Floating on the banks of the Morell River is a fly that, upon close inspection, looks nothing like a fly. But while a human can tell, a trout can’t if Cameron Ross gets it right.
“You’re mimicking the flies that the fish eat,” said Ross, an angling guide who has frequented the river for decades. “For Prince Edward Island, one of our main hatches that comes out all summer is mosquitoes, so I tie a fly that looks like a mosquito. It’s pretty small and you catch a lot of fish.”
The fake mosquito is one of Ross’ main tools as a fly fisherman, a type of angling that uses lightweight lures called flies, as opposed to live bait.
“[With] a bobber and a worm, you throw it in there and just wait for the bobber to come down,” said Craig Ono, who has run a fly fishing business as a sort of retirement gig since moving to Prince Edward Island a few years ago.
“Fly fishing is different in a way. You always cast the fly there… There are different kinds of flies. There are flies that rest above the water, flies which are sort of in the middle of the water column, and then there are basically flies that you can drag along the bottom as well.
“There are a lot of techniques involved in finding where the fish are feeding in the water column. And then choosing which fly they’re going to take.”
The province’s angling season kicked off April 15 and will continue until late fall. For fly anglers the main catch right now is trout, but at the end of the season they will be out in the rivers looking for salmon.
For fly-fishing guides like Ono and Ross, this season is especially important, after two years of near inactivity due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was very slow. But now this year is opening up,” Ono said. “I can easily do 100 trips on the river a year. It’s just for the clients. And then I’m still out there on the river. So I could spend 150 days on the river, easily.”
Master the technique
Ono said many of his clients are couples who have no previous experience but want to try their hand at the sport.
“I’m going to teach them the different types of flies,” Ono said. “There’s the basic cast, that’s very important. And the way you present the fly is also very important. If you have your fly hitting the water all the time hitting the water, it’s going to scare the fish… So you want it to land very naturally, like a moth or a fly would naturally land in water.”
Good fly fishing technique requires a soft touch, Ono said. Knowledge of the river, wildlife and good observation skills are also a plus.
“You’re almost hunting. You’re trying to figure out where the trout are hiding,” Ross said.
“The brook trout, they don’t like to be out in the open too much. There are eagles and ospreys here looking for them, so often they hide under an overhanging tree or a steep bank. down below, and then in the summer 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.
Know your flies
Avid fly anglers should also know what type of fly is required on any given occasion.
“I had a guy from the States. He was probably around 75…I think he had about six or seven books in his pocket. And each book had about 200 flies in it,” Ross said.
“As soon as that fly hit the water, it was like, ‘Oh, I’m thinking about two inches too short or four inches too far. And then he hit the part of the creek where he knew the fly was going to pass the exact same spot. He caught hundreds of fish that day. It was just amazing to watch.
Most fly anglers tie their own flies, some of which are based on patterns passed down from generation to generation. Ross usually carries over a hundred different types of flies with him in different colors and sizes. Some proven models include Adams, Caddis and Mosquito.
However, fly selection is not an exact science. Anglers will have their own preferences on which models to use on different occasions – and they certainly have the ability to add their own style.
“I’m going to take some red silk thread and I’m going to tie it around the bottom,” Ross said. “It’s actually like the red ass [of a female mosquito], to imitate that he has already sucked blood. It seems to work a bit better for me. I think red is kind of an attractive color anyway.”
Ross has been fishing since childhood, having spent most of his summers in Prince Edward Island before moving to the province in the 1970s. At the time, fly fishing was not as popular on the island, and it was only at the age of 20 that he decided to try this sport.
“I didn’t have a lot of education 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 an article on how to fly fish,” he said.
“I don’t even know where I am [a fly rod] to be honest with you. It wasn’t the best, it was just a cheap one and I just started with it and got my casting done. I practiced in the yard for a while before going to the creek.”
Ono said other forms of angling are more accessible to beginners, which is one reason the sport isn’t as popular.
The two tour guides hope to boost the appeal of the sport. Ross does not charge under 16s as long as they are accompanied by an adult. And Ono is looking to launch tour packages aimed at women.
Ono said that whether he’s fishing with other people or relaxing on his own, the main appeal of fly fishing is that it connects him to nature in a way that few activities can. do it.
“I was out in the fall. [The leaves were] in full color. And I don’t even know if I caught a fish that day, but the solitude and just hearing the water was the perfect day,” he said. “For me, it’s not always about catching fish. It’s just getting out there and, you know, being in touch with nature.”