I don’t know the first damn thing about fly fishing.
Luckily for you, my friend Noel Linsey of The New Tradition Outdoors blog is an expert on anything from multi-species fly fishing to bow hunting. He’s a hell of a cook too. If you wanna learn how to fly, Noel’s the guy to get you started.
Q: How long have you been fly fishing for?
A: I got serious about fly fishing in 2012. I had tried it many times before and always enjoyed it but 2012 was when I started to choose a fly rod over a spinning rod 90% of the time.
Q: Pick your favourite species to target on the fly—what’s your go-to fly?
A: My favourite species? It’s a toss-up between Northern Pike and Smallmouth Bass. Lately bass have been winning out. They’re tough and fun to fight. Even the little fellas fight like they were born to it.
A hard pulling smallie breaching the surface and tail dancing across the water is about as much fun as you can have with waders on. It also helps that they’re delicious. (This is usually where the tournament bass anglers start sharpening their pitchforks and lighting their torches…)
Of course catch and release (with proper fish handling dammit!) is good and necessary, especially if the fishery isn’t healthy but keeping a couple fish for supper when it’s sustainable should be encouraged.
My go-to fly? The one that fools a fish! Haha!
It depends on the situation and the species, but when fishing for smallies it’s really hard to beat a popper pattern or a dry fly like a grasshopper pattern. First thing in the morning, I’ll start with a popper pattern and concentrate on areas around deadfalls and vegetation that smallies like to hang out in.
As the morning progresses I’ll switch up to a deceiver minnow and fish the middle of the water column. Midday I’ll switch it up again, by either switching to a full sink line to get my deceiver a little deeper, or if I need to get low in the water column I’ll switch to a Clouser minnow
Q: You fly fish for channel cats at Lockport. How do you get them to bite, and what’s the fight like?
A: Catfish on the fly is incredible. I was first taught how to target channel cats by my buddy Stu Thompson. The trick is to know where they like to hang out.
For cats, this usually means in a hole or behind a piece of structure that creates a back eddy in the current. That back eddy acts as a conveyor belt, bringing bait fish and other forage right to them. What works for me is to use either a full sink line or a sink tip. I’ll then tie on either a Clouser or Deceiver in Olive, Brown, or Black using a non-slip loop knot which allows the fly to move freely with the current.
As far as casting goes, I’m just trying to land my fly far enough into the current that it gets picked up and pushed in an arc towards the piece of structure that I’m targeting. Unlike trout fishing where you want to mend your line so that the fly moves on the water drag free offering up a natural looking presentation you want to let the arc and drag happen. This delivers the fly right under a catfish’s nose (If there’s a fish there!) and the fight is on.
Fighting a catfish can start slow. When the fish sucks up the fly it almost feels like a snag…. Whenever I feel a little resistance at the end of the arc I spoke about earlier, I set my hook and start to strip in my fly line. If it’s heavy but starts to move towards me I know I’ve either got a fish or just permanently hooked into a log.
It takes a few minutes before the catfish knows he’s caught, and often he’ll start to swim nonchalantly away. At this point, when the cat is still fresh and full of energy, there’s no point in trying to horse him in. Just set your drag and let the line out until you can get it back onto the reel.
Once he hips to the fact that he’s been hooked the fight goes from feeling like you tied the end of your line onto the bumper of a slowly retreating garbage truck to feeling like you’ve hooked into a cruise missile as the cat hightails it for the fast water which is inconveniently located in the centre of the river. At this point all you can do is hold on, palm your reel to increase the drag and wait for the cat to finish his run.
Now you start reeling like a crazy person (Fly reels are a 1:1 ratio, so line comes in slllllowwwwly as the amount of line being retrieved is directly proportional to the diameter of the arbour on your reel, unlike a spinning rod or bait caster where gearing ups the ratio to climb as high as 1:9 which allows you to reel in multiple feet of line with one revolution of the crank).
Once the catfish regains energy, he heads for the heavy current in the center of the river again and you have to steel yourself for a long fight where the mission is to not let the line break before the cat tires and you can start to reel in again.
At some point, the catfish will throw in some huge headshakes to try to dislodge the hook. If you can control the headshakes, bulldogging and seemingly endless runs you get to net your kitty. I’ve fought channel cats for well over 30 minutes and it’s exhausting but every catfish fight runs a full gamut of emotions – excitement (at hooking into a fish), fear (that you’re gonna screw up the fight), surprise (that you haven’t screwed up and been broken off yet), anger (that fighting a fish is tiring you out so badly), acceptance (that you’re likely going to lose this fish), and eventually joy (when you land that monster cat)…. I may have mixed up “gamut of emotions” and “stages of grief” but I feel like I made my point….
A successful fight brings a real sense of accomplishment. It’s hard not to love fishing for them.
Q: If someone wants to start fly fishing, what do you recommend for a first rod and reel?
A: For fly fishing in Manitoba I’d say an 8 Weight, medium or moderate speed rod and a large arbour reel will handle just about anything. They’ve got enough backbone to handle all but the biggest fish but they’re not so beefy that you’d miss a lighter take. I’d also say don’t buy a super expensive rig if this is your first fly fishing setup.
A solid combo that comes with line, leader, tippet and even a few flies can be had for around $150. All that being said, it really does depend on what your goal as an angler is. If you primarily want to chase big game fish species like Channel Cats, Carp, trophy sized Northern Pike and Lake Trout I’d definitely shoot for a 9 or 10 weight rig. If you’re planning on only chasing bass or certain species of trout, a 6 Weight is more than enough.
Q: A beginner fly fisher will likely want some waders. Any recommendations?
A: The dad answer is “a pair without holes”. The less socks-with-sandals answer is if you’re buying waders that you’re only going to use for fly fishing, get waders with stocking feet and pick up a set of wading boots at the same time.
This system fits much better than the one piece boot and wader system and gives you far more mobility in the water. This is super important if you plan on fishing rivers with massive current like the Red.
Q: What’s the biggest fish you’ve landed on the fly?
A: 42” Northern Pike on the North Seal River System. God that was fun.
Q: How much space do you need behind you if you’re shore fishing? I imagine you have to whip your lure pretty far behind you to cast with distance.
A: You need close to the same amount of room behind you as the distance you plan to cast in front of you. When you’re casting a fly rod, you’re letting a bunch of line out at both points of the false cast (A false cast is what everyone thinks of when they picture fly fishing.
It’s the scene from every saccharine and heartfelt movie ever made that features a father imparting a manly but serious life lesson to his son…’cause it adds a poignancy that serious life lesson being imparted over drinking Budweiser and casual racism wouldn’t). This ultimately results in a fly cast.
If you plan on casting 100’, you’re going to need around 80’ of space behind you.
Q: Not only do you fly fish, but you also bow hunt. Do you just like making things harder on yourself?!
Haha. I like that both archery and fly fishing require not only learning a series of complex and deliberate movements and demand concentration, but with both pursuits you need to get in much closer than you would with either conventional tackle or a rifle.
When you nail a (near) perfect fly cast or your arrow flies true it feels like art. I don’t know how else to describe it. I enjoy that as much as I learn and improve I will never really master either but I get to experience a lifetime of growth from both activities and that’s pretty cool.
Both hunting and fishing to me isn’t really just about the end result (although filling my freezer with wild game that I harvested, butchered and cared for is absolutely a huge part of it), it’s about the journey and spending time afield or on the water.
Q: what can people expect to find on your blog? (thenewtraditionoutdoors.ca)
A: You’ll find articles and stories about fly fishing, hunting, conservation, food, firearms and more. My goal is to make fly fishing and traditional archery accessible to people who are new to either pursuit.
I have a lot to say about both pursuits, and a lot to say about conservation and wildlife in general. One new feature that I’m currently working on is writing a series of feature pieces on the fathers of the North American Conservation Model including a Canadian by the name of Valerius Geist that really ought to be considered on the same level as Aldo Leopold or Roosevelt in terms of his contributions to wildlife conservation.
Finally, readers will be able to find some easy to cook wild game recipes that not only taste great but act as jumping off points to explore the world of wild game cooking.
Thanks for coming aboard my blog, Noel. It’s always great to have experts guest on Manitoba Angler.
In short, The New Tradition is packed with content—I especially recommend the recipes. This blog has my highest recommendation, and it covers topics won’t find here. Check it out!