Getting back into a fishing groove wasn’t easy after a two-week absence. A lot changed while I was away. There have been river closures in my area: low, hot water. Most are now re-opened. My favorite sight fishing river is still off-limits. The smoke-filled skies have made spotting trout difficult (reflection) and the hatches have changed and are quite sparse, which is not unusual for this time of year. Fall blows (wind) are also underway.
I spent a couple of days on a river (tailwater) I used to fish a lot but haven’t in recent years. It holds some great trout but not a lot of them. When you go there you have to be prepared to get skunked as the river can be quite fickle. It can be a frustrating place, which is why I generally see few anglers there. Often it seems void of trout. However if you “hang in” and put in your time, it can be quite rewarding…sometimes! Rivers like this can be quite special. They’re a challenge. If they were any better or easier, anglers would be all over them. Since they are not easy people tend to go elsewhere. Therefore, on many days you can have the place to yourself.
I saw a couple of young guys fishing it the right way. Their backpack vests suggested they were out for a full day and they were covering a lot of water with their black Lab…working pool after pool.
Most people who fish it seem to cast over one or two pools with a streamer and then go home. They either hit a home run or strike out…the latter usually being the case. In good grasshopper years you can switch from a streamer to this big bug and have some exciting angling. This hasn’t been one of those years even though it has been hot and dry. After run off some fly fishing guides float the river with their clients as there is enough water. Once the water level drops the rafts disappear and angling pressure is minimal as visitors who pay to fish generally don’t want to walk far.
I learned several years ago that this tailwater fishery (bottom release from a dam) can have some good (not great) small fly hatches which can get the attention of some sizeable fish. It was one of the few local waterways I was seeing some bug life on and the occasional riser, so past experience taught me to stick with it.
The river meanders out on the prairies way down in a coulee. From a distance you wouldn’t even know it was there. To fish it you have to walk a lot of steep hilly terrain…it’s all up and down. The holding water (pools) are often a quarter to half mile apart, sometimes further, so you have to cover great distances to improve your odds. I use the elevated areas to locate fish when the lighting is right. Much of the river bottom is covered in a yellow sometimes tan to brownish algae so it is difficult in most places to spot trout hugging the stream bed as they simply blend in. High flow areas polish (clean) the river stones and trout show up better in these locations, so it is always wise to carefully watch these spots. Rainbows with their dark backs and flashing silver sides show up better than the brown trout. The browns, master camouflage artists, just don’t show up.
The trout generally need to be actively feeding on emerging insects (rising to mid levels or near the surface) in order to be seen, or prowling the surface current lines for grasshoppers which blow off the cliffs when they are around.
All the trout I spotted were eating small stuff and being ultra picky. They were focused on emergers and rarely poked their heads through the surface. However, some shallow water feeders were enticed to do so. The trout featured in this post were caught on dry flies. I put in two long days watching the water and was rewarded with a few good fish.
The river is a challenge. It’s a sleeper. It’s a special place.