Updated: Dec 10, 2020
Next up in our Ohio guide series is Ryan Ratliff with Mad River Outfitters. Ryan has been fly fishing for almost 30 years and genuinely loves every aspect of fishing.
How long have you been fly fishing? How were you introduced to the sport?
I have been fly fishing for almost 30 years. When I was around 10 or 11 a family friend gave me a fly rod. I was very much involved in conventional fishing so he explained that he didn’t know anything about how to use it, but I would figure it out. My Grandfather would tell me stories of a few local legends that only fished for bass with fly rods. My dream was to one day get that good. I would watch the fly fishing shows on Saturday mornings instead of cartoons trying to learn anything I could. There were no fly shops growing up and extremely limited library resources. The books I could find at the library I would copy pages on casting fly tying and knots. For years I was self-taught/self struggling to figure everything out. I would rob my mom’s sewing basket for thread and scissors to tie flies. Every feather I found would be used to make my versions of flies.
A while later I happened to find an outdoor store a few towns away and bought a real bag of feathers and a fly fishing magazine. From that magazine I sent away for catalogs with color pictures of flies that I tried to tie. Fast forward through many years of struggling, I finally found Mad River Outfitters. Once I was able to drive, I would make the trip up to the shop to buy real supplies and ask many questions. While there, Brian and Jim Andrix helped me understand leaders and bass flies thus starting my true learning.
When did you start guiding and how did you get into it?
I have been taking and teaching people fishing for years. In high school I took many of my
friends and family fishing and showed them what to do. I helped lead many groups focusing on fishing of all types in and after college…well I guess this is what I am still doing all these years later. When I started working at the shop 6 years ago I was asked to start guiding for the shop…this would be my first official paid guiding gig. Teaching and leading has been such a big part of my life and Brian knew of this which is why he felt I was good enough to join the guiding team.
Where in Ohio do you guide? What species do you usually target with your clients?
I guide very seasonally for the shop…meaning every season is a new guiding focus. My home waters of the Hocking River drainage and the AEP ReCreation Lands/State Lands focus from May to October. October through April usually find me on the South East coast of Lake Erie. Also during this time, I am on all of the trout streams in Ohio. I have a diverse range of species and specialties. During warm weather I am mostly chasing Largemouth and Smallmouth bass, Panfish, and Carp. There will be a few specific outings to target trout also. Cooler weather brings Steelhead and trout as the focus.
What is your guiding style like?
A typical guide trip will consist of a learning focused experience. Casting and line control are the key areas needed to be successful so that will be a big focus. Most of my cold water guiding will be on foot allowing us to concentrate and focus on in-depth learning about every aspect of the species targeted. Warmwater fishing is mostly done out of a canoe or other small boats. Much of this fishing is on remote or small waters that get limited pressure. Numbers and trophy hunting is always something to be discussed when scheduling a guide trip.
If there is one thing you wanted clients to know before going on a guided trip, what
would that be?
I am just a guide… You are still the one holding the rod thus responsible for setting the hook
and presenting the fly. I am here to help and as long as you can follow directions you will have a successful day.
Throughout your years of guiding, what is your most memorable experience/story with a
I have many memorable experiences…some are like a bad dream and some are so funny that even I could not make them up. Some are also not appropriate to share online…you will have to ask in person. My most memorable times though are not on paid guide trips or on hosted trips around the world, but on the ones helping my kids embrace and love this sport as much as I do.
If someone wants to go on a guided trip with you, how can they get a hold of you?
All bookings are always done by calling Mad River Outfitters. I will answer questions on Social, but to book anything it needs to be done through the shop
What is your favorite species to target?
Northern Pike have been my favorite fish to target since I was a kid.
If you could fish anywhere in the world, where would it be?
Alaska has just about everything I love in the fishing world. Pike grow big, Salmon and
Steelhead fill rivers that are perfect to swing with a two-handed rod, and all of the small creeks are filled with fish very willing to take a fly drifted or skated on the surface. There are snow capped mountains and wildflower filled tundra meadows. Bears, wolves, birds, and other wildlife are plentiful. The summer days are long providing more time than anyone needs. I would go back again and again.
But if I had to pick somewhere I have not been it would be hard to overlook northern Japan.
The small mountain streams and coastal rivers with beautiful trout char, and salmon have
always been somewhere I have found myself dreaming about. This might be because of my
heritage, or maybe my love for the mountains and wild places, but maybe someday it will not be a dream.
I am glad that this question was not “if we could only fish 1 place” because I do not think I could answer it as there are too many places to explore. I love swinging a fly with a two-handed rod, stripping streamers for big predators, watching a dryfly or popper disappear with a splash, and even finally setting tight to selective small fish that has refused my flies for an hour. I genuinely love every aspect of fishing. As long as learning or experiencing something new can be done by myself or facilitating others, that is the place I want to fish no matter the location.