Smart Angling (Ivo): Tell us a bit about yourself first. When and how did you start fly fishing?
Keefer: I am a late 30’s father of two boys who loves spending time outdoors with a deep seeded passion for fishing and hunting that started early in my life. Both my grandfather and father were passionate fly fishermen. I was first exposed as a 7 or 8-year-old on the Credit River in Ontario, targeting brown and brook trout with my father. Turns out and to everyone’s surprise, I did not have a lot of patience for learning the sport, and that was quickly shut down. I spent the next 10+ years fishing with spinning tackle and would take up any opportunity possible to get out on the water. The last summer before heading off to University was spent in the Muskoka region of Ontario chasing warm water species at a friend's cottage where I was consistently losing expensive hard plastic lures. Frustration with the mounting costs and lack of available replacement gear on short notice was mounting. It was then that I sheepishly asked my Dad to have another go at teaching me how to fly fishing, thinking I would learn to tie flies. For whatever reason, I thought I would be saving money by making my own lures (oops….). This all came at a very busy time professionally for dad and I was off to university anyway and would be away much of the remaining season. At that point, he found Ian Colin James in London, where I was going to school, and booked me my first lesson. That first lesson is where it really all began. Ian taught me the basics in a park on grass and we quickly moved to a surprisingly productive section of the Thames river near the school. I was hooked. Deep! From that point on, for whatever reason, Ian and I fished together regularly while I attended school. Ian was a phenomenal first mentor, and I was very fortunate to have found him. It was Ian that would eventually push me and a number of my teammates over the years into competitive fly fishing (more on that later)...
Smart Angling: Who is the person that has inspired and motivated you the most in fly fishing?
Keefer: It’s a hard question to answer quickly. Obviously given what I said above, Ian Colin James was a massive influence and inspiration. He kept things simple and uncomplicated, which in this sport is a bit rare. But it worked. Ian caught fish. His clients caught fish. He was my first major inspiration. He also introduced me to Ian Troup who would become one of my best friends and teammates over the next 13+ years.
Other major influences were anglers like Jiri Klima and Karel Krivanec in the Czech Republic. Back in 2009, I went to attend one of their masterclasses and it really opened my eyes a lot. Again, similarly to Ian, tactics, flies and techniques were kept simple. They worked. Well.
The final chapters of inspiration in the yet-to-be-finished story of my journey along this path is with some of the top anglers in Spain. David Arcay, through work with Smart Angling, has done a lot for Canadian competitive fly fishermen, and I am no exception. What David and the top anglers in Spain accomplish with a fly is truly incredible. The pace of progression and development our core team has gone through with David’s guidance has been unbelievable.
Finally, my teammates (from the team that represented Canada at the 2016 and 2018 Commonwealths, the 2022 Worlds and a few National Championships) inspire me regularly. We have a great and solid core of guys that consistently push each other to get better and stronger every year. They are also my strongest motivation to continue to develop, refine and improve my skill set. We are all like-minded and hungry to continue to learn. I couldn’t imagine a better group of guys to have gone down this path with over the years.
Smart Angling: What is your favourite type of water? Your favourite technique?
Keefer: Another tough question. I am so very fond of all water types and the challenges they present. I would say that this answer has consistently changed over the years.
Lately, it has been technical rivers. Challenging and changing flow in tight conditions on clear water. Refining my dry fly and nymph skills in such water has been a fun challenge.
Honourable mention goes to new lakes and figuring them out. New lakes can be like putting together a 3D puzzle. It takes time. Smaller portions of the overall picture show themselves first and eventually lead to breakthroughs that help you really figure out the whole picture. That said, there is also this feeling of wonder, at least in my case, as to whether there is another more productive area you might be missing – particularly on bigger bodies of water.
Smart Angling: How did you get involved in competitive fly fishing? What do you like about it and what not?
Keefer: As mentioned earlier, it was Ian Colin James that pushed me and a few guys into competitive fishing. The first comp we competed in was back in 2008 or 2009 in Mont Tremblant. We were all new to it and despite doing a horrible job from a result standpoint, I enjoyed every minute of it. Thinking back to the early years, what stood out, was how quickly you learn and adapt in competitive circumstances versus recreationally fishing. And interestingly, this has not changed after nearly 15 years.
There is very little I don’t like about competitive fly fishing. Perhaps it’s the cost of travelling to far-off places to compete. It would be great if we could somehow find more support for our national teams that head to far-flung corners of the world. It's been a challenge for all teams at one point or another.
Smart Angling: What do you think is the biggest myth about competitive fly fishing?
Keefer: I’m not sure. I know there has been lots of noise and people who frown on competitive fishing for whatever reason. None of it has ever made much sense to me and I have done my best to ignore it.
Smart Angling: What is the biggest challenge facing competitive fishing in Canada? What is the biggest success?
Keefer: Canada is a big country. It is hard to organize events that give anglers consistent exposure to both river and lake venues that mimic circumstances often found in international settings. Despite the size of Canada, it is a small group nationally. We are growing and doing everything we can, but there remains lots of room there.
Interestingly, the challenges we have faced could also be viewed as our biggest success. Despite these challenges, over the years we have grown significantly as a group in Canada. Our success internationally has been consistently improved. I think another big success is the help the average recreational angler gets through the development of new techniques that almost always come through competitive fishing. Whether that been modern nymphing or Spanish/European dry fly techniques, the recreational anglers of the world have better access to more specialized equipment and technical teachings through accessing those who compete at a high level.
Smart Angling: You were part of a Canadian team that delivered last year in Spain Canada’s best finish at a World Championship. What does it take to do well at that level? What is your best memory of the experience?
Keefer: It is a constant evolution and refinement of our skill sets. More arrows in our quiver and making each arrow sharper and stronger. That said, perhaps the single most important aspect of our group is cultural fit. We all get along well. We are friends and fish together regularly outside of competitive fishing and have been for quite some time. We push each other to grow and refine our abilities. All that leads to consistency. We build the best possible plan through practice and stick to it. It develops over the course of a comp and we make adjustments but we do so as a single unit and by consensus.
Smart Angling: What is Smart Angling for you?
Keefer: For me, Smart Angling is a strong and supportive source of high quality, very specialized but very accessible technical equipment of all kinds for serious fly fishermen. Now just that’s my perspective from a competitive angler. You do offer a wide range of products within any given category that makes it very accessible to every angler type, but for me, it is being able to access cutting-edge products that help me become more effective on the water in a competitive setting.
Keefer is a fly fishing guide in Southwestern Ontario. Specializing in guiding on both, the Grand and Credit Rivers for intermediate and advanced anglers with a focus on dry fly and nymph fishing.
Keefer has been a competitive angler & guide since 2008. A founding member of Team Dredgehogs and Team Manager, Keefer has competed at many regional, national and international events. He has spent countless hours with some of the top anglers in the world refining his skills. Keefer has been mentored by the late Ian Colin James, starting in 2004, followed by top Czech competitive anglers and most importantly and most recently by five-time world champion David Arcay of Spain - without a doubt, one of the globe's top anglers. He has been selected five times to represent Canada at major international competitions:
2014, 2016 (Gold medal team), 2018 & 2020 Commonwealth Fly Fishing Championships in England, Canada, Northern Ireland & New Zealand respectively. 2022 World Fly Fishing Championships in Asturias, Spain.
8th place team: 2022 WFFC, Spain
1st pl team & 4th pl individual - 2019 CNFFC
1st pl team & 1st pl individual - 2019 Ontario Fly Fishing Championships
1st pl team & 4th pl Individual - 2018 CNFFC
1st pl Team & 4th pl Individual - 2016 Commonwealth Fly Fishing Championships