The History of Great Lakes Big H20 Fly Fishing
In the 1980s, Fly fishing in the Great Lakes was primarily a sport limited to rivers and small venues. Fly anglers pursued species like trout on the fly, but the angling scene on the big water was a game of trolling and conventional gear. Jeff Liskay and Jerry Darkes were part of that scene. Both were already accomplished Great Lakes gear anglers and were guiding on Lake Erie for Walleye.
Jerry was the first to start actively dabbling with fly on the big water. He was already fly angling in those smaller venues for Steelhead and Small Mouth and somewhere in the late 80s began exploring the idea of fly fishing on Lake Erie. Jerry says the biggest issue was "having the lines". The technology simply wasn't available yet. Some of the early experiments included lines with lead cores, which he said sort of worked, but as Jerry points out; "you kind of took your life into your own hands when casting them". The step change came when good regular sinking lines came onto the market in the early 90s. With this advancement, he began to first take folks out on Lake Erie for hire and include "fly" as an option. Early fly trips were a bit more like a cross between a drift swing and a troll.
The 1990s were the true beginning of Great Lakes Fly Fishing developments for the big water, as a network and knowledge began to grow across the region. Capt Brian Mezaros was doing similar experimenting on Lake St. Clair. Jerry Darkes met him at the Michigan Fly Show where they soon became friends. Over the years they compared notes and continued to aid the knowledge base. Capt. Brian is the founder of Great Lakes Fly Fishing LLC and his early work put big water musky on the fly on the map in Michigan. For a fun view: you can see his Great Lakes Flyfishing LLC introduction video below on the original GLFF YouTube channel featuring guest star and current industry leader Mike Schultz of Schultz Outfitters.
Capt. Jeff Liskay was already considered an innovator in conventional gear techniques for Great Lakes Steelhead and was fully immersed in the Walleye tournament circuit. With a love of exploration, Jeff jumped right in and began his transition from gear to fly. By the early 2000s he was already widely recognized as an expert Great Lakes Fly Angler. Behind the scenes his love of the big water and Walleye had never faded. He actively experimented, working on dialing in techniques for specific Lake Erie species on fly. His contributions include techniques for Walleye and Drum on the fly. Through all the men's friendships the collaboration continued. Jeff ultimately purchased Great Lakes Flyfishing from Brian in 2018 and is the current owner and operator.
The creation of Great Lakes Flyfishing wouldn't be what it is today without the efforts of other early pioneers in the Great Lakes who were equally experimenting and fine tuning techniques. This includes anglers such as Nick Pionesta and Rick Kushtich in New York. Both men similarly had their fly angling beginnings in Steelhead, but have grown to be recognized for their pursuit of Musky. Others to mention include noted Great Lakes Spey caster\fly tier Dave Pinczkowski and Bass Expert Pat Ehlers in the Mid West. To all these pioneers and those we forgot to name, we are grateful.
Today, the Great Lakes big water is still dominated by trolling and gear, but the big water fly community is growing. It is an exciting time to be a fly angler in The Great Lakes. From rivers to our big lakes we've got a whole host of fly angling opportunities to enjoy. We look forward to spending a day on the water with you soon!