High water

High Water: A Guide to Spring Fly Fishing

words :: Bobby Koven // photos :: Glen Harris.

This spring we can finally get back to practising the perfect self-isolation activity: fly fishing. And now this mindfulness pastime is more meaningful than ever. Who thought we would still be in a pandemic? But how lucky are we fly fishers to live in this playground?


From the last Saturday in April to the end of December we have at our disposal a number of world-renowned rivers with an abundance of freshwater fish species. These rivers—Nottawasaga, Beaver, Bighead, Rocky and Main Saugeen, Maitland and Grand—all have their headwaters in the area. They typically start off as trickling springs, grow to meandering streams and then crescendo into magnificent rivers, emptying into Georgian Bay, Lake Huron proper or Lake Erie.

My early spring favourites are the rivers within a 10-15-minute drive from my home on Lake Eugenia—secluded spots where I hope to find no other fly fishers. (I’m not selfish, I just enjoy my solitude.)

As fishing season is about to open, I have all types of trout on my mind: rainbow, brook and brown. All the rivers are unique, but at this time of year they share one common trait: high and swift water, a direct result of melting snow.

Ideal fly fishing conditions (clear and slower water) come later in the season, but local knowledge and preparation can provide the reward of tight lines and coveted trout, even in high water.




Fly fishing is an art, a craft and a passion learned through many years of practise and observation of the “old guys.” My technique thoughts for early trout season? Fish the prime water (feeding lanes—beside the swift currents, banks and eddies); get your flies deep; fish with a tight line and always set the hook.

I hope you have a great season. And I hope I don’t see you out there.

Equipment Check

Is your rod in good shape? Are all the pieces there and the glides secure? I use an 8-foot 9-weight rod in high water. My reels were lubricated last fall but I still check them. I always carry two reels with me, just in case.

I strip the reel clean, checking for cracks. I also check my backing and replace if it’s too short or frayed. While you’re cleaning the line, you might as well take time to practise a few casts with a hookless fly.

Next I replace my leader—typically a 4-6-foot, maybe with a sink tip for high water. The tippet can become brittle over winter, so I check it and usually replace. I have been practising my knots, including the Duncan, for early-season weighted flies.




To stay in the zone over winter, I tie a variety of weighted flies, hook size 10-14. I typically use Black or Purple Woolly Buggers, Prince Nymphs, egg flies and Hare’s Ear nymphs. I always include in my vest a variety of small shots, indicators and sink tips—in high, swift water, the fish are typically near the bottom.

In early April I take my waders, vest and boots for a test run while checking out a variety of spots to see how the ice is melting and if the structure has changed.

I use a collapsible walking stick, inherited from my dad. I always get masked, hatted and polarized up as a Flyfishingbob Aficiondo to protect against the elements and black flies.

My special trout net is attached to my vest. Most importantly, I carry my favourite cigars—which also keep the black flies away.

Fly Fishing Bob (flyfishingbob.ca) is a local resident and has been fly fishing in the area since 1968.  His “old guys” include his father, Dr. Irving Koven; Wesley Curtis; Dr. Ron Gitelman and Jack Biddell. Today he is an “old guy” to a few younger aspiring fly fishers.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published