When Ralph Smart had a fishing pole in his hand, he was caught.
"I got the fishing bug," Smart said of his years fishing with his dad and grandpa, "and when I grew up and became a father, I got to experience the firsts of fishing again through their eyes when I taught them."
It seemed natural, then, to combine his passions for the outdoors and teaching into a business.
Becoming an outfitter can be tricky here in Saskatchewan. There are limited licenses available to specific bodies of water; some don't even have any. Rafferty Reservoir had one license.
"I've fished on the reservoir since it started to fill 20 plus years ago. I know all the coves and hot spots. I had all the equipment; all I needed to do was obtain that license."
He had asked about purchasing the license from the then owner for several years, and after careful thought, they were ready to sell. Ralph knew a lot about fishing, but when it came to running a business, he valued Community Futures Sunrises' help.
"The Destination Creation course was the real deal. Some other networking and learning courses can hold little value; this course was chalked full of ideas and advice from both the participants and the instructor. The instructor didn't just speak at us; she spoke with us and made us think; she helped guide the process."
He opened Prairie Pro Outfitters a year ago and is the only outfitter in Saskatchewan that offers an angling academy. Anglers of all ages can get on the water lessons and learn anything from driving the boat to filleting multiple fish species.
He has the academy, but he also charters groups with the whole day or half-day trips.
Smart operates tri-toon boats that would be great for families or larger groups and professional fishing boats for smaller ones or experienced anglers, all equipped with state-of-the-art equipment.
"I try to teach fishers what works, on any lake, with any species. It's been a great start to the business, I wanted to grow the business slowly, and I am doing it. Making adjustments as I go, just like people were doing in the course.
I got my feet wet last year, figuring out what my customers want and how I can meet that need. And now that the Canada-US border is open, I've got bookings coming from not only in our region but also US customers, from referrals from past customers."
Rafferty Reservoir is close to the Canada-US border. Estevan is just 15km North of the border and from there, the reservoir is just 50km away.
The fish that are caught on Rafferty may not be those trophy fish you see up north, but getting here is much easier, and we catch a lot of fish. It makes for an excellent experience for families and keeps young ones intrigued by the constant 'fish-on!' shouts from around the boat.
Experience is also key when it comes to fishing, and Smart has a good record of catching fish. He fishes competitively in the Saskatchewan Walley Trial and the Central Walley Trail with a first-place finish and multiple top 10 finishes. He also participates in the Manitoba Master Angler Awards, attaining the silver award for ten plus species, meeting the length requirements.
He has volunteered for 10 years at the Estevan Youth Wildlife Camp with fishing instruction on the water in his Tritoon boat.
The fishing season opens May 5th, 2022, and Prairie Pro Outfitters is ready to fish.