As the ice on ponds finally thaws, fly-fishing enthusiasts are starting to don their waders and fetch tackle-boxes out of basements. For the Canadian Fly Fishing Team, though, the real season begins Tuesday when the 34th World Fly Fishing Championships are held in Czech Republic.

Didn’t know there was a Canadian Fly Fishing Team? Don’t feel too bad. Fly Fishing Canada’s bio on its website admits, “Competitive events remain relatively unknown to most Canadians.”

While not exactly mainstream, competitive fly fishing has been an amateur sport in Canada since 1987 when it first contended internationally at the 7th WFFC in England.

In 1993, Canada hosted the championships in Kamloops, cementing its place in the international competitive fly fishing community. Ten years later, the first National Fly Fishing Championships were held in Russell, Manitoba, and the event has attracted fishing enthusiasts from all over Canada ever since.

Though the team has never won the world championships, in 2009 Donald Thom won a silver medal in the individual category for Team Canada.

Not like regular fishing

Fly fishing differs from the standard off-the-dock fishing most cottagers participate in. It involves enticing fish with tiny flies, or imitations of insects, instead of the large lures used in recreational fishing.

Fly fishing

Scoring at the World Fly Fishing Championships is based on the size and weight of the fish caught, and both team and individual scores are given. (The Spokesman-Review, Rich Landers/The Associated Press)

“The main thing that’s different is the method of fishing. So [with] fly fishing you’re actually casting a [weighted]

line and the fly goes along for the ride, whereas regular fishing you’re actually casting a lure that takes the line with it,” says John Nishi, this year’s Fly Fishing Team Canada captain.

Though competitive fly fishing is fairly contemporary, the sport itself has been a part of North America’s cultural landscape since the late 19th century, making appearances in the novels of Ernest Hemingway and movies like A River Runs through It.

A new youth national team sprouted up in the late '90s to complement the original senior team. Fly fishing has begun to garner more interest in Canada, with amateur leagues emerging in British Columbia and Alberta over the past few years.

Fly Fishing Canada

This year’s senior national team was chosen by Jim Iredale, president of Fly Fishing Canada, and a committee of judges. The team consists of Alberta's Nishi, Ontario's Ivo Balinov and Sorin Comsa, British Columbia's Clint Goyette and Cowessess First Nation's Jeremiah Hamilton. 

Salmon fishing

While not exactly mainstream, competitive fly fishing has been an amateur sport in Canada since 1987, when it first contended internationally at the 7th WFFC in England. (CBC)

“Fly Fishing Canada is a sports body whose responsibility it is to sanction and select team members for any given event,” Iredale says.

Team Canada members are selected annually based on their cumulative performance at national and international competitions held over the past five years. Fly Fishing Canada usually chooses five anglers from a pool of 15 to 20 applicants.

“If an individual does well at a national event, which is our premiere event every year, they can usually be guaranteed a spot if they’re in the top-10-percentile two years running,” says Iredale.

Social aspect to competitive fishing

According to Iredale, teamwork is an important factor for fly fishing teams.

“It is a solitary sport, in that it’s done alone - it’s not team-play like hockey or soccer - but they are a group of people who move as a team, represent their country as a team and can do well as a team,” he says.

Anglers participate in five sessions held over the course of three days, with three events taking place on river sectors and two on lake sectors. The team will fish in fresh water for brown trout, rainbow trout and grayling. Scoring is based on the size and weight of the fish caught, and both team and individual scores are given.

'Competitions are a great way to meet other fishermen from across the country and the world, learn from them and have a good time together.'- Ivo Balinov, Canadian Fly Fishing Team

The Canadian team is meeting in the Czech Republic 10 days before the competition starts to practice together. It will be the first time all five members will be fishing together as a team.

According to Ivo, the team is preparing for the competition by collecting information about the water they will be fishing on, trying to figure out which techniques will be useful, and getting in shape both physically and mentally.

The anglers also had to purchase new gear. While a leisure fly fisher uses one or two fly lines, competitors need to carry at least 10 to cover varying conditions during a match.

Fishers may be in it for the glory but they’re certainly not in it for the money. Although the team has sponsors, Fly Fishing Canada is a non-profit organization and the team members have to pay their own way.

Competitors also have to take time off work to go to the competition, and winning teams aren’t rewarded with monetary prizes. In exchange for impressive catches, team members walk away with medals, trophies and bragging rights.

Balinov says despite the competitive nature of the championships, they offer an opportunity for fishers to socialize.

“The stereotype is that fishing is not a very social activity, it is enjoyed in solitude. But in my experience this is not the case,” says Balinov. “Competitions are a great way to meet other fishermen from across the country and the world, learn from them and have a good time together.”

For Nishi, it’s getting an opportunity to travel, even if just around Canada, that he likes most about the sport.

“It could be the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains in Alberta, the lakes north of Ottawa, the rivers and lakes in B.C. and even the beaches and ocean on the coast as well. It’s about having an excuse to be outside spending time in the water and doing things you love to do. That’s probably the thing that keeps me coming back.”