20 Questions

20 Questions: Mark Melnyk

Editor’s note: Every so often, we’ll put movers and shakers in the fly-fishing world on the spot with our version of the Proust profile questionnaire. We’ve asked our subjects to be brutally honest and as forthright as they choose as they answer questions that might make them think, reminisce and look forward in their lives. And, honestly, some of these questions might make them a little uncomfortable, and that’s intentional, as it might make the answers more honest and revealing. The answers are not edited for content (but we’ll clean up the grammar and the spelling as needed. Take note: this feature might include some expletives and adult situations that may not be appropriate for all readers).  

I’ve known Mark Melnyk for years, off and on. We’ve bumped into each other at trade shows, expos and the like for the better part of a decade. A few years back, he led a press junket into the wilds of northwest Ontario, and I had the good fortune to get to fish with him, however briefly. I remember one warm, late-June afternoon on a wild lake in the middle of nowhere, fishing with Melnyk and my fellow TU writer Mark Taylor. The fishing was slow, but the time spent on the boat was so much fun. A self-deprecating Canadian, Melnyk had us in stitches sharing Canuck jokes (“What’s a Canadian’s worst nightmare? When four drivers arrive at a four-way intersection at the same time.”). If you don’t get it, don’t worry. But, when the pandemic moves on, you need to spend some time north of the border. The fishing is, as Mark would most definitely say, fantastic. And the people … well, we can learn a lot from our humble and thoughtful neighbors to the north.

These days, Mark is one of the partners of The New Fly Fisher, a TV and digital broadcast that kind of melds the “old-school” fishing program (or programme, as Mark might write it) with a new-school twist. TNFF is one of those “don’t miss” video offerings to which I subscribe online, if only for the amazing imagery and the conversational tone offered by hosts Bill Spicer, Colin McKeown and, of course, Melnyk (among a few others, too). Even when these well-known Canadian TV personalities, Melnyk included, are offering tips and tactics for fly fishers, the advice is delivered in a way that makes you feel like you’re standing right there with them — there’s no talking down, no condescension. Just good, practical advice.

One of the really cool things about this feature is that it opens doors to subjects’ personalities that surprise readers, even if the subject is a friend or someone familiar. It also begs for honesty and introspection, and Mark hasn’t let us down. I think you’ll find Mark to be kind and thoughtful, but I also think you’ll be surprised at this look “behind the curtain” that is his life.

Here we go:

What’s the last good book you read?

In all honesty, I rarely read, the last book I read was “Imagining Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump.” More of a university text book really, it delves into the basic (yet extremely complex) dynamics of the land and how the indigenous Canadians managed the event, the dietary needs at the time and the choice buffalo to harvest; how they used basic understanding of natural history and behavior of the buffalo to drive them to their demise. It’s fascinating. That’s the native history interest coming out of me. 

Who is your hero? 

Sounds corny, but my hero is actually my wife. She is a veterinarian and deals with some pretty horrific shit on a day-to-day basis. Some people should not have animals. I’m impressed daily with the way she deals with her own compassion fatigue. Im even more impressed with her on the days where she self describes herself as “Dr. Death,” in the face of our own children is truly remarkable. She’s a very strong person, and she also puts up with a fly fisherman on a day-to-day basis. 

What music is on your phone right now? 

I’m currently listening to Tyler Childers, Colter Wall, Townes Van Zandt and of course the 90s alternative playlist from my university days … man those tunes bring back a lot of good memories! I get a lot of my new music from visiting fly shops across north America. Regional talent can be amazing and I’ve learned not to rely on radio to expose myself to new music. 

What is your greatest fear? 

Letting my kids down. I constantly strive to be a good person in their eyes, with every action and reaction. But, my reactions need to improve. I try to teach them right and wrong and easily frustrate when they make their own mistakes. I need to turn those mistakes into learning moments and not get immediately frustrated.   

What trait do you possess that you wish you didn’t? 

Lack of self-confidence. Though I am getting better with this, my lack of self-confidence allows me to be concerned about my image with friends, family and our viewing audience. Being personally attacked and judged comes with the territory of being a TV host. I just need to develop a thicker skin and not let the trolls bother me. (I feel better just writing this!) Also, I suffer from constant “resting bitch face.” A condition where you have a natural frown all the time. No, my best friend didn’t just die! I’m a happy person! I swear!  

Well, the car we arrived in, the one we decided not to leave in, didn’t make it home that night and five of our group were killed in a head-on crash just after midnight.

With what historical figure do you most identify?

More of an actor — Pink from Dazed and Confused. We played a game in uni where we’d watch the movie, totally sober of course (wink, wink) and relate characters of the movie to our group of friends — I was always labelled as Pink, Jason London’s character. I took it as a compliment. 

What words or phrases do you tend to overuse? 

Fantastic… Every fish I catch on camera is “fantastic,” and it’s starting to drive me crazy.  Upon releasing a 10-pound bonefish in Andros, I actually looked at the camera and said, “That is absolutely fantastically spectacular.” Maybe I need to read more? 

What or who is the greatest love of your life? 

I told you who my hero was, so I’m going to go with the “What is the greatest love of my life?” Other than my kids obviously, the sport of fly fishing is the love of my life. It’s all I do and all I think about. I have made fly fishing both my recreation and my career and the majority of the people I run with are fly fishers. Fly anglers are really good (fantastic) people. The sport takes you to unbelievable (fantastic) places with excellent (fantastic) people in pursuit of awe-inspiring (fantastic) fish. Oh, and then there’s beer. I love that too!  

What do you consider your greatest achievement? 

I think my greatest achievement is being able to provide for my family all the while doing what I absolutely love. I look forward to going to work every single day, be it in the production office or in the field. It really is a nice balance. But this achievement isn’t a solo deal in this life. I do have partners that have had major influences in making this happen. You know who you are. 

Canada. A cool place to live. Photo courtesy The New Fly Fisher.

If you could pick one place to live, where would it be? 

I’ll stay right here in Canada. My late father-in-law was on a work assignment in Australia a number of years ago and his email signature ended with “Canada — a Cool Place to Live.” Know what? He was right. I consider myself very lucky to live in this country with all its maple syrup, hockey, igloos, apologies, moose, polar bears, flannel jackets, lumberjacks, healthcare, great beer and of course so much water. 

If there is a Heaven, and you’re lucky enough to make it to Heaven, what would God say to you upon your arrival? 

“‘Sup Melnyk? We’ve been waiting for you. Beers are in the fridge.” 

A rodeo aficionado? really?

What is your greatest regret? 

My greatest regret (to date) is being in a petty quarrel with my grandfather when he got sick and eventually died. He was the man that started my fishing career when I was 2 years old. We would spend all our summers together at the lake. I don’t even remember what we were fighting about but I was 15 and can confidently tell you it wasn’t important in the grand scheme of things. He was my fishing buddy and the catalyst to who and what I am today.  I’d give anything to spend one more day on the water with him. 

What’s your closest brush with death? 

My last year in high school, our group of friends went to a field party in two cars. It was the night before Mother’s Day. When it came time to leave in the car we arrived in, I and my best friend at the time were told it was time to go. I still had a couple of beers left and we both decided to stay and we’d catch a ride with the other car that delivered our group to the party.  Mark and Ryan took our spots. Well, the car we arrived in, the one we decided not to leave in, didn’t make it home that night and five of our group were killed in a head-on crash just after midnight. The driver of the other car was high and didn’t have his headlights on. We were supposed to be in that car. We didn’t leave because of two beers … two beers. Eight young lives were snuffed out that night. Still haunts me today. 

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

Contentment. To a certain extent, we all strive in some way for better, faster, stronger, more. I’m just about to move out of the city into the country with a focus on outdoor recreation, stars, gardens, tons of snow and freestone rivers. All I can think about is the level of happiness the small things we have missed for so many years will bring to our lives to help re-center our focus and balance. 

What’s your favorite journey? 

Raising my kids — hands down. I wouldn’t change a thing. The guttural fear experienced during problematic births, the toothless gum smiles, the wipeouts, Goodnight Moon, the wonderment you see in their eyes every day, fimmin’ lessons (swimming), first days of school, last days of school, skinned knees, frantic trips to the emergency room, first love, first kiss, first breakup, first fish, high school sport successes and failures, dad jokes and most importantly hearing, “Love you Dad,” every night before bed. Raising our two young men (12 and 15) has been my favorite journey no doubt. 

If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, who or what would it be? 

Labrador retriever — zero doubt. Labs are the greatest. Personality, fun, eat constantly, chase and smile but most importantly, I have never met a lab that didn’t love you unconditionally from the start. Labs rule, they play hard and sleep hard — alas, currently, I have a miniature poodle and a geriatric pug. Ah, the joys of being married to a vet … all rescued pups.

What word do you have to look up to make sure you spelled it correctly? 

This is a real attempt. Accomodation. See? Accommidation. Shit! Accomidation … damn. Where you stay. I hate that word.

Working for a fly fishing TV show isn’t all about fly fishing.

What is the favorite car of all the cars you’ve driven? 

A 1986 Mercury Lynx hatchback — standard. When I was 12, I was finally able to sit in the front seat of my Mom’s car. I would study how she manipulated the foot pedals in relation to the stick shift and basically mapped out how to drive a standard for the first time. One afternoon — I don’t remember where she was — I decided to put my observations to the test and stole her car. I started it, put it in gear and slowly released the clutch. I drove down the driveway and around the circle. Well, we lived in a house on a hill and the driveway was steep and long. Long story short, I ended up not being able to get that clutch thing right and ended up drifting backwards down the driveway and smashed the back of the car into the light standards at the end of the driveway causing damage to the car and the light. I got busted and punished, but it was the most fun I’ve ever had in a car. 

Which actor/actress would play you in the movie about your life, and why?  

No one would make a movie about my life. There are far too many fish bums that have better stories. 

What is your guilty pleasure? 

Rodeo. I used to produce rodeo and bull-riding events for TV (PBR, Calgary Stampede and others), and I fell in love with the Western lifestyle, the people and the places it took us. I still miss the West literally every single day. I just switched out my TV service for a different provider because they offer the Cowboy Channel which is all rodeo all the time… and no, it’s not less expensive! 

BONUS QUESTION: If you could go back in time, what year would you visit? 

1997. This was the year I met my wife, Jen. I’d love to relive that night one more time. 

Meet the wife.

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