I have a new obsession. Correction. I should say we. We’re obsessed. It’s taken over the attention of my entire family with such a maniacal fever that we dream about it. Simultaneously. If a ghost floated through my house deep into the witching hours he’d find four contented souls tucked under the covers, breathing deeply, randomly whipping an arm into the air and calling out to the raging blue liquid in our minds – drift, set, fish on! You guessed it. I’m Shelby, and I’m a fish-a-holic. But not the old cast-and-reel fishing of my youth. Oh no. That was just a gateway to the real fix. The one that gets you so high you can’t help but dream of the perfect cast into a frothy drift, right by the log where the water turns dark. I’ve started pulling over on the highway to scout holes and check for access. My girls - ages seven and nine - catch bugs, drop their rods, and come running to me so I can inspect them. “Mom, the Grey Drakes are hatching! Switch me up! Quick!”
Fly fishing. Growing up in the Kootenays, it’s something I’ve witnessed others do for most of my life. Singular men, clad in shades of beige, stalking the riverbank. Suspenders and funny hats and deeply-lined foreheads from summers spent with the identical look of concentration on their faces. I watched them crawling over and around debris to get to the good holes, while I would stand on the shore and cast my Five-of-Diamonds randomly, wondering what all the fuss was about. Well honey, now I know. There’s an art to fly fishing. It’s knowledge and instinct and experience and a tiny bit of luck. Finding the right hole on the right day, selecting your fly based on the hatch, then casting that baby exactly where a fish just rose. A flash of silver. An open mouth. And a perfectly timed set that bends your rod in half. It’s a sport that you suck at, at first. It’s hard. But as you practice and learn some tricks you get better. You can see a difference in what you’re doing and the fish you’re catching and you feel proud of yourself. I’ve watched my girls stand at the edge of the river, casting away in silence. Watching the flow and mending their line until they find success. “Got one!” They squeal. Rods curled and faces beaming with delight.
We’re so lucky to live steps away from world-class fly fishing accompanied by the support of experts who live here for that very reason. The Elk River is an absolute gem, but without the right help and support, venturing onto its banks and finding a good hole can be overwhelming. When I first walked into the Elk River Guiding Company, I was intimidated. I knew next to nothing about fly fishing except that my husband never wanted to stop doing it. It was a classic ‘if you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em’ scenario. Lucky for me, Paul and Lisa Samycia, the lovely owners of the shop, have only one intention for every man, woman and child that steps into their welcoming store. They want you to love fishing. Because they love fishing. They don’t care if you’ve never tied a fly on a line or have no idea what ‘mending’ actually is. They’ll gently explain everything you need to know. Paul has fished the rivers surrounding Fernie for over fifteen years and has a Bachelor of Science in Zoology to boot. An unparalleled combination of knowledge and experience. The shop is bustling - busier than ever this year - Paul tells me as my girls survey the walls of flies, giggling at names like ‘Sexy Sally’ and ‘Woolly Bugger.’
So I guess it’s not just me. This fly fishing thing is catching on. It truly is an all-age activity that engages your mind, your heart, and some deep human instinct that we have to catch stuff. Remember that? I think it fades as we get older, but I’m telling you, it’s in there. Go see my friend Paul, get yourself a Sexy Sally, and give it a try. Sweet dreams.