Unless you’re a fly angler, you probably don’t know that Southwestern Ontario is an oasis of piscatorial delight for those who cast fur and feather.

The Grand River’s tailwater attracts fly anglers from far and wide in pursuit of hatchery raised brown trout. The Canadian Heritage River boasts a variety of sports species including smallmouth bass, steelhead and pike. The Maitland, Saugeen and Bighead rivers flow into Lake Huron. There’s also the Thames and Credit rivers. Finally, there’s the numerous tributaries in all these watersheds that offer excellent fly fishing opportunities, not to mention small lakes and reservoirs created by dams and protected by conservation authorities.

Southwestern Ontario offers a good selection of fly shops and fishing stores well-stocked with fly fishing gear and tackle, outfitters and professional guides serving anglers of all skill sets and experience and a number of fly fishing clubs, including KW Fly Fishers which has been in continuous operation since the mid-1970s.

Thanks to Princess Cinemas, the area also presents one of the most popular film festivals devoted to fly fishing. A river runs through Waterloo once again with the return of the International Fly Fishing Film Festival. For the sixth consecutive year the IF4 is as eagerly anticipated as the opening of inland trout season. This year’s event — once again sponsored by KW Flyfishers — takes place April 26 in Uptown Waterloo. Screen time is 7 pm sharp.

Founded in 2011, the festival grew from a handful of screenings in western Canada to more than 100 across Canada and the U.S., in addition to South America and Australia. A couple of years ago the festival targeted Europe and Scandinavia for future growth.

‘We are truly international,’ confirmed Fly Fusion publisher Heather Bird, Canada’s award-winning fly angling magazine which presents the annual film festival. I talked to Jennifer a couple of years ago, the last of three decades as an arts reporter at the Waterloo Region Record.

The film festival’s popularly was confirmed when Princess Cinemas hosted the festival for the first time. So many tickets were sold to fly anglers from across Southwestern Ontario that an impromptu hold-over screening was held at the Original Cinema.

In response to the festival’s success, cinema co-owner John Tutt moved the event to the larger Princess Twin two years ago. BTW, the venue is licensed so anglers can enjoy a favourite beverage with their popcorn.

The festival showcases a selection of feature and medium- and short-length films devoted to ‘the passion, lifestyle and culture of fly fishing,’ produced by filmmakers from around the world.

‘The festival is more about the experience of fly fishing than catching fish,’ Bird asserted from Fly Fusion’s headquarters in Cranbrook, B.C. ‘It examines why people fly fish rather than how through storytelling and narrative.’ The festival separates itself from the standard, televised fishing shows characterized by Bird as ‘same old, same old.’

When the festival began, Bird noted, it was a challenge finding quality filmmakers. Paralleling the festival’s expanding audience base, however, has been its higher profile and growing reputation which attracted increasing numbers of accomplished filmmakers.

The films take armchair anglers to many of the world’s most desirable angling destinations — places that only the wealthy, those on a company credit card or those with sponsors or endorsements can afford. This is the stuff fly angling dreams are made on (to paraphrase Will Shakespeare, a fisher of words).

Bird is pleased the festival has become a promotional vehicle for organizations that support fly fishing and conservation groups that support water ecology.

After previewing this year’s submissions I was struck by the films that combine fly fishing with strong narrative threads. The festival’s future depends on filmmakers telling compelling and engaging stories rather than simply documenting ‘awesome’ fishing experiences in exotic locales.

The program begins with Fly Fusion Films’ Focus, a reflective visual essay written and narrated by Fly Fusion magazine founding editor Derek Bird.

From the meditative to the high-octane, Mako involves fishing for ‘apex predator’ mako sharks off the coast of San Diego.

Josh Nugent’s Ty’s Flies is this year’s best submission. It tells a poignant, heartwarming story about Ty Van der Muelen, a boy who finds solace and refuge through fly fishing from a crippling disease.

Set in Thailand, Fishing Beyond the River is an inspiring film featuring a quartet of men and women who not only found healing through fly fishing, but use the recreational sport to help others heal.

DIYAK chronicles a ‘true wilderness experience’ in pursuit of rainbow trout, char and five species of salmon in a ‘chosen’ unnamed river in the Alaskan frontier.

Outside By the River showcases Atlantic salmon adventure on some of the legendary rivers in the Gaspe.

Rio De Gigantes takes viewers on a trip down the great Amazon River in pursuit of giant peacock bass.

Confluentus demonstrates how three buddies live admirable angling lives by making choices and setting priorities that include living with parents and in-laws — all the while casting for ‘Chuck Norris’ bull trout in a designated wilderness area.

In Seriously North a quartet of buddies fly to Canada’s Far North and, under trying conditions, walk more than 100 miles in search for elusive Arctic char, the ‘Holy Grail’ of fishing.

Information and tickets available online at
Princess Cinemas