Hooked

His lifelong passion is fly fishing, and he’s about to be Captain Canada at the world championships in Italy

As a Prince George RCMP general duty officer, Claude Cipelletti spends his working days catching criminals.

Being good at his job requires patience, stealth, intuition and an exceptional understanding of his surroundings - qualities that have served him well during his 16-year career with the RCMP. The goal is to always be one step ahead of his targets and predict where they might be hiding to boost the odds of trapping them.

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He applies the same philosophy to his favourite pastime, fly fishing.

For the 58-year-old Cipelletti, it's not just a hobby, it's his passion. His fishy forays began when he was a boy in Montreal and his dad first handed him a trolling rod. By the time he was 10, he was practicing casts with his first fly rod. The thrill of snagging a live wiggler never grew old and as an adult he's taken it the next level, entering competitions.

This week he's in Trentino, Italy, preparing to land the big ones at the world fly fishing championships. Cipelletti has been named captain of the five-member Canadian team that will compete against 29 other countries in team and individual events. The three days of competition includes five three-hour sessions on scenic rivers and lakes set against the backdrop of the Dolomites mountain range in northeastern Italy. Competing for trophies, each fisherman will try to catch the biggest and the most fish in each session.

"It's going to be a lot of fun and I'm going to try to do well for the country," he said. "In fly fishing competition there's some luck involved. It's a lottery for where you get to fish on the river and if you don't get the right spot then you won't do very well."

The 38th annual event starts on Monday and runs through to Sept. 23. The 150 competitors will be trying to reel in brown trout, rainbow trout, European grayling and a species of char called Marmota, an aggressive fish similar to bull trout. He'll be using light two- or four-pound test line that easily sinks to the bottom of the river, where the fish are usually found.

"It's just like an investigation, you've got to get to the bottom of things," laughed Cipelletti.

"Marmota can get quite big, which will be interesting, because we'll be rigged for trout and one of those brutes can actually grab your fly and all hell breaks loose," he said.

Practice makes perfect, and Cipelletti and the other Canadian team members are already in Italy scouting out the terrain and testing the waters, with help from their reconnaissance scouts. Different conditions require different techniques, based on the speed and slope of the current, the type of river bed (rocky or flat) and what insects reside in the rivers and lakes. Having the right fly for the job is crucial and Cipelletti ties his own.

He'll have time to experiment before the competition begins - to devise tactics for each of the five areas. Each competitor will draw a specific area in the lottery and has to stick to that area under the supervision of an official, who measures the fish and checks to make sure all equipment is legal.

While it's rare to find a competition in Canada, the sport is extremely popular overseas and Europeans don't have to travel far to find the next event.

"They compete every weekend, they do it all the time and there's lots of people," said Cipelletti. "It's very difficult to make (European) teams because there's so many people. It's easier here."

Cipelletti finished 18th overall as the top Canadian at the America Cup in 2014 in Vail, Colo., and twice finished third in the individual and team events at the national championships.

Cipelletti has Italian roots on his dad's side. He visited the country once when he was a kid but hasn't been back there since. Before he became an RCMP officer he worked in logistics for 11 years in the Canadian Armed Forces and during that time was posted to nearby Germany and he regretted not making the trip to Italy. He won't have much time for sightseeing this trip but is glad he'll get to see another part of that country.

His first RCMP posting was in Kelowna, where he spent 12 years before moving to Quesnel for a 3 1/2-year stint. He moved to Prince George in November and has found some of his favourite fishing holes on the Blackwater River southwest of the city.

"I go to the Blackwater and a couple other rivers in the area - I'd hate to have you reveal where," he quipped. "There are rivers within an hour of Prince George that are good for practicing."

He says while some fishermen never eat what they catch, he's not usually into catch-and-release, unless it's mandated. He'll have to toss back what he catches at the world event in Italy.

"I absolutely have no problem, when it's legal, to catch and keep a fish and eat it - they're delicious," he said.

He admits his military/police background serves him well when he's casting lines.

"There's self-discipline, of course, that's imposed on us early on, and the ability to remain calm when all seems lost," he said. "After the first hour-and-a-half, and you're not catching many fish you're starting to sweat, so my training comes in pretty handy. I just persevere, keep at it, and don't let yourself get discouraged."

For stress-relief from his day job, Cipelletti can't think of anything better.

"I find fishing, with the gurgling sound of the rivers rushing by and the wind and the trees and the birds and swearing fishermen, you kind of zone out and forget about work and your troubles," he said. "You just fish."

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