An interview with Chris Puchniak, Smart Anling Pro Staff
When and how did you start fly fishing?
My dad got me into fishing at a young age. We did lots of salmon fishing in rivers and the ocean. But it was probably around the age of 14 or 15 I witnessed a fly angler clean up on a tough lake of big fish while the rest of us on the lake caught next to nothing. I kind of recall seeing that and going: "I want to do that!" Then I got into flyfishing with a couple of friends in high school by exploring one of the local stocked ponds. I think my first rig was one my parents bought me where you bought the fly line and the rod and reel came free with it... and it's just continued from there.
What is your favourite type of water? You favourite technique?
Can I say 'any' water? Even if it doesn't have fish. As long as there is the possibility of a fish, I love any type of water. From rivers to lakes to oceans. But I generally like to fish the worst water I can find. The stuff that good (better) anglers get bored with and don't want to bother with. That's probably my favourite type of water - and of course this varies from system to system. But generally if no one else wants to fish it, I probably DO want to fish it.
I don't like to put aside any techniques because any fishing is fun and everything is useful at some point or another, but I do like tightline nymphing. The fast, sudden and direct contact you have when a fish takes the fly. I think a lot of anglers like feeling that initial strike from a fish (it's coined the expression - the tug is the drug), but it is just emphasized that much more when your line has minimal slack in it and the fish is only 20' away. Even soft takes can quickly turn into an explosive situation when you don't have 90' of fly line between you and the fish, absorbing all the pressure.
What do you like about competitive fly fishing? And what do you dislike?
There are two things I really like about competition fishing: the great friends you make (team sports almost always create close friendships, whether it's with your own team mates or your rivals) and the vast amount of knowledge you learn. As a learning tool, nothing can replace fishing with 30+ people in the same general waters, then finding out later how everyone did relative to each other (all scored precisely and objectively with no fishing exaggeration!). You all start on relatively the same footing, and when the end of the day comes, you 'think' you have had a good run at it... but then you find out that someone did 'X' while you did 'Y', and they caught 25 fish to your 5 fish. Then you realize there was potentially a lot more fish out there, and undoubtedly a much more effective approach than you were using. Days like this can be humbling, but the information you take away from those scenarios is hard to match.
As for dislikes, sometimes competition fishing styles don't mix well with recreational angling styles, especially on lakes, where you have one group (competitors) drifting and avoiding any signs of anchoring in one place, and another group (recreational anglers) specifically wanting to anchor in one place. Neither group is wrong in either style, but both are tough to do on the same waters. I like everyone being happy, so this is a struggle for me.
I think too it is sometimes too easy for competition anglers to focus on small fish. Not always, mind you, and small fish are just as nice as big fish - as well, sometimes there are ONLY small fish to target, so it cannot be avoided. But there are times I think we 'avoid' big fish to catch more smaller fish, which are usually more eager to feed, and that just seems a shame as big fish are just so much fun. It's often times not a by product of the style of fishing, but more an active choice the angler/competitor makes, which makes it hard to fathom some days why anyone would do that.
What do you think is the biggest myth about competitive fly fishing?
That competition somehow removes the fun from fishing. That couldn't be further from the truth. Competition isn't for everyone, and perhaps some people take it too seriously causing a bit of a stigma, but fishing as a team and learning so much from each other, while being in the outdoors, is as much fun as you can get fishing.
What is the biggest challenge facing competitive fishing in Canada? What is the biggest success?
One of our biggest challenges is the great distances there are between a lot of the competitors. Yes, there are large groups in BC, Alberta, Quebec, etc... but it isn't easy for those in BC to fish with those in Ontario, for example, and that makes it tough to build national teams, and get together collectively to either compete or learn. We can talk back and forth, but that doesn't replace time spent on the water together, where you can really share ideas. It makes it tougher to expose each other to different techniques, and hence develop as well as those in smaller Nations perhaps. It leads to us becoming more regionalized than I would like to see us be, and I think limits some of our ability to improve.
On the flip side, we've seen a huge growth in the sport these past 10 years, which is not only helping to counteract the above disadvantage by bringing in new highly skilled anglers, but is demonstrating that the sport is growing in popularity and is well-liked by those that give it a try.
Who is the person that has inspired and motivated you the most in fly fishing?
Well, out west in BC, if your answer isn't in some way related to Todd Oishi, I'd be surprised. Especially for those that try comp fishing. So Todd is very high on that list. But it is very difficult to pin it down to one person. Certainly my Dad is on that list, as are a couple of my high school friends, as well as some of my team mates. But I also have to look at anglers like Martin Droz and David Arcay who have shown me (us) how good you can be - and that drives me to continually want to improve. When you see anglers on the top of the sport that well, you know that there is room for so much more to be learned.
What is Smart Angling for you?
It used to be that in North America if you wanted top end fly fishing gear, beyond the run of the mill mass-produced stuff, you had to shop overseas, in the Czech Republic, England, etc... This was to get the leading edge materials and gear. Now a couple of good sources have appeared in North America and Smart Angling is one of those leading the way.
Also, perhaps more significant is the degree of education and information being provided by Smart Angling, being a conduit for such instructors as David Arcay, and top-ranked Canadians. Good businesses not just sell good products - they also educate their customers and help them get better so that they can use their equipment more effectively. Smart angling, in other words. Sounds like a cliche, but it is very true in almost any industry.
More About Chris:
Chris has been fly fishing for about 30 years, and his interests have sent him to many fishy locations between Canada and Tasmania. Since 2011 he has been active in the Competition scene, and has been fortunate enough to fish on two consistently medal winning teams within Canada. He has had the privilege to be selected to represent Canada for two International teams (in 2014 and 2017), and has competed in numerous events within Canada, where he has been fortunate enough to have won a number of individual and team medals.
For the past couple of years Chris has also been involved in helping the Canadian National Youth Team as an Assistant coach, as well as being involved with Trout Unlimited.