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I was asked to be interviewed on the Fishing Guys podcast.
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Here's a short video I threw together of one of our favourite fisheries near Smithers, BC. Looking forward to spring!
Releasing my last fish of the 2014 season at Spatsizi Wilderness Lodge. Was great to have the last afternoon to myself and catch this beauty. The first run she took me 80 yards into my backing, then about 50 on her second run. Great fight on a 6 weight!
Can't wait until next year!
When your usual fishing spots, or lakes just don't seem to be fishing as they used to you have 2 options: 1) Find another location. Or 2) Figure out what the heck is going on.
In the past few weeks the lake on which I learned to fly fish still water has caused me much frustration. It has been very productive lake in the past, but as any lake always required some adaptation in fly presentation. However, this year it has been a struggle to catch fish in this lake. Never before had I gone longer than an hour without catching a fish, usually no more than 20 min.
Even the signs haven't been good. Ideal conditions, hatches coming off, and almost no fish rising. A creepy sight to behold when in the past it seemed as if there were always fish rising regardless of conditions.
I decided to try to find a new lake, while continuing to ponder what to do about my old fishing hole. So, off I went, rumours of a walk-in lake lead me up an old mountain road with my GPS, float tube, fly fishing gear and a roll of flagging tape.
Once I'd figured out where the road was nearest to the lake I parked the truck and walked in to mark a trail and make sure I could get in and out with my float tube. To my surprise, it was a very easy walk in and only about 150m off the road through the forest (albeit in an area I'd sighted Grizzlies previously). I made my way back to the truck, geared up and headed in.
In was a beautiful little lake and produced nearly a fish per cast near the small creek flowing in. Although they ranged in size from 6 to 10 inches, it was still a blast on the 4 weight. It was next to impossible to count to 3 after your fly landed on the water before you had a fish take it. After a couple hours playing with these wild rainbows 120m away from a feeding cow and calf moose, I decided to move on to another lake. But which one?
I had about 8 to choose from, but had a gut feeling about my usual lake. Previously I had been fishing it from 7 to 9ish and leaving because the fishing was rubbish. It was 8:30 pm when I arrived and being this far north I still had at least 3 hours of good light to fish. I decided to give it a try.
I carried my boat down to the edge of the lake and scanned the water. Saw 2 rises in one corner, so I decided to troll a fly in that direction. 30 minutes later I'd only seen 2 more rises and had no bites. It was mind boggling. But almost as if someone turned on a switch at about 9:15 pm the fish began to move cruising just below the surface sipping hatching insects as they went.
I made my way to my usual corner of the lake and decided to take full advantage of the situation. I tied on a small frog imitation and started hunting. I singled out one fish cruising near a patch of lily pads, stealthily put myself within casting distance, and launched my little frog about 8 feet away from him. All it took was 3 strips and FISH ON! A nice little 14 inch Rainbow trout was the first one to the boat. Oh, it was on!
I spent the next hour plus singling out fish and hunting them down with that little frog. The biggest was a 19 inch Cut Throat.
Persistence was key however. Some fish I cast to up to 8 times before they took the fly. What surprised me was not that they went for the frog, they love the frog, but that night they did not miss that frog! They engulfed it like they wanted it. Several fish later it was after 11 and getting dark. Piles of fish still rising, but not interested in the frog. I could have taken them with a small Caddis, or Parachute Adams, but I just had better froggin' than I'd ever dreamt of.
Never had I had so much fun with a frog and a 4 weight.
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It doesn't matter where you live, nearly all of us have to survive an off-season. Whether it be because of seasonal weather, or by regulation, most of us know the off-season as winter.
If you're like me, you clung onto the fall fishing like a cat hanging on a screen door. I know I wasn't the only one fishing after ice had started to build up along the edges of the Bulkley River late last November. However, I do think I was the only one breaking through the ice on the shores of a local lake with my waders in -5 Celsius to catch a few more cut throat before everything froze over entirely.
Unfortunately, however, every cat is eventually removed, or falls off (or through) that screen door and suddenly winter is upon us. It starts off alright with memories of the past fishing season still fresh; a little adrenalin left in our veins from those fish we will never forget, that discovery of that spot we can't wait to fish next year and for us fly tiers we look forward to having the time to stock up our fly boxes for next year.
As the winter wears on our focus begins to become more and more narrow because spring is coming. The days start getting longer, the snow begins to melt, and the most mentally and emotionally challenging time we as anglers face begins. At least this is how it is for me.
SAS or "Spring Anticipation Syndrome" kicks in. Our fly boxes are full, and when you try to tie more you end up sitting at your tying bench staring at an empty vice. It isn't that you don't know what to tie, but your mind is somewhere else.
In your head you're back on the river, your favourite hole, or perhaps a new hole, hooked up to a fish you can't imagine. When you come back to reality you decide that watching a fishing DVD, or program on TV will help. But it doesn't. Now you're fidgety, flailing your arms and mimicking fighting a fish as you imagine you're hooked into that fish you just saw on your TV.
At this point you either scream out loud, or proceed to sigh the deepest sigh of your entire life. Either way you cannot deny you have SAS, and bad!
Unfortunately, there is only one cure for SAS and it relies on winter ending, and spring taking over and the fishing to turn back on. Ultimately your SAS will not be cured until you do catch that first fish of the season. Last year mine was a nice little Rainbow Trout (pictured above) taken on a micro leech from a lake I hadn't tried before. It was a great feeling.
If you're still suffering from SAS, just remember, you're not alone, and it won't be too long before the fishing is back on. At least that's what I've been told is the right thing to say these situations.
If you are an avid fly fisher, you'll know what I mean when I talk about that moment of conversion. That one day you experienced fly fishing and said to yourself "This is the only way to catch fish!"
I like to believe that most of us who have had that experience can remember it. Whether it was at a young age when you watched someone close to fly fishing, or later on in life when you experienced it for yourself and your inner skeptic swam off like a freshly released fish.
I remember my conversion very clearly, and oddly enough, I had been fly fishing for a number of years before it. However, it came to that point where I knew that I knew fly fishing was the only way forward for me.
It was during my first trip to the Okavango River in Botswana. Catching Tigerfish on the fly was something I had dreamt about and finally was going to do. I was so determined to catch a tiger on the fly because a number of people had told me how impossible it was, and how miserable it was to have your palm burned while palming your fly reel on a running fish.
The first day I fished the Okavango I went out for just the a few hours. I had driven about 400 km that day, so just had the afternoon to fish. I thought I should feel these fish on the spinning rod before I try for them on the fly. You know, get an idea of what I was up for. So I rigged only my spinning rod and went out on the river with a local guide.
This was my first time on the Okavango and it was an awesome experience to drive along these channels walled in with 10 foot tall papyrus and reeds and pass by islands covered in palm trees with African Fish Eagles calling from them. It was paradise and I hadn't even wet a line yet.
My guide brought me to a hole, anchored and I started fishing. It wasn't long before I had caught my first tigers and lost a number of them as well. I was blown away by how strong they were. Every fish I hooked I imagined was at least double if not triple the size it was by the time I got it to the boat.
After a couple hours however it was time to head back to camp and after getting a small taste of those fish I couldn't wait to get my fly rod rigged up for the next day.
I can't remember if I slept at all that night I was so excited. Fly rod rigged, breakfast had, I was ready to go. I got in a boat with my guide, Smally, and all the drive in the world. I was going to get a tiger on the fly today!
8 hours later, I was exhausted and skunked! I knew catching a tigerfish on the fly was going to be a challenge, but really? Nothing all day? But I wasn't going to give up. Especially since Smally wouldn't let me touch my spinning rod. With a number of years experience guiding for tigers he had seen first hand how much more exciting it was to catch tigers on the fly and promised me it would happen the next day.
I slept better that night. I think mostly just because I was so exhausted and a little defeated. But I by the time I woke up that next morning my determination was back. Smally took me to the same area we had fished the previous day, where again I felt the hard hits of tigers, but never hooked up. It was then Smally was convinced the fish in that area were just too small and thus wouldn't stick to the 2/0 hook of my fly. But he had a trick up his sleeve.
Smally took me down a secondary channel past some of the most beautiful scenery I had ever seen. Islands, flood plains, and birds of every shape and colour all over the place. Eventually the secondary channel re-joined the main channel and it wasn't long after that Smally put me onto a small Catfish run. It didn't look like much at all, but after watching it for only a couple minutes we began to see bait fish being smashed on the surface by monsters with bright orange fins. Now was my chance!
I got up on the bow and dropped my fly a foot from the papyrus and started stripping like heck. Two strips and the line went tighter than tight and audibly cut through the water toward the main current as the tiger on the end of my line jumped in the middle of the river. I was on!
I think my body released every last drop of adrenaline into my veins as I realized I had a tiger on the fly! It's power was awesome and it's acrobatics unbelievable. I got the fish to the boat where Smally landed it and it was all smiles and high-fives. After a quick photo we released the 6lb tiger and I got back in the game. The very next cast I hooked up again! And that was it - "This is the only way to catch fish!"
I sincerely believe that God designed Tigerfish specifically for fly fishing. To feel their power, experience their agility, and awe at their acrobatics while hooked up with them, line in your hand, is an experience like no other. Since that moment I've had this experience over and over with many different species.
Whether carp, bass, salmon, steelhead, tigerfish, etc. there is something about fly fishing that seems to connect you to the fish that you experience them in a way that is more true to their design...
This is the only way to catch a fish.
Nearly every client I have had the privilege to guide have all asked me the same question - "how did you get into guiding?"
Admittedly it's a question that I love to answer. Not because I get to tell the story of how things happened, but because it always serves to remind me of my humble beginnings. Here's the short version of the story...
I graduated in 2004 with no idea of what I wanted to do with my life. After one year of college I found a short-term volunteer opportunity with a small organization in the country of Botswana. My reaction probably being the same as yours right now - Botswana? Is that in South America? It's not. Botswana is a small country right smack in the centre of southern Africa, directly north of the country of South Africa.
Of course the first thing I did when I decided to go was to see what kind of fishing was available there. Knowing that most of the country was arid savannah I had low expectations, but got pretty excited when I began to read about Tigerfish on the Okavango Delta.
I first landed in Botswana in April of 2006, but it wasn't until October 2008, when I desperately needed a vacation, that I finally made it to the Okavango Delta.
I will never forget driving 1200 km across the Kalahari desert in my Toyota Venture with no air-conditioning in 45 degree plus weather. Arriving on the banks of the Okavango after such a trip was something I will never forget.
I spent 5 and a half days fishing, and it was a dream come true to not only just see and experience the Okavango, but to get to fish it. It was truly a magical place.
The first day I was there I met a couple of fly fishing guides from South Africa. Each day in the evening I spent some time with them and got to know them. They were great, offering me a lot of advice, gave me some flies and even invited me to have dinner with them and their clients a few nights.
It was the evening before I left that I was having a drink with them at the bar and the head guide of the outfit, John, turned to me and said "Luke, why don't you come back next year and guide for us?"
I about fell off my stool. Me? A 22 year old kid from Canada guide on the Okavango river in Botswana, southern Africa? This can't be for real! But John meant it and the next year I began my fly fishing career guiding on the Okavango River.
I didn't ask for it, did nothing to deserve it, and never dreamt it could even happen, but it did. I spent the following 3 unforgettable seasons guiding with John who taught me more than I can ever thank him for.
Unfortunately, after the third season I had to come back to Canada to take care of my hip problems.
I don't know if I will ever make it back to guide on the Okavango, but would love to some day at least go back and fish it with a few friends.
Below is a small gallery of photos from that first trip.
5 years ago, half way through the 6 unexpected years I spent in southern Africa I began fly fish guiding for Tigerfish on the Okavango River in Botswana. It was a dream come true to start guiding, but more than a dream to be guiding over 16,000 kilometres from where I grew up.
I had an amazing head guide during the 3 seasons I worked there. John van den Berg of Mpafa Travel taught me more than I could have imagined I'd ever know about the Okavango, it's fish and wildlife. It was some of the best times of my life, and those memories will never fade.
2 years ago I was forced to come back to Canada as the hip problems I grew up with came back to haunt me. It was time to get them taken care of again.
I initially had one replaced late 2012 and thought I could manage with just that. Unfortunately, having only one hip done put me horribly off balance and gave me major back problems forcing me to leave a guiding job in the Spatsizi Wilderness and having to cancel my last opportunity to return to guide on the Okavango for Tigerfish.
It's been a very long and tough physical and emotional process, but March 5th, 2014 I had my second hip replaced, and can finally start to look forward.
On my 28th birthday, 6 days after the procedure, I was back home laying on my bed, when our neighbour from a few houses down came by for a visit. Bob Hull and his wife Jill have run a fly fishing operation on the Bulkley River for Steelhead for a number of years called Steelhead Excurisions.
Bob came by not only just to chat, but to offer me a job guiding with him this year on the Bulkley River. I had to think over a few things, but later called him back to say I'd take the job.
For over half my life I always thought it'd be cool to be a fly fishing guide. And that dream came true 16,000 km away from where I am sitting writing this. However, as fate would have it things have come full circle and this fall I will be guiding here based out of my home town of Smithers BC, Canada. I will also be returning to guide in the Spatsizi July and August.
I am incredibly grateful for those who helped me get to where I am despite the physical challenges I've faced.
Major thanks to John at Mpafa travel, as well as Billy Labonte and the Collingwoods at the Spatsizi Wilderness Lodge.