Fly Fishing a relaxing, rewarding retreat Summer School by Jennifer Pagliaro Staff Reporter
After two decades, I’ve never had to work for my food. But peering over the edge of the algae-and-weed infested trout pond, I hear the call.
After two decades, I’ve never had to work for my food. That is, of course, if you don’t count a full day of shopping after which any sane city slicker would feel they’ve earned at least a burrito. But peering over the edge of the algae-and-weed infested trout pond, I hear the call. Hunt. Forage. Survive. My first day fly fishing is actually my first day fishing ever.
Then came test time. We had to catch our lunch from one of the ponds. And even though it was not exactly like we were on the 10th day of a canoe trip and the food ran out after day seven, we felt a certain amount of pressure to pass. And we all did, even the guy who had quite a laugh at the start of the day when he was told he would he fishing with a "nymph". We continued to fish while Murray took the trout back to the instructor's cottage and cleaned and cooked them for us.
I’ve signed up for the beginner’s class at Murray’s Fly Fishing School operating out the Primrose Trout Farm in Shelburne, Ont. — more than an hour north of the city lights, past roadside signs for sweet corn and homemade burgers.
I arrive at the A-frame cabin through a forest off a small dirt road with only a borrowed Blue Jays baseball cap and sunglasses. Our teacher, Murray Abbott, greets me on the wooden stairs decked out in a packed fisherman’s vest, various tools hanging from the pockets, and a true Tilley hat with a gold hook over the brim.
Lunch won’t be so easy, he warns.
Inside the chilly cabin, the three other students and I get start learning the basics, including equipment we’ll need to be successful fisherman as Abbott demonstrates the various types of rods, reels, lines and lures.
He’s a straightforward man, which makes him a good teacher, skilfully summing up what would take several books to explore.
He’s honest about what gear is overpriced or unnecessary and when to invest in long-lasting tools — definitely get the metal reels, they last longer.
Other common mistakes include buying line that is neon orange, which for some reason is the most popular colour in tackle shops.
Murray says it’s important a beginner can see their line so they can track what they’re doing, but a less harsh peach colour will do just fine.
Unlike fishing with bait — such as worms — fly fishing requires both outdoorsman knowledge and artful disguise.
“We’re trying to imitate what a fish would naturally eat,” Abbott explains.
The “fly” is a small lure attached to a hook at the end of your line that is designed to resemble whatever fish are used to feeding on, from small insects to weasels.
“A fly fisherman with a good fly can outfish a bait fisherman,” said Ken Geddes, our second instructor for the day. Geddes has multiple angler association patches sewed to the back of his vest, so I’m quick to believe he’s on to something.
It all depends where you’re fishing and what time of year it is, but lucky for us, Abbott has fashioned a comprehensive reference guide for a beginner to keep track.
Inside small cases, Abbott has dozens of flys stored for any occasion, skilfully designed to look like minnows, green drakes and even miniature mice, which apparently become meals for brown trout as they frantically try to swim across stream.
After the lesson comes dry land casting practice.
I select my weapon — a slender green rod — and head out to an open patch of grass.
First we get a feel for how to move our rods back and forth, standing 45 degrees parallel to the line we are making so we can watch as the equipment does the work for us, the rod slinging the line back and forth.
“If you have a good line, you will cast far,” Abbott tells us.
However, if you’re aggressively snapping your wrist back and forth like me, your line will end up tangled and you’ll probably get the hook stuck in your clothes, trees, weeds and even your finger.
As I start to get the hang of this first skill, Abbott adds another — holding slack line in my free hand and using it as a catch and release system as I swing my arm to let my line fly.
If all goes well on the final release, the long line will roll out onto the water with the fly making a small ‘plop’ before sinking in to find its catch.
With the help of both instructors offering one-on-one tips to improve our stance and hand motions, we move on to the next task — catching lunch.
Abbot has promised we’ll catch something today, but I think what he means is, you catch something, or you don’t eat.
Standing on the bank of the rainbow trout pond, I can see lunch swimming everywhere and I’m getting hungry.
Feet planted. Slack line drawn. Glide back. Glide forward and release. Glide back. Glide forward and release. Plunk.
I dip my reel towards the water and begin tugging on the line the way Abbott showed us to mimic the movements a real leech would make in the water.
I’m so focused on these steady movements I’m not expecting the tug on the other end. Then splashing.
I’ve hooked one. And I’m hooked.
With the help of Geddes, I reel in my catch, which he expertly scoops with a net. He hands it over to me like a small child.
On the first try it slips out of my hand like a bar of soap and lies, looking up at me, on the grass.
After holding it for a moment, Abbott whisks the glistening fish into the cabin.
Next time I see it, it’s wrapped in tin foil soaking in butter, lemon and fish spice.
Abbott peels off a whole filet and plops it onto my paper plate and I smell sweet, hard-earned success.
It’s far too much for one person to eat, so I offer some up to Geddes, my helpful instructor.
“I don’t eat fish,” he says laughing.
A true sportsman through and through.
If you would like more information on the course click here. Visit the Course Information or Primrose Trout Farm if you would like more information . To learn more about Murray's Fly Fishing School, or to book a class, contact Murray: