Story by Tim Smyth
Photos by Mike Verhoef
Many of us who have taken to the sport of fly fishing in Ontario have probably also become well aware of some of the guides to our craft that service our waters. One of the first that came to my attention, partly because he specializes on one of my favourite rivers, is Mike Verhoef. A few weeks ago I had the pleasure to meet with Mike on the Maitland itself, for a brief meet and greet with some fishing thrown in for fun.
I planned to meet Mike on the river at a creek mouth we both knew. As I approached from downstream, I found Mike already engaged with a fly-fisherman clearly new to the sport. Before I even had the chance to shake hands and introduce myself, I was immediately able to witness first hand some of the attributes that makes Mike Verhoef such a reputable guide. His patience and calm demeanor as he made suggestions to this newcomer to the sport was refreshing, and set the tone for the rest of the evening. Mike and I fished a small stretch of the Maitland River more or less just to talk, but the odd resident Rainbow Trout would interrupt from time to time. I wanted to learn more about how Mike got into the guiding business, and I was soon to find out why he’s known as “Maitland Mike”.
Mike Verhoef grew up near Clinton Ontario and the banks of the Maitland River. At around twelve years of age his uncle gave him a fly rod and introduced him to the sport on a bass pond up the road where he enjoyed plenty of top water action, catching largemouth bass on poppers. For this experience he can’t stress enough teaching newcomers in an environment where this might be possible, and from that point on he was “hooked” on fly fishing. He continued to hone his skills on the resident Rainbow Trout of the Maitland, when he remembers the days of active stocking programs equaling multi fish days.
At the age of 29, Mike moved to Alberta to persue his career in agriculture. Shortly after arriving, he was invited on a guided drift-boat trip down the Bow River in search of it’s famous Brown Trout. Within fifteen minutes in the boat, Mike had to ask himself, “why have I never seen a drift-boat on the Maitland”?
Five years later he returned to Ontario with a burning desire to start a guiding company that would, of course, incorporate drift-boat trips. Fly Fitters was born near Ben Miller, Ontario. At the age of 34, Mike Verhoef took the chance that so many of us dream of and spent the next year guiding full time on the Maitland , Bayfield, Suageen, Nine Mile and the Grand Rivers. After a year of guiding full time, Mike felt the need to get his priorities in check, and returned to a full time career in the agriculture business in order to provide for his growing family. He’s since embraced guiding fly fisherman as a side business and sees it more as a labour of love.
Mike loves the Maitland River and has a lot of respect for it. He appreciates that it’s a big river with lots of water that can put you to shame sometimes. I think it’s for these reasons that he considers the Maitland his specialty. People need the most help in these situations. The Maitland can provide year round fun for Mikes clients, but he enjoys Steelhead fishing on it the most. Again, this is a species that is most When asked about the pros and cons of being a guide, I was warmed to hear that his only perceivable downsides involved the fish not co-operating, the weather not co-operating, or pretty much any natural catastrophy that may keep his clients from catching fish. Mike feels that the biggest responsibility lies in setting expectations before the day begins, and hopes that clients will take away much more than just the memories of catching their first Steelhead. As far as he’s concerned, Steelhead fishing, or any other type of fishing, should be more of the quest. It should be about making friends, and the overall experience on the river. Of course at the end of the day, Mike wants you to catch fish, and that was his biggest up side to the guiding business when asked. “Seeing someone cast where you tell them too, mend when they should, and get a strike where you predict; it doesn’t get any better than that”. Although Mike could catch a fish almost anywhere, anytime, he definitely still gets more of a thrill from fishing vicariously through his clients. I think that’s the number one trait of a good guide. His favourite thing is seeing a client catch their first Steelhead.
Mike enjoys building relationships with his clients year after year and claims that about 75% of his trips are with repeat customers who become friends. Mike has a very easy going personality, and it’s not hard to imagine spending an eight hour day on the drift-boat with him. Walk and wade trips are available as well and make up about 50 % of Mikes bookings. He also offers 3 hour “learn to” sessions for people who are interested in wetting their feet. This would be ideal if you were spending the weekend at one of the local inns or hotels, some of which promote Mike and his services.
When asked how he sees the future of the sport, Mike sees it growing and hopes more people will take on the stewardship for our rivers that fly fishing promotes. Hopefully this, in return, will allow his 5 year old son to paddle HIM down the Maitland someday in search of a still healthy Steelhead population.
For more information on Mike Verhoef and Fly Fitters, please visit his website at http://www.flyfitters.ca