Sun. Rain. Gale force winds. Snow. The weather has been all over the place and so have I. I’ve been driving around trying to find a regional river that has some bugs and rising fish. It’s been challenging.
My local tail-water river is running real cloudy…not good. Water management has also been drastically reducing flows resulting in several significant water drops. I found some stranded Parr (juvenile trout) in a puddle 20 feet from the river and transferred them in a plastic bag back to the river.
This tail-water river usually fishes very well in inclement weather. No dense baetis hatch occurred and therefore very few large fish up. However, I covered a lot of water and managed to find a couple.
Another tail-water river I’ve had some success on this summer also had few bugs even on cloudy days. I did manage to hook up with a few great fish. This rainbow took a foam beetle.
I decided to rocket down to the Missouri river for two and one half days. The first day (the half day) was incredible. Cloudy, little wind and tons of bugs. Trout were up everywhere on tiny baetis may flies. Opportunity knocked and although I didn’t fish well, I did fool a few on size 20 olives/baetis. The next morning the sky sort of cleared (Chinook Arch) and high winds came in. I tugged down my hat and gave it my best but got blown off the river and all the way back to SW Alberta.
I fished a lot in the past two weeks. I was on holidays for one of them and managed to get out most afternoons. I hung in there with the varying conditions, put in my time and made some connections with dry flies.
I’ve been fly fishing the SW corner of Alberta for sixteen years. Although the region has many fine rivers and streams, in the last several seasons I’ve been focusing on just a few rivers that are some distance from the mountains out on the prairies. Fish numbers aren’t real high in these flows but they hold some remarkable, challenging trout. With scarcity comes value.
The rivers run through rolling grassland terrain, often down in valleys and canyons. It’s Coulee country and for most of the summer sun drenched, windy in the afternoons, and very arid. From a nearby prairie road, which runs straight like an arrow seemingly to the horizon, you wouldn’t think that there is a river anywhere. If someone told you there was, you certainly wouldn’t think it contained some well conditioned trout.
The region has few trees. The ones that do make a stand tend to be stunted by the harsh, dry conditions. The openness of the terrain makes the fly fishing extra challenging as there is nowhere for an angler to hide. The blinding summer sun can be your friend or foe. It all depends on how you use it. It helps you spot fish but also makes you very visible. You’ve got to be strategic about where you stand; where you position yourself.
The coulee shadows, only available early and late in the day, can help you stay stealthy. You can hide in them. The rest of the time you need to use the sun to your advantage. I’m always checking my shadow in relation to the water and when possible try to position myself between the sun and a fish that I’ve located. Sight-fishing is all about the interaction between light and water.
When the sun is at its zenith it’s best if possible to approach a trout from behind or from well upstream to avoid being noticed. If you want to get in tight to a fish you often have to crouch or crawl. My stream-side mantra is “stay low and go slow”. Any movement is easily detected in the great wide open and trout will quickly bolt to the safety of darker water. Spook a trout and you’ve missed a chance, and on some days you don’t get too many. The catch percentages in the coulees often aren’t real high. In fact on many days they are quite low. Remember with scarcity comes value…
Clouds may roll in and turn the river surface a silvery grey and therefore impenetrable to the human eye. This makes spotting trout almost impossible. The wind can turn gale force and challenge any weakness in your casting mechanics. A fly embedded in your cheek or ear lets you know who’s in charge. The swoop or shadow of an osprey or hawk over the water will make a trout you have been carefully watching flee. On some days you’ll feel you are being plotted against. You know it’s irrational to think this way… but you will. The old, ancient part of the brain will challenge and override the newer well-developed rational part. You’ll try to talk yourself out of this kind of superstitious, magical thinking but when everything seems to be going wrong and you can’t find or fool a single trout, you’ll succumb to it. You’ll feel jinxed.
The rivers can have hatches and this can make things easier. When they don’t, or when they are stifled by the wind, you look for prowling/cycling fish. They often cruise the shallows searching where leftover flies and terrestrial bugs have collected. These fish are large, confident creatures but they still remain wary. They’re like coyotes who leave the hills at night in search of an easy meal in the back allies of a village. They have their territory and their daily routes. Watch their prowling patterns and where they choose to stall and feed, and it will pay dividends on an outing, or the next one. Spot a fish at one of these discovered locations on another day and you’ll feel a sense of mastery: that you are learning to read the river and the trout that inhabit it. It’s a feeling that is even better than catching.
In certain spots you can climb the coulees. Up high you can scan a lot of water and locate feeding trout. At elevation hawks often dive and buzz your head at incredible speed. Sometimes they come so close I think they are going to clip the top of my fly rod off with the efficiency of a ceiling fan.
When you can’t use height to your benefit you stand stationary at a good pool, again using the sun to your advantage for maximum visibility, and watch for movement. Fishing with your eyes takes concentration and patience. You have to manage yourself well in order to be successful. Fish like you’d imagine Obama would fish, not his successor. You’ve got to resist the impulse/ temptation to flog the water by repetitive casting. The old fishing books call it ” hoarding your casts”. It’s hard to do as most of us learned to fish on rivers that required casting over and over in order to make a connection. When sight-fishing you’ve got to do the opposite.
These rivers summon all of your angling skills. Finding trout on foot in this demanding environment and then tricking them with a dry fly is in my mind one of the ultimate fly fishing challenges.
Above are some trout caught and released while sight-fishing with dries this past season.
Morning walk, morning light…
My Oh My! October was a tough month. The most challenging one I can remember. Usually it is an outstanding time to be on the river. Some of the best fishing of the year. No such luck this Autumn. There were few BIG blue winged olives around. It was mainly just the small guys: size 20, 22, and smaller…the size of mosquitoes…no, miniature mosquitoes.
Finding rising fish was also a challenge. I searched and searched. I drove from favorite river to river. My local water simply didn’t produce. It was hard to find a target.
So I headed to the Missouri river (the Mo). I usually fish it in late October early November. Often it serves up a sensational BIG olive hatch around the time the World Series is on. However, like my local water, the Mo was tough going. Just the mini olives were out and not that many of them. Finding surface feeders was like trying to get a rally going in the World Series. Hits were few and far between. It was a low score game. I kind of suspected it was going to be a challenge as the fishing reports from the banks of the Mo weren’t clear. They were cloudy. They were nebulous…they were cumulus nebulous!
So, I walked around a lot, took some photos and persevered. I lowered my expectations. With the fast ball pitcher on the mound throwing at 100 mph I didn’t try to hit it out of the park. I shortened my swing and just tried to make contact. I eventually caught a few good rainbows on tiny dries; a simple little hackle pattern, clipped on the bottom to ride low…a half hackle. A photo of it turned out blurry. As I said October has been a tough month.
Looks like the season is done. Someone’s dimming the lights but I’m not ready to go home. I’m going to have to book a winter angling trip somewhere…
The elements have been conspiring against the dry fly angler. The wind has been nasty. This past weekend it was howling. And the bugs…where have they gone? Maybe they’ve blown east to Saskatchewan or Manitoba , or even further, maybe Quebec. That’s where they’ve gone. They’re in Quebec. The blue winged olive may flies are congregating in some street side café, speaking French and discussing political affairs, and wondering what the hell is going on south of the border!
Some SW Alberta landscape photos, dog and a rainbow.
A few snaps while walking one of my favorite trout streams and looking for an early season midge hatch and trout. No trout spotted but some great clouds filled the ceiling of my big western room.
The Eastslope of the Great Divide in SW Alberta is all about wind. And beautiful clouds are sculpted by the wind…