Snow storm; crowsnest river; old coal cart; and dog…
Snow storm; crowsnest river; old coal cart; and dog…
It was all clouds above. Alone in the river valley. In the middle of the foothills; middle of nowhere. A storm was coming. Then a fin broke the water. Just one. A rainbow.
I hit three rivers this weekend. It wasn’t because I was feeling energetic. It was because things were slow due to the intense heat, so I kept searching for productive water. Give yourself enough time and pump enough gas into the tank, and you’ll probably find a spot that is producing. Trout fishing is rarely ever easy: too cold; too hot; too much wind; too much sun; water too high; water too low; water too turbid; too many anglers; not enough bugs; wrong flies; and the beat goes on.
One of the prairie rivers I fish seemed abandoned. It turned big time off. Last weekend was excellent. This weekend was dead. It was a ghost town. The trout apparently left the main floor and headed for the cool of the basement. They must have been deep. I never saw a decent fish. Heck, I never saw a fish! I was so hot my cheese sandwich grilled in my backpack.
So I drove to a nearby tailwater that always runs very cold. It looked promising but… no bugs. The PMD’s didn’t show when I was there. Maybe they were congregating high up in the mountains which is where I should have been. A Cutthroat stream would have made more sense than heading out on the flats where in the shimmering heat I think I spotted a camel near a place called Standoff…or was that a llama? Anyway, it was tall and had a long neck, and my head was hot. On the tailwater I prospected with a big dry fly, walked a mile and caught a few.
Then the next morning I got up early and fished the Crowsnest river which is right by my house. It fished alright…not great but ok. It was the best of the rivers I had been on. I caught a few sippers in a big back flow. Challenging fish that had spectacles on (tinted due to the bright sun). They inspected every fly in great detail. The hatch was in the weak to moderate range. It got under way at 10:30 am but fizzled in an hour or two. The only place I could find surface feeding trout was where bugs were collecting in slow back eddies, etc. No risers were spotted anywhere else such as along banks, in the big pools, along current lines, etc.
The Crowsnest (Crow) river has some of the best looking rainbow trout found anywhere…all fins intact…all wild fish. The Crow is really just a stream but it holds some fine fish for its size. I don’t mind mentioning it as it is so well known. I wrote a little story about it several years ago in an old blog….if interested google: Flyfishing the Crowsnest River, Small Fly Paradise.
“I once gave up fishing. It was the most terrifying weekend of my life”.
Skwala! Not many around but enough to get some trout looking up. Bugs are always appreciated as this is a blog about dry fly fishing, and I need them if I’m going to have material; something to write about. I’ve been going out a few evenings after work looking for rising trout and also checking things out on weekends. It has been an early Spring in SW Alberta but my home rivers have been quiet. Usually I’m into surface feeding fish at the beginning of April. We are in the third week and things still aren’t under way in spite of the Crocuses being up; calves spotted streamside; campers running the highways; neighbours aerating their lawns; some midge flies in the air in the evening and even some olives riding the currents in the afternoon. It was the Skwala (a stonefly) that got the attention of a few trout on a local tailwater river this Saturday and I managed to hook several mid-sized fish. Here is a picture of the best one of the bunch.
Most of the streams I fish flow through arid sun baked terrain. The edges however are often lined with tall grass growth. They shoot skyward with the summer warmth, stream moisture and nutrients. These edges are places of life: waterfowl, insects, eggs, feathers, even the odd golden retriever…
Trout prowl the aquatic side of these edges. I often sit hidden in the grass and watch the water for movement; for trout. If you sit still long enough the flowing water and swaying grass become mesmerizing. Then a soft rise or flash of a feeding trout wakes you up.
Here are some pictures of soothing creekside grass taken along the rivers I fish.
Hey Ken! Time to come in for supper. Hey Ken! Hey, why are you not answering me?
-I’m not Ken!
-I’m not your friend Ken!
Oh, sorry. From a distance I thought you were.
Have you seen him. He was fishing alone?
-No, I saw a couple fishing upstream but no fellow fishing alone.
He’s been out since ten this morning and we haven’t seen him. You sure you didn’t see a fellow upstream?
-No, as I’ve said I just saw a couple. Go through the bushes there and check the back eddy. Guys plant themselves there all the time and try catch a sipper. Hours slip away there.
Ya, Ya, I know the spot, I’ve fished here for 35 years. I know this river. So does my friend.
-I bet you he’s there.
Ya, probably. By the way my name is Sammy. Sorry for disturbing your angling.
– That’s ok. You stay at the B&B and fish here every year?
Ya, here and other places. All the rivers in Montana and elsewhere. I’ve been fly fishing for 60 years.
– Ever fish the “Mo” ?
Ya, as I said I’ve fished them all. Sixty years. I’ve been everywhere.
-You sound like you’re from the north-east?
-When I lived in Montreal I’d fish the Delaware. Nice river.
Ya, I fished all of those rivers. So what happened to the fishing on the Crow? What happened to all the big fish? There are still some around but not the numbers as before. People say it’s the Otters?
-You’re the third person I’ve met this summer who has mentioned Otters! I can’t say I’ve ever seen an Otter on the Crow…so that doesn’t make any sense to me that they’re eating all the fish because I haven’t seen any.
I saw one the other day. You don’t need a lot of them to kill fish populations in a small stream like this. I’m a biologist.
-Well I’ve never seen one. I see mergansers and weasels and they kill fish but they’ve been around forever and we’ve had good fish populations in the past.
So why less big fish…what happened?
-The only thing that makes sense to me is the wicked run-off we’ve had the past two seasons, especially last year. It was vicious. It pummeled the river, and I think there was a fish kill. The fishing nose-dived right after that.
Thank-you, thank-you for saying that! You are the only guy I’ve talked to that says that. That’s what I think has happened to the river. The last two years haven’t been the same. In the spot you are fishing now I’d see 10 or 15 fish lined up along here and now I’m lucky to see 3. From what I’ve heard the run off was real harsh two years ago.
-Yes it was. There is a guy I met the other day who lives upstream and says the fish are still here. He’s an entomologist. He says they have simply been redistributed in the river due to the severe runoff. I told him that in every spot I use to see big fish I now see few, or none. I told him that on a small river like the Crow there are only so many big fish spots, and if they aren’t there then it suggests they simply aren’t around. He says they are still here. Re-distribution makes no sense to me. I hike the river a lot and watch the back eddies from up high. You can sit there, take your time and count fish. And there are less.
Hey, are you spotting Olives on the water?
-Ya, lots of them. And the fish are up. I’ve seen mostly little guys and mid-sized fish but I got a good one a couple of pools up. I also saw some real nice risers just up from here but left them alone as I wanted to fish this section until it gets dark.
Where did you see those nice risers?
-I’m not telling.
When I first got here I saw you cast from high up on the bank to a fish below. That was a desperation cast!
“It’s the Otters. That’s why there are no big fish in the Crowsnest river anymore. Otters don’t belong in western Alberta. They should have never been placed here by the environment people. There’s just little fellers left; just minners. Oh well, I guess a feller still might have a fighting chance if he tied on a Quigley to his line”.
Angler standing in Crowsnest river
I just finished a week of trout fishing with a friend. I tried to take full advantage of the opportunity and the long warm days as I won’t have much time off the rest of the summer. The dry-fly fishing was challenging. There was an absence of bugs on some of our local rivers, and a few of my favorite waterways were off-color. It also hasn’t been a good grasshopper season so far. Hopefully that will bloom as August progresses. In spite of the conditions we did manage to connect with some good fish: quality more than quantity. Not a bad deal. Most trout were caught on dries sight fishing; some on streamers. We did a lot of hunting…sometimes that’s the best part.
One day when hiking a trail back to our car we passed an old abandoned homestead along the river. Three owls were perched side by side in the top window. One flew away before I got a photo. Then we noticed two deer inside, taking advantage of the shade mid day. When they spotted us they exited the front door as if they were leaving their home. We also saw two giant eagles, osprey and hawks. The river valley was simply alive with life. It was nice to share it with a good friend. I hope you enjoy some of the photos…
Trout, like people, have their habits, routines and places they frequent. On one river pool I often fish there is a side that has as rock face, is deep and has a good flow. On the opposite side the bank is low, earthy, lush with vegetation and the water very shallow and slow. I’ve learnt that once a hatch reaches a certain density or magic mark, a couple of large fish leave the safety of the deep pool, glide over to the slow, low side and surface feed just inches off of the bank. I have often sat there when the place seems like a ghost town and said to myself, “Be patient, wait for the bugs and it will happen”. And it usually does. A large nose will pop-up next to the bank and sip a small may fly in less than a foot of water. I’ve come to know this section of the river quite well, at least from a dry-fly angling perspective, and I am always amazed that I can predict such an event. The key is some sort of hatch. I used to spot two sometimes three large trout on this bank once a good hatch was underway. In the last few seasons it is usually just one fish. I’ve noticed the same trend on other slow water stretches that I know well.
I haven’t been able to fish a lot lately but did manage to get on the water two evenings this week. The bug life has been alright, nothing special, but seems to be developing: PMD’s; Drakes; Yellow Sallies; Caddis. I’ve been walking and watching slow water sections where a sizable fish might park and lazily munch away. I must say it hasn’t been easy finding a large surface feeder. Two nights ago I did located one in the pool that I described above. The large trout ate my impression but the fly simply slipped out without much contact, and the fish moved off the bank into deeper water. I waited around but it didn’t return.
I went to the same spot the following evening and waited for a hatch. A weak one did occur quite late and there were just enough PMD’s on the water for a large fish to appear where I spotted one the night before. I’m sure it was the same fish. As I’ve said, “trout, like people, have their habits, routines and places they frequent”. This time I managed to connect with a size 16 PMD. I don’t think the fish had been hooked this season as it seemed quite surprised by the event and sluggish at first, and then after a thirty seconds or so adrenaline kicked in, or whatever “fight or flight” hormone trout operate on, and it went ballistic. It took me way down stream. I struggled to photograph it due to the awkward location that I had to land it in. There was also a lot of splashing as the fish simply wouldn’t give up. It had “moxie”.