Ken Chandler’s wit and humorous personality are exactly what many folks look for in a good friend and fishing buddy. Being a fly fishing addict, he knows what the difference is between a good day and a bad day on the water. From his point of view, there are no bad days out there, especially when he’s hosting your guided adventure in southern Ontario. His character and his passion for fisheries management through independent actions make guided adventures with him feel more like you are out with a good buddy on your favourite piece of water rather than on a guided trip. I’ve had the chance to fish with Ken on a couple of occasions and on one such occasion; I sat down to chat with him about fly fishing, guiding and his drift boat adventures in southern Ontario.
A Little History
Years ago, when Grand River Troutfitters first opened in Fergus, Ken was the first full time employee hired. This job came with the promise that there would be the opportunity to begin guiding with the outfit as well. He had been fishing the Grand River long enough that he was able to give clients in the shop pointers on where to fish, and what flies they may wish to start using. Going through the retail aspect of working in a fly shop taught him how to better work with clients both in the shop, and on the river. Starting with 4 hour guides on the Grand River under the supervision of the fly shop owner, Ken quickly gained the trust of the shop owner. From that point on it was full boar with guiding.
Winter months saw a complete shut down of these guiding opportunities on the Grand river. As a result of this, Ken went to work at the University of Waterloo as a fisheries technician. His position there was assisting a fellow doing his PhD. Ken was employed to carry out a winter study on Brown trout in the Grand River. The project required a great deal of underwater video taping, and a lot of scouting the river. This included both canoeing and scuba diving through the winter months researching brown trout wintering areas. In December, from the low level bridge in the Elora Gorge conservation area downstream towards the Walsingham Bridge area, Ken donned a wet suit and completed a long, extremely unpleasant and cold drift looking for brown trout in the river. That up close and personal knowledge of the river gave him an edge, and with that extra awareness of winter habitat, Ken’s familiarity with the Grand River grew dramatically. Kens reputation as a guide on the Grand river tail water was growing quickly, but his time at Troutfitters was coming to an end and Ken eventually moved on to other aspects of guiding.
I asked Ken how he felt about the Grand River these days, and how the fishery has changed over the years. He says that when he first started fishing the river, you would be lucky to see another angler out there. Maybe you’d have the opportunity to exchange a couple of flies and jokes. Nowadays, Ken sees the river in a different way.
“The Grand is a great resource for new fly fishers. It’s a great place for people to get out after work, to help build confidence and build their skills in fly fishing. There are a lot of pools and a lot of big fish, but there are also a lot of folks after those same big fish. It’s not for somebody who is looking for a quiet evening of casting to some fish on their own, they’re going to have company. It’s not a solitary type river to fish. “ And like me, Ken is the kind of guy that prefers to fish in solitude, and he prefers to work for his fish. He says, “That means catching one or two fish rather than having a whole bunch of fish in front of you. On quieter rivers, when you know the fish are there, and you know what they’re feeding on, hooking up means getting a good fight out of a natural fish, rather than going to a stocked river and spending a lot of time with other people and getting frustrated.”
Adventures in Fly Fishing
Ken offers more than just a guided trip. As the name of his service implies, Ken offers “Fly fishing adventures.” These trips aren’t just about the fishing. Ken is your host and he’s there to entertain you. Yeah, Ken knows where the fish are, and you’re probably going to use his equipment, and his flies, and he’ll give you tips where needed, but at the same time, you are captive for at least 8 hours. Whether that is in his boat or on the bank of the river he prefers to entertain you. You won’t find the militant type orders of how to cast and where to cast. “You want to have some fun while you are doing it, you want to learn in a more casual atmosphere,” he says. For Ken it’s an adventure because he’s meeting new people, and learning about these people and learning from clients all the time. It’s a completely interactive experience from Ken’s point of view. Ken has never been guided, and his business is based upon what he would want in a guided trip, or adventure. “Its not simply pointing out a fish, saying cast there and that’s it. It’s about teaching people, expanding knowledge and getting to know someone. Its not just learning about fly fishing, it’s learning about people and it’s a very social thing.” Ken has clients that come back year after year and he can’t wait to go out with them. Some days the fishing isn’t that great, and the adventure becomes more about chatting and catching up with one another. “The adventure is about taking people away from the crowds, showing them water they may have never seen before, having an excellent stream side barbeque, and just spending a good day away…..an adventure.”
Drift boat advantages
When Ken first started guiding independently, he quickly found out that it’s a really limited season. You are limited to walk and wade trips and coupled with that, really limited access. Finding that he was only getting bookings for about 3 to 4 months a year, Ken began to explore the options that a drift boat would offer. With his offerings as a guide being good during trout season and mediocre for bass walk and wade trips, it made sense to have a drift boat. The boast Ken uses is the result of hundreds if not thousands of hours spent working in his shop. He obtained plans for the boat online, and built it himself. It’s extended his guiding season to 8 to 10 months. He’s gone crazy with the amount of rivers he can cover. Access to different waters, different species and more accessibility are the advantages of a drift boat. In southern Ontario, there’s a lot of posted private property, mainly due to disrespectful individuals. With the ability to just throw the boat in some of the larger rivers, he can go pretty well wherever he wants. This means getting into less pressured waters and ultimately putting people right on top of fish. Whether they are experienced casters or not, Ken will put them right on fish. It’s a night and day difference which extends the season and the opportunities drastically. Ken describes an example with Musky as the target. “In a river situation it’s almost impossible to fish for musky on the fly from shore. We’re always casting to shore for these fish. When these fish are in their predatory mode, they’re tight to banks, or holding tight in log jams and fallen trees waiting for something to move so they can lunge out and nail it. Almost every musky that has been fooled on a musky adventure has been within 5 or 6 feet from shore. The fish has moved from very close to the bank and chased the fly towards the middle of the river. Same goes with smallmouth. It’s less common that you are just blind casting into a large piece of water and you get a fish to come up. You see structure on the bank, cast to it and you generally get a fish. With walk and wade trips, you walk in and you’ve already spooked that fish…the opportunity is gone. It’s the same with fishing resident trout species. Most of those larger fish are out of the heavy current and up close to the bank.” When drifting for resident trout, Ken tries to ensure that clients are casting downstream, about 40 feet in front of the boat, before the shadow reaches potential lies, basically before the fish have any indication that something is coming down the river. So, how about the casting implications when fishing from the drift boat? To that, Ken remarks, “Both single hand and Spey casting from the drift boat is awesome! It’s like being up on a platform. You’re that much higher above the water. You can see current seams, you have that much more control. I’ve never had someone complain about Spey casting from the boat. Single Spey, double Spey and snap-t casts work really well. The circle C cast works very well up in the front of the boat. Typically when we are fly fishing, you are waist high in the water. In the drift boat, your perspective changes. Once you are above that water you can see so much further, you have no obstruction, and nothing to hinder your back cast. It’s the perfect venue.”
Favourite flies for different species.
On fly selection, and favourites of this guide, Ken generally keeps things simple. The particular musky patterns that Ken uses are the evolution of the last 7 years or so through his experience targeting these fish. His custom tandem tube flies are massive, bright and noisy. That’s what it takes to move these large aggressive fish. At the same time, some favourite bass poppers have moved musky as well. Usually when this happens, there is no hook-up, but changing up to a big fat musky fly is all it takes to get that fish hooked up, and when that happens, hold on! For resident trout, “its always been emergers and spinners. I did a lot of nymph fishing with standard nymph patterns like the pheasant tail. Actually, a simple pheasant tail nymph dyed yellow tied with yellow thread was the number one producer bar none. The klinkhammer style emerger is unbelievable. This fly tied in different colours, variations and sizes works on everything. I remember being out one night many years ago with Ian Martin and Neil Houlding out behind Ian’s place on the grand. Neil had been casting a klinkhammer to three large fish that were rising constantly, but these fish wouldn’t even give his fly sniff. I moved in and said let me try my new one. It was basically a klinkhammer, but without the parachute. It had a foam upper body with a cdc wing casing split. It looked kind of ugly, but it worked, and it worked really well. First cast over these fish and one comes up and eats it. I proceeded to play and land it and Neil just gave me this look. It’s coming up with my own creations that I really like. There’s nothing that I’d go out and buy that I really enjoy fishing with unless it’s something like the stimulator. Who doesn’t love the yellow stimulator? It’s a great pattern. Humpys and stuff like that are great also. For steelhead, I really only focus on two handed methods and the matuka spey is my go to pattern. But things seem to change from year to year. It seems to be there’s a pattern that works on one river better than anything else. Then, the following year it flips 180 degrees and you find yourself using something completely different. It may be a confidence thing, but it seems to change on a constant basis and it’s an ever evolving thing.”
First Cast Fishing Lessons
For the beginning fly fisher, Ken offers the First Cast Fishing Lesson. This is based on people who have never fly fished before. Ken describes the course like this. “Years ago when I first started fly fishing with a couple of buddies in grade 7 or 8, it was frustrating. I remember those days vividly and that’s probably because of the frustration. I didn’t know the knots, couldn’t make a good cast and I didn’t know how to read the water. These really are the key things that I found would have been invaluable if someone would have taught me back then, and they are the things I concentrate on. It’s a 6 hour course, we spend the first hour talking about equipment, and then we get into casting. It’s all done either in my backyard on in a park. This is never on the water. As soon as you introduce water into a course like this, you’ve lost the student, they’re thinking about fish. We go over different casts and different mending techniques on the grass. I also teach them how to fight a fish on the grass where I play the role of the fish. They learn how to slip strike, how to strip line in, how to palm the reel and to keep the rod up high. Once we get to the river, after a barbeque lunch of course, (there’s always a barbeque break when ken is either guiding or teaching!) they know what to do. It’s not something that’s brand new to them. We spend the first hour flipping over rocks, looking at nymphs and taking time to observe whatever may be hatching on a given day. We go over nymphing techniques, streamer techniques and dry fly techniques. It’s a pretty intense course, and I always get emails from folks who took my course saying “I got out with my buddy, we both took your course and every time we do something wrong one of us says, well remember what Ken said.” It shrinks the learning curve. Things that took me maybe 2 to 4 years to learn on my own, they can learn in a day. Finally, we spend an hour or two fishing, and putting what they’ve learned to use.
Ken is diligent in the getting to know the folks that he guides. He says “You have about 3 minutes to find out someone’s personality. On the phone, you pick up on key things that the clients say. Whether or not you want to guide them or you don’t. Is this someone that is going to be a catch and release individual? Are they simply looking to take advantage of the trip to find new water, and a new place to harvest fish? Some folks are there just to find the spots.” Ultimately Ken is for the fishery and for the fish. “If it was just about making money I’d be busy every day” he says. He’s very particular about clients, and is concerned more about how the fishery is managed. “Plain and simple guides are managing the fishery by who they take, how often they go and what their practises are. It’s more important that the fishery maintains its exclusivity and fish population than it is to make money at the end of the week. That doesn’t sound like your typical business owner, but at the end of the day it works out really well. People appreciate the fact that I am more concerned with sharing something to that extent with someone who is that keen on catch and release and maintaining fisheries, that’s a client for life. Kens has had a number of clients who have caught fish, and say “I want to take this one home. “ When this happens, “Sometimes it’s a struggle to have them understand that this is my livelihood, and the fish must be released not just for me, but also for future generations. Once you explain that it’s not self motivated, but that it is a fisheries motivated thing, they usually get the picture.”
If you’re thinking about a guided trip in southern Ontario, I wouldn’t hesitate for a second to get in touch with Ken Chandler to discuss the adventure you are seeking. Humour, local knowledge and a good buddy are what you will find in Ken. One word of caution though, one trip with this fellow probably won’t be enough! You’ll want to repeat your adventure again!
Get In Touch With Ken Chandler
Ken Chandler Fly Fishing Adventures