There are stretches on several rivers in South/Western Ontario that create the illusion of being in a remote, pristine wilderness setting despite the fact they run directly through or are adjacent to large urban centres.
The Saugeen, Maitland and Grand Rivers all have stretches that, while absent any obvious signs of civilization, are rich in wildlife, and boast an incredible variety of bird species.
You will see Purple Martins darting in every direction as they pick off unsuspecting insects right out of the air. There are Great Blue Herons who, along with the occasional fisherman, wade and fish along the riverbanks. Vultures, Red Tail Hawks and songbirds too numerous to mention are in abundance, and Bald Eagles have been known to put in an occasional appearance.
Together with good friend Wallace and our river guide Ken Collns, we planned to fly fish a stretch of the Grand River for native Rainbow Trout. If by chance some Brown or Speckled Trout were to come our way, we would have to tough it out and perhaps catch a few of those as well.
He is an excellent teacher, and I think it’s fair to say something of a perfectionist. There are times when it feels very much like being in Fly-Fishing Boot Camp while you are under his watchful eye. He keeps you on your toes, and is constantly giving you tips and instructions, so there is no question about what he expects you to do, and when he expects you to do it.
The first time I fished with Ken, quite frankly, I found him to be something of a pain in the neck, but soon came to realize that his approach was designed to make me a better fly fisherman, and put as many fish as possible on my line. During the relatively brief time we have spent together my fly fishing skills have improved considerably, we always catch fish, and I have come to thoroughly enjoy his company and appreciate his skill.
We fished out of a specially designed “float” boat, which features padded seats, casting platforms, and what I can best describe as a “pulpit,” located both fore and aft, that you can wedge yourself into when standing to cast or fight a fish. Power is provided by the current, two guide-operated oars, and when we hit a shallow spot, Ken simply hopped into the water and pulled us along. There is plenty of storage for all your gear, and it would be hard to imagine a boat better suited to this type of fishing.
Once on the river we started fishing nymphs. A drop line, with several pieces of small split shot was attached about twelve inches above the nymph to keep our presentation on or near bottom, and a strike indicator was added further up the line. We hadn’t been fishing for more than five minutes before I hooked a very nice Rainbow, that we all got a very good look at as it waved goodbye during its initial jump. I then managed to land two small “bows,” followed by one in the four to five pound range that Ken coaxed into the net after a very spirited fight, featuring some serious aerobatics. In fact every fish we caught, regardless of its size, gave a very good account of itself.
Wallace in the meantime was not faring all that well, and was zero for three during his initial time in the “pulpit.” Given the type of presentation required, it was something of a challenge for both of us to cast simultaneously while at the same time trying to avoid catching each other. As I had already caught three fish and missed a couple of others, the rules of angling etiquette demanded that I put down my rod until he either caught a fish, or ceded the river back to me.
Wallace is a lawyer, and a damn good one at that. His extremely competitive nature came to the fore during a previous outing, when after getting snagged he handed me his rod because I had a better angle on where he was hooked up, and therefore was in a better position to deal with the snag. Not only did I manage to save his fly, I hooked a fish while stripping his line back in! Wallace immediately demanded that I return his rod, and the look on his face suggested that if I didn’t comply, he would commence legal proceedings forthwith. With that in mind, you can see why observing proper etiquette was extremely important.
We continued to fish nymphs, and Ken switched Wallace over to a rod with a sinking line. He managed to catch a couple of small “bows,” and I added two more to my total. We then came to an area where we could see fish rising, so Ken switched us over to dry flies. We were not having any luck and Ken, who appeared to be on a first name basis with most of the insects on the river, constantly kept changing our flies, trying to match what the trout were feeding on – but unfortunately, we didn’t appear to have the right flavour.
While keeping a close eye on the insect life, I saw Ken point and say “Grey Fox” a number of times. Initially I was under the impression that he was referrring to a unique member of the fox family, so each time he pointed, I frantically scanned the shore line in hopes of getting a look at this elusive creature. Not seeing anything remotely resembling a fox, it finally dawned on me that Ken was pointing at a very small insect, that otherwise serves as trout food.
While most of the fishing in Southern Ontario now takes place within an urban environment, with many fish species coming from a hatchery, there are still a few places in our own backyard where, for at least a few hours, you can imagine being miles from civilization while catching native fish.
A number of forward thinking anglers, associations and conservation authorities have worked very hard to preserve these rivers and the resident fish population, so we can enjoy the occasional foray into the urban wilderness.
As we were floating downstream, Ken would check out some areas along the shoreline to see if the Smallmouth Bass had moved into their traditional spawning areas. We saw some huge bass, and plans are underway to fish the Grand,, or perhaps one of the other rivers with surface poppers once the season opens. I have no doubt that after several hours under Ken’s direction, I will become an accomplished popper fisherman.
By the way, if Muskie are your passion, and if you have always dreamed about catching one on a fly rod, the Grand River is one place pretty close to home that can make that dream come true.