Skip to main content

Fly Fishing in Ohio: Exclusive Interview with Aquatic Biologist Mike Durkalec

I recently got the chance to interview Mike Durkalec, Aquatic Biologist and Fisheries Manager for the Cleveland Metroparks System, about fly fishing in Ohio.

Mike Durkalec has been fly fishing for over 30 years and spends close to 100 days on the water between his job with Cleveland Metroparks and recreational fishing. Needless to say, fishing is a large part of his life.

However, it was almost taken away from him much too soon. In January of 2013, Mike was in a near fatal car accident which left him in the hospital for an extended amount of time. Fishing was the last thing on his mind, but the fly fishing community did not abandon him. Instead, the community really helped Mike during his recovery.

Fly Fishing in Ohio

Fly Fishing in OhioCheck out what Mike Durkalec has to say on fly fishing in Ohio, effective flies to use, and the close-knit fishing community of Northeast Ohio.

"The fishing community really rallied to show support while I was in the hospital. Several angling groups and individuals even set up unsolicited fundraisers to help with medical expenses that were not covered by insurance, which was very touching and appreciated," Mike said.

Several months into his recovery, Mike received a visit from 90-plus year old Don Mayer, a very well-known fly fisherman in the Ohio Central Basin Steelheaders Sportmans' Club. "Don visited me in the hospital in April and gave me a card with artwork of a fly fisher fighting a leaping steelhead on the cover. Inside were the expected well wishes with a fly and "P. S. This is a fly that a fresh run Rocky River steelhead really hammered last year. Poor luck otherwise. Couldn't get out this spring." The fly, a favorite of Don's, is bugger style on a silver streamer hook with brass conehead, shaggy chartreuse ice chenille body and a white marabou tail.

"The card and fly are on my office wall," Mike recalls fondly. Not long after that special visit, Don, who was battling myriad health issues, sadly passed away. You can bet that Mike, along with many area anglers, was at the funeral to pay his respects to his departed friend.  DurkalecInterview_Image3

"I brought the card and fly to show his family, and share the story of how much Don's support meant to me at the most challenging time of my life," Mark said. "This gesture, although Don was already ill, was extremely touching and illustrates the good heart of many a fly fisher."

Mike has since made a great recovery and has returned to his work as Fisheries Manager and Aquatic Biologist as well as to his passion of fishing. After experiencing the generosity of the fly fishing community first hand, Mike was eager to share some of his fly fishing knowledge gained from years of fishing Ohio's waterways. I asked him a few questions and Mike provided me with some very useful information.

The common perception of fly fishing in Ohio is that you must fish in one of the area's rivers to see any success. I asked Mike to talk about some of the different fly fishing opportunities that are available in Ohio. He wants anglers to remember that fly fishing in ponds and lakes can be very effective for some species like bass and sunfish. He also mentioned the requisite Lake Erie tributaries before mentioning Lake Erie in another capacity as well.

"Lake Erie shoreline fly fishing is a largely underutilized opportunity," he said. I then asked Mike for some tips that any fly fisher, and especially beginners, would benefit from. After talking about the great resources and videos that can be found online, Mike made it clear that learning from an experienced angler on the water is the best way to get better. "If you don't have a friend that fits the bill, joining a local club, attending a shop activity from an outfitter or hiring a guide can go a long way," he advised. DurkalecInterview_Image2

Many people who want to get into the sport of fly fishing may be under the perception that the price of entry to buy the required gear is too high. Mike made it clear that this perception is not true at all. In fact, he recommends that novice fly fishers start out with entry level, or even used, gear.

"You may always upgrade from there. I feel a 6 weight is overall most versatile for various Ohio fly fishing opportunities," Mike said.

After discussing gear, I pressed Mike for some of his knowledge on some of the most effective flies to use on all the common species targeted by fly fishermen in Ohio including steelhead, smallmouth bass, and stocked rainbow trout. "Number one: the Woolly Bugger!  Choices are nearly endless, though. Also various nymphs, Clouser minnows (and other streamers), foam bugs/poppers, eggs patterns (for steelhead/trout) are among the more popular."
RELATED: 8 Fishing Spots Within 20 Miles of Cleveland
Despite the effectiveness of the flies and lures that Mike mentioned, there is nothing that can really come close to that prized silver streamer hook with the shaggy chartreuse ice chenille body and white marabou tail that hangs in a place of honor on Mike's office wall. That fly represents a lot to both Mike and the Ohio fly fishing community as a whole. Not only was it once hammered by a lurking Rocky River steelhead, but it also provided an injured angler with the hope and determination he needed to get back out on the water.

Although that fly is unlikely to ever touch the water again, its message remains loud and clear. Mike says it best: "Anglers are just good folks."


Images courtesy Mike Durkalec

you might also like

Fly Fishing in Ohio: Exclusive Interview with Aquatic Biologist Mike Durkalec