Filming the Re-Discover Your Region videos has been a blast. It was a lot of fun visiting old friends, making new ones, and exploring new water throughout 2017. In order to make 2018 a bigger year – we need your support. Please subscribe to our channel to receive notifications about our upcoming episodes. We would also greatly appreciate it if you could share our work with your friends. With your support, we will continue to feature fellow anglers, guides, and outfitters who can provide valuable insight into their region.
What’s Next for 2018
Our 2018 schedule will feature women anglers and guides. It will feature U.S. based bucket list locations we’ve never fished before. It will also feature exotic species and fisheries that are unique to a specific area. Most importantly, 2018 will focus on the healing properties of fly fishing. As a benefactor of Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing – this will certainly be a labor of love.
Here is the 2018 Schedule
Re-discover your Region #12: South Florida – Fly Fishing for Peacock Bass and Largemouth Bass
a. Who: Featured Guide/Outfitter: Scott Rose (www.peacockadventures.com/meet-the-guide)
b. What: Peacock bass on SFL canals. Largemouth Bass on Frogs in the Everglades
c. Where: Miami, FL
d. When: 31-Mar – 1-Apr
e. Why: Showcase the local fishery, Scott’s program, and the cultural scene in downtown Miami
Re-discover Your Region #13: Washington State – Women’s Advocacy and the Healing Properties of Fly Fishing
a. Who: Featured Guide/Outfitter: Heather Hodson (http://talestanglesandtightlines.blogspot.com)
b. What: Trout on the fly
c. Where: Spokane, WA
d. When: 19-23 April
e. Why: Showcase the local fishery, provide Heather a platform to discuss women in fly fishing as well as all her advocacy efforts, and showcase a local brewery and fly tying event.
Re-discover Your Region #14: Prehistoric Beasts on the Fly – Pre-Spawn Bowfin
a. Who: Brookdog Fishing Company
b. What: Bowfin in spawning colors on the fly
c. Where: Marsh areas in PA
d. When: 26–May
e. Why: Showcase the local fishery and chalk up this bucket list species.
Re-discover Your Region #15: Martha’s Vinyard – Women’s Advocacy and the Healing Properties of Fly Fishing
a. Who: Featured Guide/Outfitter: Abbie Schuster, Kismet Outfitters (www.kismetoutfitters.com)
b. What: Stripped bass
c. Where: Martha’s Vinyard, MA
d. When: TBD – Mid July
e. Why: Showcase the local fishery, Kismet Outfitter’s Program, and gain a women’s perspective of the sport
Re-discover Your Region #16: Oregon/Idaho – Women’s Advocacy and the Healing Properties of Fly Fishing
a. Who: Aileen Lane (www.mkflies.com, www.kypemagazine.com, www.theoldguysflies.com)
b. What: Trout
c. Where: Northeast OR, Southwest ID
d. When: 26-29 Aug
e. Why: Showcase the local fishery, Aileen Cane’s story, and gain a women’s perspective of the sport
Rediscover Your Region #17: The Healing Properties of Fly Fishing on a Massive Scale – Project Healing Waters Feature
a. Who: PHWFF Crystal Coast Program and the Cape Lookout Albacore Festival
b. What: False Albacore
c. Where: Coastal NC
d. When: TBD – Mid October
e. Why: Advocate for the benefits of the program (I’m a disabled veteran and PHWFF participant)
If you want to Re-Discover the Buffalo Niagara region or would like us to feature your slice of angling heaven, click here!
I’ve never been the kind of guy that has heros or mentors. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because I’m the first born but for some reason I always believed I had to blaze my own path and make my own mistakes. I am by no means advocating this way of life. In fact, it’s kind of ridiculous. As I got older during my time in the USMC, I realized that learning from others by employing best practices and avoiding bad habits is far more efficient. Still, that was a very mechanical way of growing. For whatever reason, as I started developing my plan to become a guide, it didn’t take long for me to develop a more personal approach. Enter Blane Chocklett.
What’s a Role Model?
The manifestation of this personal approach likely came about because my desire to become a guide originated from a passion. It was something I really WANTED to do. About 5 years ago, when the goal of becoming a guide started to gain momentum, I connected with someone who would quickly become my mentor. Since then, Blane Chocklett and I have maintained a teacher/student relationship though which I continue to benefit to this day.
Who is Blane Chocklett?
Blane has become a household name in the fly fishing community. As an innovative fly tier and ambassador to nearly every type of product used in the game, his reach has grown exponentially since I’ve met him. Yet, he remains humble. Hell, he barely acknowledges it. It’s this kind of mindset – being grounded and in touch with every aspect of our little community that caused me to frequently seek his guidance over the years.
The Blane Chocklett and Brookdog Fishing Co Relationship
Blane has helped me with a lot – both personally and professionally. That’s saying a lot because I’m likely his biggest pain in the ass friend/client. I complain incessantly when I fish with him. From doubting if there are any fish in the river to letting him know that he’s sucking the life out of me, he’s likely relieved to be rid of me every time we fish together. Still, he’s always been there for me.
Blane is a father, a husband, a professional, and an ambassador to our passion of pursuing fish on the fly. He embodies over a quarter century of experience in this game and somehow still keeps getting better looking – WTF! With him as a mentor – I’ll get there someday!
I’m sure some who read this (it won’t be millennials because you guys likely didn’t even read this far) will comment something like, “get off of Blane’s nuts!” I really don’t care if that sentiment emerges in a few people – he knows where all this is coming from. But enough about Blane, on to the video description.
About the Video
This WILL NOT be a steady stream of fish porn. It was nearly 100 degrees with bluebird skies both days during the shoot. As Schultzy would say, “not optimal!” It was a struggle to say the least but we caught some great imagery. There will be some beautiful smalljaw footage, some underwater footage of muskies, and a shock when we get, “’skied.” The video closes out at the new Ballast Point Brewery outside of Roanoke, VA.
All the “porn” aside, the focus of this video is to provide another perspective about one of my mentors. This video short WILL focus on who Blane is, what his fishery is all about, and give the viewer a glimpse into why he has become a leader in our industry. Enjoy!
This is #8 in our Re-Discover Your Region Series. We have 2 more on the docket for this year and 12 projected/scheduled for next year. Please show us your support in our efforts to showcase some incredible fisheries and the personalities that explore them by subscribing to our YouTube page. Click here to begin viewing all.
Summer fishing in Buffalo Niagara can be arduous if you don’t know where to go. We wrote about this a little bit last year but have picked up our game a since then (read more water time and conflicts with that work life balance). Here are some general guidelines to help focus your summer fishing plans around here:
Angler’s Problem #1: Fish aren’t sedentary creatures – they move
Sure, a blinding statement of the obvious but understanding this is critical to fishing around the Buffalo Niagara Region. More daylight = warmer days = warmer water = increased photosynthesis = what was once a great place for fish to hang out in the spring isn’t so great anymore.
When water surface temperatures on the Niagara River and the Great Lakes start climbing it’s time to make a change. Fish start to move deep so you’ll have to do the same. This applies to all species. By now, the spawn is done and fish are filling their gullets and livin’ the laid-back summer life. In other words, they don’t want to have to work too hard to get their sustenance. All you need to do is locate those spots and bring the food to them.
Problem 1 Mitigation: Believe it or not, this isn’t terribly difficult but definitely takes time on the water
There are online resources to get you started. We’re not going to do all the work for you – but just google eastern Lake Erie fishing locations and you’ll be off to a good start. However, these resources are just that – a start. You’ll need a decent sonar and navigation system for your terminal guidance. These spots are deep areas (usually over 20 ft) and border structure. Shoals, defined weed lines, ledges, etc. all attract fish that are just trying to relax and feed. If you don’t have a water craft and a halfway decent sonar and navigation system, it’s going to be pretty difficult to get on fish.
Your presentation should be slow and deep – right through these holding areas. Think of the tackle required to accomplish this. Slow trolling deep divers. Jigging off the bottom. Dragging bait off the bottom. Stripping weighted flies and heavy, full sinking fly lines. If your sonar works, this becomes like a video game. You find the fish, present your offering, and hope. Eyes often glued to the screen. Rod and/or stripping hand at the ready. Oh yeah, I’ll state the obvious here – you need a boat to do all of this. Either buy one or book a charter.
Angler’s Problem 2: Warm water means lower oxygen levels
This is another reason why water temperatures are important. Once they climb into the low to mid 70’s, anglers should REALLY start paying attention. These temps are your indication for the summer pattern mentioned above. At this point – carp will only be on the flats early in the morning. You might find (not consistently but you can get lucky) smallies crashing bait in shallow water in the morning too. However, these are fleeting occurrences and take some serious searching to discover. Generally speaking, at these temps, fish will be deep (ref Problem 1).
The other reason water temperature is important is that the warmer it is, the lower the oxygen content. Once water temps climb into the mid to upper 70’s, it starts becoming a workout for fish. Think of it like us on the treadmill – all day long. Species like musky are particularly sensitive to high water temperatures. They are a big animal and burn O2 fast just to sustain. Leave them alone when the water gets this warm. Muskies are likely to die from exhaustion shortly after the release if you catch them at these temps. If you happen to catch one incidentally, keep the wet!
The same general guidelines apply to trout. None of our inland trout fisheries are tailwaters so they warm up quick under the hot summer sun. Particularly when it doesn’t rain for a week or so. Once the inland creeks start climbing into the mid sixties, it’s time for you to leave them alone. Our inland creeks are just about there right now.
Problem 2 Mitigation: Monitor the water temperature
Your sonar should also have a thermometer. If not, buy a cheap one and take the water temperatures. Last night, the Niagara River was a little over 75 degrees. That temperature is only going to go up in the near term. Fish early morning when the water temperatures are the coolest. Fish deep water for species that live down there in the summer and are more resistant to warmer temps. Some examples are walleye, smallmouth bass, salmon, and steelhead.
If you refuse to buy a boat or don’t have the means to do so, find warm water rivers and lakes like the Allegheny River (and it’s tribs) and Chautauqua Lake where you can cast from shore or via kayak or canoe. A better option is to just hire a guide or charter captain (we know a few ). The same rule still applies on these bodies of water though – look for carp or smallies.
Anglers Problem 3: Summer is the time for pleasure boaters, jet skiers, ad kayakers
Summer Fishing in the Buffalo Niagara region is great but it comes with its challenges. Water temperatures and moving fish are one aspect but that’s not unique to this season. Every season offers a different environmental challenge that anglers have to consider. What’s unique about the summer is that us anglers aren’t the only ones out enjoying the bounty of the region. We have a lot of water around here and people love getting out and enjoying it. That comes in all forms. Pleasure boaters just drifting with the current. Jet skiers flying around at mach z. Kayakers paddling around with little situational awareness. And my personal favorite – people taking their kids tubing in fast current and/or high traffic areas.
The big take away here is that us anglers aren’t going to be the only people on the water. I can set my watch by this: at 11:00 AM on weekends, it becomes rush hour out there. Us anglers need to lift our heads up from the water every once in awhile and pay attention to what our fellow humans are doing. Often times, we take for granted the importance of general safety on the water. It’s just something we do (most of us that is). We know that we should respect people’s space and not “throw wakes” at people. We also know to check our boats for safety issues before we go out. Perhaps of upmost importance, we know the water – when we need to slow and when we can lean on the throttle. The vast majority of the pleasure boating community – well, they don’t. They are just out there having a good time with little regard to everyone else outside their boat.
Problem 3 Mitigation: Put simply – get out early and keep your head on a swivel
Pleasure boaters don’t typically get on the water until late morning – right when that first bite window starts to close. I’m usually on the water at dawn. It’s calm out there and there is little boat traffic – other than our fellow guides/charter captains. As the morning progresses, make sure to pick your head up and look around often. Pay attention to others out there and assume they aren’t paying attention to you.
Like we’ve said on numerous occasions, the Buffalo Niagara Region is a year-round fishery. Summer fishing in Buffalo Niagara can be a great time of year. Do a little research and invest in the equipment required to find those summer holding areas. Be responsible/respectful in maintaining a sustainable fishery by paying attention to water temps. Finally – maintain situational awareness. Do all this and you’ll be set for experiencing Buffalo Niagara Summers the best way possible – on the water.
Since our last spring fishing update, the seasonal pattern has come into full swing. This past winter was super mild and we thought that would lead to an accelerated spring. That’s exactly what happened. A few unseasonably warm days raised the water temperatures a good bit. Steelhead seemed to vanish in the tributaries and numbers brought to the net in the lower Niagara River came down significantly (it was never consistently “hot”). Steelies are still around but not as numerous – more of an incidental than a consistent pattern.
What excited us most about the rapid warm-up was an early surge of smallmouth bass in the tribs, the Safe Boat Harbor, and the Lower Niagara River. We began catching these lake-run fish in good numbers about 3 weeks earlier than we did last year! Numbers and size seem to be up compared to last year as well.
This is our favorite little slice of a season all year. These fish move up the tribs to spawn in big numbers after fattening up all winter long. The run is similar to the runs anadromous fish make from the ocean into their spawning grounds and is unique to a few Great Lake tributaries. However, unlike the salmonids of the region that make this journey in the fall and spring, these fish are native and have been doing this for thousands of years. As a fanatic of all things native – this phenomenon is pretty damn special to us.
On the beginning portion of their run, these smallmouth bass are aggressive feeders that slam baitfish patterns with reckless abandon. Color doesn’t seem to matter. Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve experimented with everything in the box. Size doesn’t seem to matter too much either – we’ve fished #4 clousers to 5 inch articulated patterns. All are equally successful but I’d go big just to generate that huge strike!
This run never seems to last long enough. Once the water temps get into the 60s and stay there consistently, smallmouth bass move from holding water to slack water where they can build their beds and spawn. A little depth, gravel/rocks, and minimal current, make for good spawning grounds. Once they get on their beds, we leave them alone. They get a little sluggish and to be frank, become easy targets.
Lay Off The Bedding Fish – Move on to Trout, Carp, or the Big Water
Unfortunately, most anglers don’t see smallmouth bass on beds and think of it as a time to leave them alone. The opposite is usually the case. In a few weeks, take a walk down some of the Lake Erie tributaries and you’ll see many fish with scar tissue and loose, white flesh hanging off their jaws. They will look that way because while they protect their beds from predators, many anglers will stand over them and pound them with flies and lures to trigger a strike. Once caught and released, these fish will return to their beds and become a target for the next angler. Sadly, that cycle will repeat more than a few times.
This recent bout of cold weather and rain holds some promise. Water temperatures, especially in the larger tribs, aren’t quite where they need to be to trigger a full on spawn. There are a few beds here and there, but not many. Hopefully this week’s forecast will hold, dumping a lot of rain and cold water into the tribs, keeping these fish in pre-spawn mode. Yeah – I just wished for cold weather and rain. We’ll be out there monitoring this activity.
It’s Time for Rising Trout Too
Another benefit of all this rain in the forecast is that the inland trout water levels and temperatures should remain in good shape for quite a while. Hopefully that’ll come to pass because the early warming pattern and drought we experienced last spring/summer put us off the trout water earlier than normal. We’re looking forward to catching trout on dries – it’s been quite some time. Sure, stripping streamers all winter produced some big fish, but nothing tops that surface eat on a dry.
It won’t be long before we start seeing robust insect hatch activity and rising trout. It’s happening sporadically now but once in full swing, our region gets some great hatches that would put any dry fly fanatic into a frenzy. From hendricksons, to sulphers, to caddis, to eastern green drakes and more, that last hour of daylight in the late spring showcases all the elements of a healthy ecosystem. Seeing mother nature in all her splendor can’t come too soon.
The next Few Weeks
The wx this week is going to wreak havoc on just about everything. BIG wind and rain will turn everything into chocolate milk. However, we’ll still get out to recon a few things. We intend to maximize the trib smalljaw run to the last minute. We’ll also be checking out the inland creeks for hatch activity. Finally, the big water is calling our name. Eastern Lake Erie and the Upper Niagara River are in need of some love. Smallies will be staging for the spawn as will carp soon thereafter. While we are on the water, we’ll be on the lookout for muskies in shallow water in anticipation for the opener on 17-June. Book a trip with us now to secure your own slice of the action.
Re-Discover Your Region Update
On the weekend of 20-22 April, we travelled to Ypslanti, MI and linked up with Mike Schultz and his team at Schultz Outfitters. This was our first travel/destination episode of Re-Discover Your Region and it was a resounding success. We had a blast fishing with Mike and Justin Pribanic – they put us on some beautiful specimens and equally beautiful water.
We’re also in the process of filming our Buffalo Niagara Spring Episode. This will be our best local video today and will round out a year of filming. Fly anglers in the know – picture all things fishy in the Buffalo Niagara region during spring. It’ll all be in there. Don’t worry, we won’t be blowing up any spots.
Finally, we will travel to Savage River State Park in Maryland next weekend to visit our close friend and guide Tony Lohr of 85 Day Angling Company. Small water brook trout, freestone browns, a strikingly beautiful forest, and an “uber sexual guide.” What more can you ask for in a video for the mountain, off-the-grid, and trout fishing fanatic. Stay tuned.
I would say that spring in the Buffalo Niagara Region is my favorite time of year but I think I said that already…about fall. The reality is, if you haven’t picked up on it yet, every season is fishing season around here. Every one of them has its own nuances, beauty, and metaphor about life – that’s why it’s hard for me to pick a favorite. BUT – spring is easily in my top 4.
People commonly use the word, “reawakening,” to describe what’s taking place during spring. I deliberately chose not to use that word. Mainly because I don’t know what it means. How does something “reawaken?” Aren’t the vast majority of organisms truly just “awakening,” during this period? Either way, much is different between winter and fall. Colors, sounds, temperature, day length, smells, and FISHING to name a few.
Us humans, just like our environment, also change during the transition from winter to spring. We often do some form of, “spring cleaning.” A kind of symbolic cleansing of the shack nasties takes place. You know, where people look at themselves in the mirror on a day where you can leave the windows in your house open and say, “I’m ridiculously pasty.” “I totally blew off that gym membership I purchased over the holidays,” is another gem. My brothers and I didn’t have quite THAT conversation with our reflections but we did have one.
The Convo With Ourselves
This is all symbolic of course – we’re not crazy. We took stock of the previous season and what we’ve accomplished since we started up nearly a year ago and formalized a few goals.
Increase advocacy of the Western New York fishery. Many would say it doesn’t need any more pressure. If that’s you, please read our last post. If you haven’t noticed, we are proud of our fishery and our region. We did not receive sponsorship for our videos. We funded and produced everything to date out of the desire to show the world what this region has to offer. Unfortunately, because we are new, our reach is small and we had a marginal impact at best. That will change this year.
If you’ve read any of our stuff or taken a minute to check out our website, you’ve definitely noticed we like to explore. We travel extensively. The desire to see new places, catch new fish, and meet new people fuels this wanderlust. Then the thought occurred to us, “Why not take Re-Discover Your Region on the road? It would be incredible to go back to some of our favorite places and feature some of favorite guides and capture them on film. It would be equally awesome to get some footage of the brewery scene in the area as well…and why not? Brew masters, chefs, and restauranteurs are artists just like fly anglers.” So that’s what we’re doing (self-funded because nobody’s been brave enough to sponsor us). Thankfully the featured guides are friends and respect our work.
If you actually read the first 2 goals (thanks for making it this far), you’re probably wondering how we can make all this on a budding guide’s income. It’s definitely a gamble but we have a plan. At a minimum, we should see some sort of return on investment while pursuing goals 1 and 2 in the form of clients. TBD.
So why put these goals out there? It’s motivation for us – sort of codifying it to hold ourselves accountable. It’s more than that though – we believe setting goals for the year is important. It keeps you focused, oriented. It gives you something to look forward to. Just trying to pass off some nuggets of attempted wisdom to my fellow new guides. Hell…it’s spring. It’s a new season and we are nearly a year deep into our pursuit. Crossing that year mark and beyond is definitely something to look forward to.
Avoiding the Quagmire in Your First Year as a Guide
I am a fishing guide and charter captain. That makes me a professional – I guess – whatever that means. I’m new to the business so I am not an expert in the industry. We just started our business last summer. So the only label I can give myself at this point is that of a student. No matter how renowned they are, all the great guides I’ve met or read about over the past dozen plus years of fly fishing, still consider themselves students of our passion. As a student, I wanted to capture part of my journey this past year and offer some lessons learned.
While trying to get our business up and running, I’ve had numerous conversations with people whom I consider my mentors. The most frequent guidance I received to date is the following: be responsible in promoting your business, know every aspect of your fishery, don’t let success get to your head, and realize that no matter how well you balance the first two, there will always be people who take issue with you. I’ve yet to see this guidance written somewhere, except in some books and articles that generally cater to entrepreneurs who are just starting out. I’d like to change that.
As I write this, I will do my best to come across as critical of our business – not critical in the way that most people understand the word but in the sense that I will reflect upon what we’ve done in the past 6 months since starting up from multiple points of view. Let’s call this process reflective skepticism. Although what will follow will come from a TOTALLY humble point of view, some will interpret it as arrogant and that I don’t “rate” writing about the topic because we are a new guide service. I’m cautiously optimistic these individuals will be a minority.
Hopefully this piece will help inform the decisions of other new guides just starting out – both at a shop or on their own. However, there will undoubtedly be some old hats and anglers who don’t guide with contrary ideals. Unfortunately, when some of these people read this, no matter how logical or compelling it is, they will still hold the same beliefs and will not be open to reflecting on how or why they think the way they do. Honestly, I hope that’s the case as it will only prove the points I will try to make. Here we go:
Because of my background as an officer in the United States Marine Corps, I’m used to being humbled. Throughout my career in service, I’ve been humbled countless times by people much smarter than I and learned from all of them. From positions of strength and weakness, I tested my boundaries and grew every time – treating every experience as one from which I could learn.
The rank structure of our armed forces breeds this respect for authority (read more experience) into us from basic training – know your place, learn from your elders, play to your strengths, improve upon your weaknesses, and constantly seek opportunities to take initiative and grow. If you are a armed forces veteran just starting out in this business, apply these aspects of your former life into your business BUT don’t think that just because you’re a veteran other guides or local anglers will respect you.
Although no formal rank structure exists in the guiding and outfitting world, the principles of growth in a hierarchy remain the same. I use the term “hierarchy” because; let’s face it, there is one. Guides earn a positive reputation in this business through years of experience, a loud voice for advocacy, a strong client base, and a drive to innovate. If “fame” exists in this business, those guides that master these pillars elevate to the status of experts. The only people you probably should come off as an expert to in your first years of guiding are your clients – and even then, if you teach them or bond with them on the water, they quickly appreciate that mother nature can easily humble all of us.
When you’re starting out, you should always consider the opinions of senior guides in the area as their experience puts them in a position of strength. It would be great if these guides acted as mentors. Some will and others won’t. Those that do act as mentors will reach out to you to provide positive reinforcement for things you’re doing well and try to right your course if they see a problem with the way you conduct yourself. Those that don’t act as mentors will likely be ambivalent, or worse, talk trash behind your back. If this unfortunate set of circumstances is the case, approach them humbly, hear them out, and learn from the discussion. If nothing changes, at least you tried to understand their viewpoint and learned something in the process.
Do Not Exploit the Fishery
This should go without saying but if you want to be able to continue to work in this business, your fishery has to last. There is nothing wrong with trying to bring people into the area. There’s also nothing wrong with trying to expose non-anglers in the area to what’s going on in their backyard. Responsibly showing off your fishery, in more cases than not, will generate positive exposure that will aid in conserving the fishery. However, there has to be balance. A balance that doesn’t piss off too many of the old hats that consider the fishery “theirs” while allowing you to grow your business.
You might be thinking, “So what’s this guy’s definition of responsible?” If you are going to showcase the region, one suggestion is to show everyone the well-known spots where the weekend warriors go. If you fish with clients in areas that are less well known, be careful what you post on social media and on your blog. Crop or blur backgrounds in pictures to prevent others from blowing up these locations. You should also gauge your clients – are they the type of angler that is just hiring you to learn more about the area so he/she can fish it without a guide? If so, take precaution when deciding where to fish that day.
No matter how skillfully you approach achieving this balance, there will always be those that believe guiding is an exploitative trade. They won’t consider the fact that you are passionate about teaching others about the bounty of your region and how important it is to conserve it all. They will also fail to consider that you willingly chose this path, full knowing there is little money in this trade and in turn, invited struggle in your efforts to support your family or start one for that matter. If you address these notions with the people who hold adverse views of guiding, some will understand and some won’t. BUT, your family and friends will love you for it knowing you are pursuing your passion. Bottom line, you cannot please everyone in this business so get used to it.
Find a Mentor – or at a minimum, study
Keep in mind that I am 38 years old, I have a family, I am a decorated combat veteran and bronze star recipient, I’ve been a leader to many warriors over the years. I make these points not to brag but to give some perspective – even with all that life experience, I have mentors in the guiding business and everyone should.
One of whom is Ron Meek at Sweetwater Travel. Ron runs their guide school and has travelled the world establishing lodges at places all of us now dream of visiting. First and foremost, he cares about the industry and bettering those individuals that will help it grow into the future and has dedicated his life to teaching this upcoming generation.
Another mentor of mine is Blane Chocklett. As a devoted father and husband, he taught me about the balance mentioned above and added the pillar of family into the dynamic. He developed a fishery and a guide service from the bottom up – monumental tasks – and was lucky enough to have amazing mentors of his own. He’s considered to be one of the most innovative fly tiers of this generation – all fueled by a desire to be a better angler.
Mike Schultz is another individual in the industry whom I admire. Aside from starting a highly successful fly shop from the bottom up, he also created a fishery in Southeast Michigan. He explored it, developed ways to fish it, got it dialed in, made it extremely attractive to potential clients, and built a shop around it. Oh yeah – he’s younger than me and has a family too!
Colby and Brian Trow are also guides/outfitters that I admire. Like Mike Schultz, they developed a fishery in central Virginia. In addition, they run a highly successful shop, are huge advocates for conservation, pillars in the industry, and show an immense amount of support to veterans. Both also do an amazing job of balancing all of this with family life – true examples of how great this industry can be to those who give it their all.
Ron, Blane, Mike, and the Trow brothers aren’t from the area where I guide – I was just lucky enough to meet them in the years prior to us starting up our guide service and have remained in touch with them ever since. There are also local fly fishing professionals such as Vince Tobia, Rick Kustich, and Nick Pionessa from whom we sought advice out of respect for their knowledge and experience.
We also reached out to charter captains and industry professionals based in our area like Jim Hanley, Bill Hilts, and Larry Jones, whose primary business is in conventional tackle charter trips. These gentlemen have been active in this area since I was a kid and represent a wealth of knowledge beyond any fly angler in the area. We were pleasantly surprised when these gentlemen welcomed us with open arms and continue to offer their support and guidance to this day. They are all true patriots and who are staunch advocates for the region and want to see the progress they made passed off to the next generation so we can continue to carry their torch.
I mention all of these mentors not to kiss their ass but to give my peers who are just starting out someone to research/study as examples of how to be successful in this business. There are countless more guides/industry professionals that set an outstanding example in this business and all beginning guides should reach out to at least one for advice. If they are as passionate about this business as you are, they’ll be honored you reached out and will give you much to consider.
Affiliate Yourself With Reputable Organizations
This idea goes hand in hand with seeking out mentors. Organizations like the International Federation of Fly Fishers, Trout Unlimited, and the American Fly Fishing Trade Association offer great benefits to their members. Their sole purpose is to advocate for the industry and our environment and are a wealth of knowledge for those just starting out. These organizations have chapters all over the country who will welcome your membership and participation in their events.
Aside from these national/international organizations every state has something similar and often times more relevant to what you plan to do. From rod and gun clubs to charter captain consortiums to angling associations chances are your area has an organization who’s members represent generations of local knowledge and industry experience. Seek them out and network hard.
Volunteering is important as well. It will give you the opportunity to get in front of many people interested in fly fishing. It is a great way to help others in need while networking and developing your teaching skills. Project Healing Waters is a great organization to look into.
With the assistance of these types of groups, you’ll quickly develop a reputation and grow your client base. This will give you grounds to request pro-deal status with the various companies that sell the equipment you need. Rods, reels, lines, apparel, flies, etc. are all on the table for a steep discount if you qualify. Pick the companies you are familiar with and trust and remain loyal to them. In time, they will recognize your potential and will help your growth.
Be A Minimalist
Remaining humble, being responsible, and seeking guidance won’t cost you any money but will ensure you can earn it well into the future. Gear, the more tangible aspect of this business, can be extremely costly. If you work out of a shop, the temptation to buy everything on the shelf or all the latest and greatest gear is always there. That isn’t as much of a problem when you’re a lone wolf but us independent operators have the persistent challenge of making sure we have the right amount of everything – especially when there isn’t a shop nearby.
Although us fly anglers are notorious for tinkering and collecting, try your best to suppress these instincts for the first couple of years and just learn. If you are new to guiding but have been a lifelong angler, you might be thinking, “I already know my fishery extremely well, what else is there left to learn?” Here’s some perspective – you just made a career move that took you from fishing your drainage somewhat frequently (in the best of cases) to nearly daily. There is a ton more to learn. You went from taking friends out from time to time to complete strangers all the time. Again, there is a ton to learn. With all this in mind, acquire/buy gear as you go, not all at once.
Trust me; I know how difficult it is to fight the urge to buy a bunch of stuff you think you need. I was a logistics planner and supply chain manager in a former life when building iron mountains used to be cool. Internet sales, fly shops, big retail stores, etc. give you the ability to get what you need quickly. Be conservative when you first resource yourself and pick up what you need as the requirement emerges. Do your best to anticipate requirements but don’t rush into any big purchases. If you come up short from time to time, no problem! You learned from your shortcomings and still have money in your pocket. Now you can make a more informed decision about what to buy (or do) to avoid the problem in the future.
Nothing replaces time on the water. Keep your eyes open, write things down/keep a log if you have to, and LEARN. Enough said.
Market Yourself and Push Quality Content – BUT – DON’T OBSESS
I am not a marketing professional. This is my first endeavor into this area of expertise. Here is what I learned – from both reading and experimentation.
1. Content is king – get a good camera and take quality photos and video.
2. Develop a social media presence – push the content you develop through all social media outlets. All your content should include a link back to your website or contact info. After all – your posting pics and articles to generate customers, not boost your ego. Pay attention to your analytics functions on the various apps and little more. If you think the majority of people are paying attention to what you’re putting out – THEY AREN’T. See Below:
3. Develop a brand image – get business cards, have a logo built, make some tri-folds/pamphlets, etc. Use the same colors and scheme throughout every product you develop and tweak it over time to keep it fresh.
4. Marketing takes time and/or money – plan for it. Treat it as a fixed cost and part of your daily rhythm. It’s free if you generate your own content and post it to social media. However, it takes a lot of time and can be a pain if you start tweaking out. Your other option is to pay someone (like a marketing firm) or something (like Facebook, Instagram, or Google Ads). There are infinite ways to market yourself – your creativity is your only limit. Just remember to budget for all of it or you’ll be left wondering why you aren’t getting calls from clients.
5. Don’t obsess – social media can suck you in. Realize that most people use it as kind of a drug. You have to put yourself in a different mindset when you approach social media. Your time is money – do you really want to spend it tweaking out for hours on social media?
When you’re a newbie, you’re going to make mistakes. Remain humble and seek self-improvement. People that have been in this business for a while know the struggles of starting out. They will expect you to mess up occasionally. Those same people should help you grow from your mistakes and if you connect with the right mentors, they will. Find a good mentor and stay in touch. Those mentors will also advise you on equipment purchases – what works and what doesn’t. Use their advice and your experience on the water to make informed decisions about how to equip your program.
Last but not least, have fun. You made a bold decision to go this route. It’ll be a roller coaster of emotions that will change with the weather and conditions on the water. Just center yourself with your passion for what you do. Many people will envy or respect your decision. If you’re going about it the right way, they have every reason to feel that way.
Over the past few years, much has been made of pursuing muskellunge on the fly and for good reason. These fish they get huge, have sharp teeth, are photogenic, and are difficult to catch. Muskellunge (or musky) are THE apex predators with gills in freshwater.
Because they are at the top of the food chain, they eat when they feel like it. This makes them hard to target on the best of days. However, when you do hook one, hold on. The fight is like playing tug of war with a pit-bull. With violent head shakes and the occasional acrobatics, no other fish displays such intense anger toward its captor as the musky.
All of these characteristics are more than enough to attract a seasoned fly angler that is up for a challenge. The ability to cast big flies and stay focused through what could be many fishless hours is crucial. If this piques your interest OR if you’ve played the game before and want a new perspective, Rick Kustich’s book, “Hunting Musky With A Fly,” needs to make it into your literary collection.
A Buffalo Niagara native and current resident, Rick spent his life fly fishing and exploring waters both local and across the country. Along the way, he captured his experiences and insights in a number of books. “Hunting Musky With a Fly,” his latest edition to this collection doesn’t disappoint!
This book is a must read. Whether you are just curious about chasing musky on the fly or if you are already obsessed with throwing flies for these beasts, it has something for everyone. The book is as visually pleasing as it is full of great content!
We are extremely proud to have contributed to one of the only and most comprehensive texts written on the topic. Big thanks to Rick for allowing us to play a small part! We also want to send props to Nick Pionessa for his beautiful photos throughout – especially the featured flies section!
For our second episode of Re-Discover Your Region, we explore the raging waters downstream from our first video – below one of the natural wonders of the world. Amidst the breathtakingly beautiful fall foliage that lines the canyon walls, see how we pursue the anadromous King/Chinook salmon as they make their fall spawning run. We follow up an awe inspiring day of fishing with a great meal and some equally great beer at Woodcock Brothers Brewery. Enjoy and please share!
Special thanks for video production goes out to Colton Wright. He outperformed his last piece of work on this one. You can contact him at [email protected] Additional thanks goes out to the Santa Lucia brothers at Santa Lucia Global, LLC for their outstanding drone work – they were critical to making all this come together. You can reach them at www.santaluciaglobal.com.
– Scientific Anglers – for producing the best lines for our year round fishery and multiple species
– Cabelas – for outfitting us with various equipment from tackle to our watercraft
For more details about our fishery and the options available to anglers and those interested in a fun day outside, please explore our seasons and species pages on our website. We talk to anglers and people interested in angling all the time and most are surprised that we can still fish throughout the fall and winter here in Western NY. Oh yes, we can! It’s our favorite time of year to get out there!. Give us a call – 716-704-5144.
This video, Re-Discover Your Region, is the first of what will be a series of short videos that feature Western NY in its resurgent glory. From local eateries, to spectacular scenery, to the diverse fisheries of the region, we will explore WNY from the air, land, and water and showcase the area in a new and exciting way. Please enjoy and share!
Special thanks for video production goes out to Colton Wright. He is a true artist and an extremely talented producer. You can contact him at [email protected] Additional thanks goes out to the Santa Lucia brothers at Santa Lucia Global, LLC for their outstanding drone work – they were critical to making all this come together. You can reach them at www.santaluciaglobal.com.
We just finished another epic trip to Algonquin Provincial Park! It was a fly fishing guide vacation that included myself (Ryan Shea), Nate Carr, Tony Lohr (of 85th Day Angling), and Nick Sagnibene (of Adventure Bound on the Fly). We made the short drive north of the border to this little slice of musky heaven on a Friday and spent 5.5 days on the water. I usually don’t like to write about specific spots (I’m not going to disclose the river we fished) but I am confident that our fellow anglers won’t blow up this location – it’s logistically taxing to get to and fish. Unless your idea of a vacation is going to a location where there are no roads, no cell service, brutal portages, unpredictable weather, frigid nights, eating freeze-dried foods, and sleeping in the dirt in the quest to catch the fish of 10,000 casts, what will follow isn’t for you. However, I’m sure this description piqued your curiosity so hang in there – if for no other reason than to see some of the incredible pictures. Here is some guidance for a do it yourself (DIY) trip to Algonquin Provincial Park.
Planning is CRITICAL: Remember – your biggest constraint is space.
Sure, that’s a blinding statement of the obvious when preparing for any trip but in the case of an Algonquin adventure, your life depends on it. Think that’s dramatic? Picture this – you’ll spend at least 5 days on the water in a canoe. Once the shuttle drops you off and you push away from shore, you’re completely on your own. No roads, no way to call for help, no way to harvest food (unless extremely small bass make it on the menu). You’re out there…and it’s perfect! A little careful planning will ensure you have a great time and remain relatively comfortable. Just remember, your biggest constraint is space – everything you need to survive must fit in your canoe.
Meals: Eat to survive while maintaining morale.
One thing that will take up a significant amount of room in your canoe is food. Plan your daily meals carefully but remember that everything must be shelf stable. There are numerous options available – from freeze-dried meals, to “just add water” food packets, to canned goods, to trail mix. Of utmost importance in planning for daily sustenance is to consider how active you’ll be once you’re out there. On a trip to Algonquin, someone will always be rowing. Someone will always be casting. You’ll have to hike for hundreds (sometimes thousands) of yards around rapids with a canoe on your shoulders and a large pack on your back. When you set up camp, there are tents/hammocks to set up, wood to harvest, fire to start, food to prepare, etc. In other words, you’ll be moving constantly and burning calories at a rapid rate – even more so if it’s cold – so make sure to include calorie rich foods but don’t be monotonous. A good variety will keep you focused, maintain morale, and sustain high energy levels.
Survival Equipment: A careful balance between safety, comfort, and cubic inches
Another large space consumer is the equipment you’ll need to survive. You’ll have to prepare meals, cut firewood, treat small (hopefully not big) injuries, purify water, start fires (maybe in wet conditions), etc. Like meals, there are numerous options available to accomplish these tasks. Stoves, small handsaws, fire-starter logs, knives, pots, pans, cooking utensils, headlamps, bug repellent, plates, sporks, aquatabs (to purify water), rope, and many lighters should make your packing list. I could get prescriptive here but some of this list depends on what food you plan on preparing.
You’ll also need safety equipment like a first aid kit, spare parts for your canoe, and personal floatation devices. The outfitter you choose can provide this for you – but I’ll discuss that later. Although Algonquin is breathtakingly beautiful, it can be a hostile place if you’re not prepared.
Clothing: Keep it simple, get used to being dirty, and dress for the occasion.
This is the hardest issue to discuss as it completely depends on when you plan on going up there. Anglers can go extremely light in the late spring and summer – shorts, wet wading shoes, and a couple of layers for cooler nights. Bugs will be your biggest obstacle this time of year – the black flies and mosquitoes are MISERABLE in Algonquin. Make sure you have bug nets and insect repellent.
If you make the trip in the fall, bugs will not be a problem but there are other obstacles to consider. Packing clothing for fall weather is far more complicated as the weather can change rapidly. Fall in Algonquin consists of cooler days and cold nights, which necessitate numerous layers and protection from the rain – getting wet is inevitable but getting soaked to the bone is miserable and potentially deadly. The biggest concern this time of year is hypothermia – it’ll ruin your day quickly if you start shivering as you’ll have to get off the water and build a fire, which takes up precious fishing time.
Regardless of the season, make sure you have at least one change of clothes in case you get wet as well as a warmer set of clothing to sleep in. Morale will increase exponentially in the evenings if you can change into warm, dry clothes as you settle in for a meal by the fire.
Racking out: how to get a good night’s sleep in a primitive campsite
This section is simple – the most important item required here is a sleeping bag rated for the projected temperatures of the trip. Don’t be afraid to go bigger here – the better you sleep, the more focused and energized you’ll be on the water the next day. If the nights call for temps in the 30s, go with a 25 degree or 0 degree bag. If it’s going to be in the 60s, go with something that’ll keep you comfortable in the 50s.
For overhead cover and protection from the hard, rocky ground, you can go with either a tent/tarp and inflatable mattress set up or the leaner profile afforded by a hammock and rainfly set up. Both have pros and cons but I’ll say this much – make sure you practice setting up your hammock and rainfly prior to going up there. Let’s just say getting into your sleeping bag and remaining comfortable throughout the evening can be an exercise in futility if you aren’t used to hammock life.
Fishing Equipment: Few of these fish have ever seen a human let alone a fly – they aren’t picky feeders.
Under normal circumstances, I keep my fly selection simple – focusing on what fish are feeding on at the time. My Algonquin fly box is even sparser. The musky up there, if they are active, are anxious to kill anything that enters their zone so if it displaces enough water or makes enough noise, a fish will attack if there is one around – more to come on this topic. It’s always difficult to talk fly anglers off the ledge of having every fly imaginable at their disposal but I am serious when I tell you that all you’ll need is a small boat box with about a dozen 8-12in musky streamers of your favorite colors and a few big top water flies.
To get your flies out there, you’ll need 12wt rods with 450 grain sinking lines for streamers and 10wt rods with intermediate and floating lines for top water flies. You’ll also need redundancy in all the rods you bring – plan on at least one breaking (we broke one and lost another – long and painful story). Think of it this way – you’ll be casting big flies all day every day, will frequently switch from subsurface to topwater tactics, and will break your rods down for every portage. Something is bound to happen to a rod and the last thing you want is to be confined to one method of fishing.
You should also bring plenty of 40lb fluorocarbon, wire bite guard leader material, wire cutters, swivels, snaps, hook sharpeners, mouth openers, and a good net (not a cradle – although more space efficient, they are tough to use when operating from a canoe).
Packing it all up: Maintaining a snag free casting platform while ensuring efficiency during portages.
Notice that there are five distinct paragraphs leading up to this section. That’s how we binned our packing list. We rented four, 100L dry bags from the outfitter and filled them as follows: 2 x bags with clothes, waders, boots, hammocks, and rain flies – one bag per boat if you’re fishing with 4 anglers. 1 x bag with survival gear. 1 x bag with food. 1 x boat bag per boat with fishing equipment. Rods were either in hand, folded up in a rod carrier, or set up and stationed off the back of the canoe. If you do the math, each canoe had 2 anglers; 2, 100L boat bags; 2 rods that were set up (1 with sinking line and one with floating line); 2 rods that were stowed; 1 boat bag; and 2 PFDs. This created plenty of snag casting space in the bow for the angler and plenty of legroom for the angler on the oars. I told you planning for this was complicated!
Provisioning: a reliable outfitter with quality equipment will save you time and $$$
We rented boat bags, some safety equipment (we could’ve rented all of it but had much of our requirements already on hand), and canoes from our outfitter. The outfitter also provided the shuttle service. There is only one outfitter that services the area we fished: Algonquin Bound Outfitters. Click on this link for more details. They are extremely helpful and can help you plan a detailed packing list and itinerary.
The fishing: If you’re a musky head like us, there is no better place for numbers amidst incredible scenery.
I’ll let the pictures do most of the talking here but I will say one thing pictures can never show – these fish are voracious predators. Sure, musky are never easy to catch but in Algonquin, they are FAR EASIER than the norm. We boated 25 fish in 5.5 days and almost every fish took top water flies! Making matters even crazier is that we hooked very few of these fish on the first take. Nearly all of them would crash a fly, miss it, and keep coming back as if it was pissed off that the thing wasn’t dead yet. We had fish buttoned up, come off, and go right back after the fly as if feeling a sharp hook was some sort of defense mechanism of its prey. Some came back to the fly more than a half dozen times! REDICULOUS!. Enjoy the pics.