” In riding a horse, we borrow freedom”–Helen Thompson
A hike into the mountains during a snowstorm past one of my favorite trees…
Late October. Most rivers are closing down. The Brown trout are on Redds. So are the Bull trout. We had our first significant snowfall the other day.
Recently I fished a Cutthroat stream several times with a friend, Bruce. Below are some photos from this season and also last Fall when we visited some of the same rivers. When fishing with Bruce I cover several pools to get a few good trout. Bruce generally stays on one pool and catches many. An outstanding, versatile angler. My dog Abby also enjoys his company as he always brings her a bag of treats.
The photos below are of another outing this Fall where I was privileged to be guided by Vic Bergman owner of the famous Crowsnest Angler Fly Shop: (https://www.crowsnestangler.com/). I worked part-time at his iconic Fly Shop this season and last, and he generously treated me to a day on a British Columbia Cutthroat stream. He stayed in the background and took some action shots and a few fish photos which I fully appreciated as I generally fish alone, and therefore don’t get that type of photo perspective on my blog. Many thanks to him for the day and memorable shots.
” If a year was tucked inside a clock, then Autumn would be the magic hour.”
FEW BLUE WINGED OLIVES SO FAR this fall. Consistent with the whole season as hatches in general have been poor. I continue to walk local Cutthroat streams. I’m still finding some late season afternoon rising fish. The searching and sight-fishing in the full sun has been spectacular due to rivers being ultra low and clear. The big stuff (flies) in the slow shallow stretches rarely get a response. I’ve had much more success with small fly impressions such as midges, tiny parachute patterns, hackle-stackers, small emergers and ants. Size 18 flies generally. In the low, slow water the trout are on guard and fairly selective. They carefully inspect all that passes overhead. Rises are slow motion events fully witnessed in the Autumn golden light. Dry fly fishing doesn’t get any better.
Dark in the morning. Dark earlier in the evening. Days are shortening. Fading light…
The brief afternoon light provides opportunity to locate a good trout. It’s your chance to sight-fish; your chance for one on a dry fly.
I have been hiking a few very low, clear Cutthroat rivers the past couple of weeks; walking the long distances between pools where there is very little holding water and therefore trout. I always pause in these sections when I see see a small area of slightly darker water, or what seems to be a slight depression in the river bed. A spot that is just a little deeper than the rest. Often it’s just two or three feet of slow moving water. Sometimes less.
Recently I paused and watched one of these spots after noticing a slight surface disturbance. The afternoon sun felt good and I knelt down on the sand and pebble rock and took a moment to absorb the heat, as I had been wet wading the ice-cold river for awhile. As I watched and warmed-up, a rise occurred. The fish displaced very little water. A small one. It was eating the few afternoon Blue Winged Olives that were riding the slow, shallow flow. I watched for awhile then noticed, just slightly beyond, another fish rise. It displaced more water. A better fish.
I side-arm cast to it down and across from my kneeling position and the trout slowly surfaced in full light and ate my small Olive impression.
It is a given that in low water conditions that Cutthroat trout, and trout in general, are going to be in the deep pools on a river. Catching them there is always an achievement especially late in the season after they have been fished-over for three plus months. However, finding a good one in between pools in the shallowest of water is for me much more special. It’s the location. A few trout found in the scarcest of water the past few weeks…
Long leaders, fine tippet and relatively small flies.
SEPTEMBER. SIGHT-FISHING. IT CAN BE CHALLENGING WHEN there is a smoke filled sky and some high clouds. When the ceiling above me is thick and casting a significant glare on the water’s surface. A glare that’s often blinding at river level. On one of my favorite rivers I reduce glare by climbing its high banks and cliffs. Up high I can see into the water and spot trout when they move into the shallows.
The trout in this particular river often leave the deeper water of a pool in the afternoon and cruise the shallows where land-based bugs get blown, or where insects that have hatched collect. They creep along the river’s edge searching for food. The big confident fish don’t mind the shallows, even in mid-day light. Although confident they remain cautious in the skinny water. And they are always in close proximity to deeper water. That’s their escape route if they sense threat.
Up high you can observe a trout’s feeding behavior. You begin to realize that it has a route that it cycles through. A repetitive hunting path. They often travel along river’s edge then circle back downstream through the deep pool water, then re-enter the shallows and creep upstream along the edge/bank again. As long as there’s an occasional reward (food item) they’ll repeat the cycle. Sometimes they deviate slightly. They’ll travel higher up in the pool or start their cycle lower down closer to the tail of the pool. If they are not finding a lot of food they might cross over to the other side of the river/pool and feed in a similar fashion along that edge. They generally stick to one pool. It is their home; their neighborhood. And the biggest fish seem to pick the river’s largest pools. A river’s nuances…
Sun angle, wind, and river temperature can change a trout’s feeding location in a particular pool, and other variables like a strong hatch or the presence of predators. Things can change as the day unfolds. It is never static. You have to be observant. You have to pay attention.
Sometimes I’ll walk for hours along the river’s banks or up high before I find a trout in the shallows. Sometimes I don’t see any. When I do locate one I’ll try and get a read on its hunting route; its cycling pattern. Then I’ll quickly make a presentation plan and from my elevated perch work my way down to the river’s edge. It all seems easy from up high but once you are at river level it changes. A trout often becomes much harder to spot, especially when there is glare. It’s easy to lose sight of it. When that happens I try to remain patient and still. I crouch and keep watching the water. I’m looking for any shadowy movement. It is probably around. It’s usually closer than I think. Trout on a cycling path don’t move fast. They just inch along.
When I locate a trout at river level I don’t want to “hit it on the head” in the shallows with my chosen fly, especially if I’m casting a terrestrial pattern that has some bulk/weight. It might bolt if I do. I try to cast just slightly upstream and off to the right or left of the fish, let it notice the “plop” and then hopefully watch it move over and investigate.
My fly choice has to be convincing. If it rejects it, it will glide back to the deep. That might be it for the day. Gone! If it decides to eat, it is often a slow motion take so I’ll have to be equally slow with the hook set. I match “slow with slow”. A hook-up in an a large pool often means I’ll probably hear the tick, tick, tick of my backing knot as it passes through the rod guides.
It’s engaging, visual angling and always exciting. The more you understand the nuances of a particular river the richer your angling experience.
Some photos …the drive, the river, some trout…