15 minutes later, Tyler caught a trophy-sized brown on the other side of the river, albeit while relaxing on a chair. This formed the basis of jokes for the rest of the evening and reinforced Mikey’s opinion that Fergus was a stress-free town.
I can’t imagine a more stress-free fish caught than the one Tyler got. I’ll have to bring myself a chair next time.
Once we could see the fish were biting again, it was my turn to get out there. I waded into the river and Mikey put me back on dry flies. My casting earlier in the day was a mess of twisted line and absolutely no flow. That all changed once I returned to dry flies. It seems to come much more naturally to me.
Dry flies are called dry because they are meant to imitate bugs floating on top of the water. You can use them on their own, or you can add a liquid that coats the material to help them stay buoyant. It’s a lot lighter to cast but placing the fly (the way it lands on the water) becomes crucial. In order to attract the fish, it has to look natural and smooth otherwise the fish will not take it. I definitely prefer this method of fly fishing.
I spent the next couple hours trying to pay more attention to how I was casting, placing my fly, and listening to where I could hear fish jumping. I’d try to target those areas, which was super hard to do without being able to aim accurately, but nothing ever bit.
Understanding the techniques is one thing, successfully completing them will take time and practice. Anyone can do this though and it’s truly one of the most relaxing activities I have done in years.
A beautiful day turned into a beautiful evening. The sun went down before I caught that brown so Mikey was nice enough to let me go home. 🙂
There is a brown trout with my name on it in the Grand River, but I think I’ll have to wait for spring to meet it face to face.
For now, I will have explore new rivers and continue to try to learn more. Mikey jokes that I should quit before I get hooked because it’ll drive me insane. It’s already too late for that.
I can’t wait to get back out there.
Wild and Found
I’ve had a lot of friends interested in learning after seeing my photos, so I’ll plan to set up another day in the Spring.
If you’re interested in joining, leave a comment or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’ll post events on the events page when I’ve sorted out dates for upcoming outings.