Some call fly fishing a sport, others a hobby.
For those who do it well it is an art, for the best of fly fishers – it borders on a religion.
Getting started in fly fishing can be intimidating, but the potential rewards make it all worthwhile. Fundamentally, all one really needs is a rod, a reel, line, and fly, but before you put these together and attempt to cast a weightless fly made of hook, fur, and feather into the ether, you must be prepared for what is to follow.
“It’s as deep as you want it to be,” says ‘Sport Fishing on the Fly‘ host and Trail native Don Freschi. “I mean there are single-hand rods, and double-hand rods, and fly-tying and all the different components. You can spend a lifetime trying to figure it out, it’s such a cool sport.
“I’m 30-plus years into fly fishing and I’m only halfway there, I have another 30 years to learn.”
To enter the variable world of fly fishing, long-time fly angler and fly tyer Rod Zavaduk, recommends initiates start out with the basics.
Rods are measured by weight and length from delicate two-weight, six-foot rods for small creeks or ponds rife with eight-inch trout, to 12-weight, 15-foot Spey casters specifically designed for larger prey like salmon, steelhead, or Gerrard rainbows.
On Kootenay waters Zavaduk recommends four-and five weight rods with matching line for smaller rivers and lakes, and up to eight-weight, nine-to-10 foot rods for larger rivers like the Columbia.
But for an all-purpose outfit and good starter-rod suitable for most types of water, he suggests a nine-foot, five-or-six-weight rod. Rod-reel-and-line packages can be picked up at local fly shops like Valley Firearms or Canadian Tire in Trail for around $200.
“If they want to be serious and learn how to cast that is about as inexpensive as you want to go,” said Zavaduk. “Anybody who gets started should get at least one casting lesson under their belt before trying it out. It is so important . . . presenting the fly is number one. If you can’t cast, you can’t present, and you can’t catch a fish.”
Freschi started fly fishing in the West Kootenay as a young man, and the countless hours throwing string on the Columbia River with his brother Dale only fuelled his passion.
It led him to launching a T.V. show in 1995 called Sport Fishing on the Fly (SFOTF) that is still airing today, 28 years later.
Freschi travels across North and Central America targeting a variety of species from tarpon to trout, yet, his favourite stretch of water still flows through his backyard and is featured prominently on his TV show and website.
“People don’t realize how good it is here,” said Freschi. “I mean I’ll be in the Columbia River by myself and having 40-50 fish nights. But it’s a tough river, you have to know how to fish it, and spending my whole life here, it’s pretty awesome if you know how to fish it.”
While Freschi has the advantage of years of experience, he says that a few simple initial steps will get the novice up and casting, and catching fish in no time.
“Fly fishing is for everybody,” says Freschi. “I’ve had kids, women, men everybody come over here and catch fish. It takes time, but you know what? You can catch fish right away, you just have to get out on the water and get use to it.”
Deceiving a fish with a fly, especially one you’ve tied yourself, is especially rewarding.
But the real joys of fly fishing lie in those moments when one truly connects with nature. Whether it’s a rainbow rising to a fly, an elk crossing the river, an osprey diving for trout, or an eight-foot sturgeon cruising in the shallows, fly fishing the Columbia River is indeed ‘an endless source of delight, and an act of small rebellion.’
“It is a great sport,” confirms Freschi. “It will add years to your life.”