At 17 years old I didn’t know a lot, but I knew that my world was consumed by the art of fly fishing. I found out pretty quickly that fishing 3-7 days a week gave me piles of experience, but I definitely wasn’t gaining any income doing it. I would scroll enviously through photos of my friends that were guiding all over the world. Imagine just putting on your waders on a picture perfect morning in a remote location, heading off for 8 hours a day and getting paid to fish! Life of a guide, right? Wrong. Okay the remote location part may be true in some scenarios and you do get some picture perfect days (along with a healthy dose of the complete opposite), but this is not a job that allows you to fish every day, or even every week.
You do get to be on the water every day, except you are not the one with a rod in hand. Being a guide means being a teacher, not a fisherman. Being an effective angler comes into play only in the manner that you can relay the information to your guest on exactly what they should be doing given the situation. There are days that everything seems to go your way, and there are days when everything seems to go against you.
So you’re floating down a pristine river, but your guests can’t cast 10 feet nor do they take kindly to your instruction? Or there’s no bugs hatching, the barometer is in the basement and the fish have turned off like a light switch while the only thing you hear is the silence of your guests wondering why they’re not bent over on the fish of a lifetime? Maybe you’re floating into a set of Volkswagon sized boulders while trying to release a fish or untangle a leader while making sure your boat is still on line? Or how about you just watched someone miss multiple solid opportunities at good fish in a row then complain that it’s slow fishing out there? Looks like might have a real job on your hands now.
Often, guiding is done through lodges. Lodges are great, usually far away from cell phone service and all the other complications of everyday life, but it comes at a price. You will work 7 days a week, you will work long hours, you will probably get in trouble for a few things along the way but that’s the way it is. It will make you a better guide and worker in general. Don’t think for a second that because you’re a guide you’re too good to have to wash dishes, shovel shit, fix fences, shop-vac sawdust off the lawn, dig a ditch across a firm gravel road with a pulaski, thread 100ft of electrical cord through 1″ pipe with a chunk of re-bar duct taped to the end while you curse your life, chop wood so your guests stay warm at night, scrub toilets, load a dozen bags of leaking garbage, so on and so forth, because you’re not too good for any of these. Lodges do not hire a large number of employees so even though you’re a guide this doesn’t mean guiding is all you’ll do.
Though I’ve probably made it sound like the worst job in the world by now, but let me assure you there are fewer ways I would rather spend my day than taking people fly fishing. Being able to start your workday by opening the throttle on a jet boat and feeling the wind in your face beats the living hell out of getting stuck in rush hour traffic, and seeing someone experience moments in fly fishing that they will never forget is an amazing feeling knowing that you played a small part in it. I have no other way to say that I am utterly obsessed with teaching people how to fly fish.
You will meet people that will turn from guests into close friends, fellow guides that will become your family, and gain a new appreciation for the outdoors, but don’t expect it to be the glamorous life it may look like in pictures. It is work, it will bring you to amazing places for periods of time which means it will also rob you of seeing friends & family for part of the year which is the hardest part. Can you work 12+ hours a day for months at a time? Can you keep a level head when every possible thing seems to work against you? Can you swallow the idea of putting down your fly rod for months at a time to help other people figure out how to use theirs? If these things don’t deter you then it might be a good fit. Guiding is an amazing job, puts a decent amount of money in your bank and carves you out a very active and enjoyable lifestyle. Last but not least, always wear a PFD.
When most people think of shopping small business vs. big box they think spending more money. My experience with big box stores is not what products they lack, there is definitely no shortage of gear on the shelves, but in service.
When you purchase from a specialty fly shop, you are getting a quality product that is often backed by lifetime unconditional warranty. Never, ever invest in a rod (collectors aside) that isn’t guaranteed with a solid warranty because sadly $1,200 fly rods break just as often as $200 fly rods. Graphite gets bruised, tips get broken during transport, it happens.
Fly shops are dedicated to one thing and one thing only.
Specialty shops don’t specialize on fishing, biking, automotive, hiking and hockey equipment, they focus on fly fishing and fly fishing only. Their staff are selectively chosen, receive extensive training on product knowledge and know what they’re talking about when they’re selling you a product. If you need something particular ordered in, most shop owners have solid relationships with most companies and will make getting the product into your hands as soon as possible a priority.
Getting innapropriate gear right off the bat will create an immediately frustrating experience, don’t make it any harder than it is. If you’re going to a trip somewhere new, shops will be able to get you specifically outfitted for where you’re heading.
Aside from this, fly shops are usually locally owned operations. When you purchase locally, you’re helping the owner put food on the table instead of paying a CEO’s 4th exotic vacation of the year. Whether you have fly fished your whole life or just considering getting into the sport, support your local shop!
The cool, cloudy days of June bring the most epic mayfly fishing imaginable. Mayflies spend a majority of their life as nymphs, and begin to hatch in good numbers as the water temperature climbs up and over 60 degrees. Big rainbows will cruise the flats picking them off one by one, and can bring on some fast and furious action with both floating & sinking lines.
Knowing where to look in a mayfly hatch is half the battle. By far the best mayfly fishing will take place in fairly shallow water, usually in ten feet of water or less. When fish get keyed in on eating mayflies, they will cruise the flats foraging for them.
Mayfly nymphs can be easily fished under an indicator exactly how you would fish a chironomid pupa. Set your depth within a few feet of the bottom, make a cast and let it sit static until the indicator goes under. A very effective method for fishing mayflies under an indicator is casting perpendicular to the breeze and allowing your line to naturally dead drift at the speed of the wind.
This is hands down my favourite way to fish mayfly nymphs. My leader is made of 3 feet of 12lb fluorocarbon, to three feet of 10 pound fluorocarbon, down to my tippet that is generally 6lb test. Tapering your leader will make the sink rate a little bit more gradual, as opposed to naked line chironomid fishing where I will run a straight shot of 6 pound fluorocarbon. Make your cast slightly quartering downwind and allow it to sink for an appropriate time in relation to the depth of water you are fishing. If you feel the fly hanging up on bottom then lessen your countdown by at least 5 seconds. it’s good to be close to bottom but you never actually want your fly on the bottom of the lake. Once you start retrieving, keep it slow. I mean painfully slow, and very relaxed hand twist retrieve is all you need.
Intermediate sinking lines are very effective for fishing mayfly nymphs. Most fly line manufacturers make these lines, my favourite are the “hover” style lines that sink at 0.5-1″ per second which allows me to still fish very shallow water but without the wake that is created by a floating line. I rig a 9 foot leader off of these lines, built the same as I would for fishing a naked dry line.
Fishing mayfly nymphs right on the edges of a transition from deep to shallow water is very effective. Fish will often use these transitions to come up from the deep and feed for a short period of time before returning back to the depths. It’s very exciting watching a school of huge rainbows come up to cruise a shoal looking for food, but also demands flawless presentation to avoid spooking them. My favourite way to do it is actually anchoring and casting parallel with the ledge, positioning my fly line so it is right on the dropoff.
In an ideal world there would be a mandatory informational printout with every fishing license sold, explaining the do’s and don’ts when it comes to respecting other anglers on the water. It does not matter how great of a fisherman you are (or aren’t), it doesn’t give you to right to pull unethical tricks to try and get in on the action. Chances are if someone came and anchored right next to your boat you would question it, so don’t pull it on other people.
Don’t pull up to the launch and decide it’s time to organize your fly boxes, put your rods together or tie on new leaders. If your boat is on a trailer then stop and get everything ready before backing up to put your boat in the water. It’s obviously necessary to put anchors in the locks, hook up your battery or get your oars in, but don’t take a month of Sundays taking up the boat launch.
Nothing is worse than having a boat pull in and anchor at an unreasonably close distance. This happens often when someone is doing well, a boat will magically sneak in and drop anchor while there’s a fish being played or released. A good rule of thumb is not to anchor within 100 feet, or the length of a fly line (a full line, not how far you can cast) to another boat. Big fish run a long ways sometimes, be courteous of other people’s space.
If I had a dime for every time I heard someone yell this at another boat from across the lake I would buy myself a new boat. If someone is having a substantially better day than everyone else, they obviously took the time and effort to dial it in. Rowing up to someone’s boat and asking what fly they’re using is incredibly off limits, as is asking from a distance across the lake while someone has a fish on. Maybe if you get talking at the boat launch you can politely ask but on the water is not the place or time to do it.
This is more of a general rule of thumb but nobody likes seeing a big fish go into the floor of the boat, even if it’s being released. If you’re going to retain the fish then omit this but if you’re practicing catch and release especially on a trophy lake, lean over the side of the boat and keep the fish in the net the whole time.
Remember, if you’re having a great day then all the power to you but it does not mean you are better than everyone else. Don’t go out of your way to flaunt that you’re having success. There’s no need to be the guy that yells “FISH ON!” every 3 minutes, nobody cares but yourself and people around you will shortly be aware that you’re hooked up whether you make a point of it or not. It never hurts to help someone that is clearly new or struggling either, good karma goes a long ways.
Thanks for reading and until next time happy fishing!
I’m writing this after coming off a very perplexing but successful day that took place yesterday. We started the morning in the same spot we had great success the day before. The hatch was in full swing, but fish were sparse to say the least. All the flies that had worked the day before, at the same depth, did not seem to be putting out the fast and furious action of the day previous.
In a bit of a last ditch effort I broke down the rod with a strike indicator on it and threw a naked floating line of just 19ft of leader with a size 18 chironomid pupa. While I was still waiting for the fly to sink, the rod buckled over in the holder. A nice 20″ rainbow to hand, I figured I had fluked it so I made another cast the same as the one before. Sure enough, another hot fish climbed on. This whole time the indicator line stayed fishless with the same pattern suspended 16′ below the surface. The day proceeded to be the same, with a ratio of over 6:1 with the naked floating line to the indicator.
To effectively fish the naked line chironomid, rig your leader roughly the depth of the water give or take 10% generally erring on the longer side. From here I make a bit longer than normal cast and set the rod in the holder for around a minute. Lots of times they will hit it was the fly is still sinking or drifting in the wind, but after you feel it’s gotten down to desired depth begin a painfully slow hand twist retrieve. The nice thing about naked line fishing is you get to feel the initial grab, which is sometimes as though you tied your fly onto the back of a semi truck. Don’t be afraid to fish your fly all the way back to the boat either as they often hit it right under your rod tip.
Thank you for reading and remember it’s okay to get naked on the lake once in a while. If you have any questions on this method feel free to drop me an email or leave a comment below. Until next time happy fishing!
A while back dedicated a whole article to my buddy Murphy, he isn’t a real person but seems to join me on almost every fishing trip. If you’ve never heard of Murphy’s Law then I probably sound like schizophrenic maniac right now, so maybe google that before continuing any further. The sun was shining, my fiance and I decided it was a good day to head stillwater fishing knowing that our lake season only has a couple weeks left before it’s time to head off to work.
“Oh god…” I slammed on the brakes and put my head between my hands. One of the saddest sights in the world is looking in the rear view mirror to realize that you left the oars at home one hour away. I am a little old school and prefer to row instead of use a motor but this day the whole motor thing sounded quite nice. Motors can’t be as hard to forget as oars? I’m not blaming this one on Murphy, I’m blaming it on my own stupid self.
Thankfully we had some friends camping at the lake and managed to get two short canoe paddles in our hands. Nothing looks much more humorous than seeing two people paddling a ten foot jon boat paddling like Huckleberry Finn from a standing position. It was funny until I hit myself in the bill of the cap with the top of my paddle, into the lake went my hat along with the only pair of polarized sunglasses I had with me. A few curses later and I gained my composure, accepting the fact I would be doing a little more squinting that day. Thank you Murphy. We anchored up and I was just getting ready to put on a new fly. Want to know what works great for cutting leader material? Clamps with built in cutters. Want to know the worst place to leave clamps with built in cutters? On the seat of your truck. Luckily I had a couple extra multi-tools in my gear bag so we got the lines in the water and I took a nice deep breath.
Next thing I know the wife is putting on a clinic, one fish after another as fast as she can get her line in the water and some big ones too. Here I was, with the same fly at the same depth watching her lay the boots to them as though it were the easiest thing in the world. Okay well something must be up, I check her leader and depth and sure enough we are matched up identically. Murphy must have coated my fly with orange peel or sunscreen scent when I was not paying attention. This wasn’t just for the first hour, this continued all day long. I scraped up a few but not even remotely close to the absolute debauchery that ensued on the end of her line.
The icing on the cake was the most miraculous tangle I’ve ever seen, we were both casting at the same time and somehow my size 16 chironomid managed to go inside the first guide at the end of her rod and wrap itself violently around both the fly line and rod blank. Some things you just laugh off and continue going about your day without searching for any sort of an explanation.
Maybe the more I think I believe in Murphy’s Law, the more I notice little things that somehow find a way to go wrong? Or maybe I’m not crazy and I actually am haunted by some entity that only seems interested in joining me when I’m fly fishing? As always thank you for reading, and remember not to let Murphy ruin your day even if he knocks your favourite sunglasses in the water!
I find myself seemingly content with the current season, but slowly becoming more and more for the one coming up next as it will be another refreshing start to a whole new form of fishing. British Columbia offers an incredible array of angling options, perhaps one of the most versatile places in the world. We have everything from all 5 species of Pacific salmon and massive winter run steelhead to pike, walleye and sturgeon fishing. Calling ourselves lucky would be an understatement, there is always something new and exciting to try your hand at on any given month of the year. Everyone’s will vary a bit, but here’s exactly what I get excited for each month.
January: January is the darkest, coldest & most depressing month of the year but that doesn’t mean it has to be spent indoors. Fresh winter run steelhead are entering in solid months during January, rarely will you hit dark or coloured up fish but it comes at a cost. Generally speaking January is the coldest water month, making it very hard to make fish move to a swung fly. The rewards are there, and if you fish hard enough you will eventually hit a fish but don’t expect to put a licking on them every time out (unless you get really dirty and resort to float fishing like myself). January is a grind, but the chance to make some incredible memories on the water is there.
February: February is just a slightly warmer, slightly less depressing month than January. The latter end of February usually yields the first decent warm spell of the year, but don’t get yourself thinking that winter is over just yet because it will come back to prove you wrong in mid-April. February offers excellent winter steelhead, cutthroat & char fishing in coastal rivers along with a few other options for trout fishing with a swung fly in the interior. I have seen lakes ice off in February, but don’t count on it. This is a time of year I recently fell in love with flats fishing. You can grind it out in the cold here, or you can get a relatively cheap flight somewhere warm and spend a couple weeks chasing bonefish, permit & resident tarpon. Do yourself a favour and go, there is nothing quite like it.
March: March is my favourite month for winter steelhead fishing. Water is fairly warm, fish are in good numbers and very willing to eat a swung fly. Tons of fresh fish still enter the systems in March, and angling pressure seems to decline quite a bit. March also brings the first of the ice-off on some low elevation lakes. Don’t expect fishing to be lights out, but on a warm year it can be quite good towards late March.
April: April continues to be a great month to catch a winter run steelhead on the fly, it is also when a lot of stillwater fishing begins to take off. Especially on a warm year, low elevation lakes will be in full swing by the middle of April. Good chironomid hatches, steady numbers of happy fish and slightly steadier weather than March.
May: Recently we covered what to expect in each month of stillwater fishing, and May was listed as the prime of the stillwater season for good reason. May offers steadier weather, less crowds due to angling pressure beginning to disperse itself throughout new lake options, and great hatches. If you were to travel to BC for one month of lake fishing, it would be May. Some higher elevation lakes will just be icing off in early May, but by the end of the month expect just about anywhere to be fishing well in one way or another.
June: June continues to be a great month for stillwater fishing. Lakes will all be turned and the higher elevation lakes (3,500+ feet) will begin to really shine. Chironomids will be in full swing on those rivers, while some lower elevation lakes will begin to cook off. Most rivers are closed or in full freshet, but some clean up better than others and can offer some great dry fly fishing.
July: July is when the boat gets tucked away for the most part and other territories are explored. Before guiding took over my summers, I would spend most of July fishing Chinooks or chasing the stonefly hatch on interior rivers. Lots of stillwater options are still available, especially “bomber” (extra large chironomid) hatches in certain lakes.
August: August can be a really tricky month thanks to a combination of heat & lack of precipitation. Most lakes enter doldrum mode, where the water becomes too warm for any solid hatches and fish don’t have a whole lot to key in on for the most part. It is a heavy suggestion to leave most lakes alone in August due to high mortality rate in very warm water. Some very high elevation lakes will fish well in August, but there are so many options for river fishing that I wouldn’t go out of my way to lake fish in August. On odd years the Fraser River drainage receives an abundant run of pink salmon that are a great time on a 6 weight fly rod for those that have never salmon fished before. Easy fishing, decent size (3-8lb) fish and tons of fish in a day makes it a great way to ease the learning curve of catching salmon on a fly.
September: September is when everything starts to happen again. We begin to see our first frost, fall Chinook & Coho begin entering the river in better numbers and summer run steelhead are in full swing in all sorts of magical places. September also offers many opportunities for stillwater fishing as the temps begin to drop overnight. September can also offer the first of opportunities for “beading” (more on that another day) for rainbows and bull trout that are following spawning salmon in search of eggs.
October: If I could pick one month per year to fly fish in BC, it would be October. Stillwater fishing is back in full swing, coastal rivers are loaded with big bright salmon and summer/fall run steelhead, bead fishing for gargantuan sized rainbows is in it’s prime, October is truly magical. You could theoretically have great chironomid fishing, catch a steelhead on a dry and land all 5 species of salmon in one week during October.
November: November would be a close 2nd behind October. Most stillwater fisheries are wrapped up or will be (usually) quite spotty in November, but there are so many other things to keep you busy. Steelhead fishing is amazing in November, salmon fishing continues to be really good especially for coho & fresh chums.
December: Salmon die off, all lakes are frozen and we experience our first really good cold snap of the year. I used to love spending my Decembers on the Thompson, but there are plenty of opportunities around the province. The first of the winter run steelhead begin to make their way into freshwater in the month of December, and the beautiful process begins all over.
This article is written from a personal point of view. By no means did I showcase each and every fishery that is available each month, this is just a list of where I choose to spend my time fishing around the province.
Altitude is one of the first things considered before a day of fishing. High altitude lakes are the only ones that can withstand blistering heat, while low elevation lakes are a good option on cold days and early in the season when the weather is most unpredictable. A great example would be this time of year, early June when we begin to see some of our first real heat waves.
Heat waves are a double edged sword, they will kickstart some lakes that are high elevation while they can quickly spike the water temperature past its prime on low elevation fisheries. Once a lake gets over 65 degrees I choose to leave it alone and keep moving up in elevation. Sometimes a cold front will drop surface temperature and bring things back into shape for a period of time.
If you visit a lake that is 3,000 feet in elevation only to find out it is well past a good water temperature, you can most likely write off most lakes in a similar elevation. It is a good indication to head up in search of prime hatches.
There are lakes right now that are producing at a rapid pace and right in their prime water temps (more on that next time), while others are already getting too warm and the best part of the spring has come and gone for them.
Next time you’re heading out for a day trip consider what elevation you visited previously, how long it’s been since and what the weather has been like. You can chase the chironomid hatch up in elevation for another few weeks until things start to get a little too warm. Keep in mind every lake is different and some start to fish really well in temps that others don’t fish at all. Until next time happy fishing!