a river’s nuances

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…

my transportation
Digital Camera
windshield shot…the drive
cuttbow..not sure
smoke filled sky heading home

cutthroat trout

“WELL THAT FLY DIDN’T WORK and he’s still rising. Change fly! Let’s go smaller. Nope, no response. Try again. Wow, same response. Change fly! Let’s try an ant. Nice cast. He’s looking. Closing in. Nope. He rejected it the last second. Wow, tough fish. Throw the ant again. Hmm. No go. Change fly! Let’s tie on a Klink/Emerger. No response to that. Change fly! I see some Drakes in the flow but the fish is ignoring most of them… but not all. Try this CDC version. Nope, he didn’t even move over to take a look. Toss it again. Change fly! I have a Drake Emerger pattern. Let’s try that. No luck. Maybe we need to rest the fish. Let’s go upstream. We’ll come back later. Hopefully he’ll still be rising then…wow, picky Cutthroat. Hard to walk away. Look at him still feeding. Some naturals passing overhead. He only rises to some; not others. Passing on the Duns, sometimes…maybe he’s mainly cueing in on Emergers. Well he just took a Dun but then let several others drift overhead. He ignores some, then eats the odd one. Yikes, challenging trout…we will come back.”

Cutthroats. Simply beautiful. Some say they are easy to catch. Sometimes that’s true. Sometimes, however, they are as challenging as any other trout. It depends on the river. It depends on how much food is in the flow. It depends on angling pressure. It depends on water clarity. It depends…

Late season low water can make things extra challenging. You have to try and stay out of sight; and don’t move too fast; and don’t drag that dry fly; and don’t do this, or that, or they’ll disappear. They’ll go hide in a log-jam. Remember, Cutthroats have been around for several million years. They’ve survived. They’re always on alert…

one of Roman’s best

I recently spent four days fishing with a good friend, Roman, on different sections of one stream. A clear, pristine cutthroat stream. We pulled-up fish in the faster water on dry flies and came across several fish rising occasionally in slow water. The slow, flat water fish often required multiple fly changes in order to be fooled and a few tough customers couldn’t be enticed. With our fly selection we went big, we went small, we went slim, we went chubby, we tried low-riding patterns, emergers, terrestrials of varying sizes, a nymph dropper, lighter tippet…We caught many but a few couldn’t be fooled.

Some say Cutthroats are easy. Sometimes that’s true. Sometimes, however, they are as hard and challenging as any other trout. Here are some photos from our four days of walking clear water in pursuit of this beautiful trout. All Cutthroats were taken on dries. All released…

clear water

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terrestrial box
flies that often worked
pool with a log-jam… always a good spot
cutthroats were thick

augusto mosquito

“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito”–Dalai Lama

THIS AUGUST I MADE THE LONG DRIVE to one of my favorite sight-fishing rivers. On my previous trip, three weeks earlier, the mosquitos drove me off of the river after a few hours of angling. I’ve never seen it that bad. The place is usually very dry and windy, and relatively bug free until nightfall. Not this year. A wet spring and a lot of standing water in the riverside low grasslands created a perfect breeding ground for millions of the pesty creatures.

I picked a hot, full sun and most importantly windy day to go back but the mosquitos were still there. DEET seemed ineffective. I survived for a few hours by standing in the river while encouraging the wind to pick-up. I was ambushed when I hiked through the vegetation to riverside high spots in order to locate fish. In the end I had to sight-fish from water level. Not the best angle in full sun and glare. Not the best angle for spotting the river’s large trout.

Sight-fishing is all about observation, concentration and using the light to your advantage which was hard to do while being constantly harassed and distracted by insects. I did spot a few Rainbow trout and fooled some on terrestrial patterns. After a few hours I had had enough and decided to leave. My dog approved of the sprint back to the car and the quick drive out of the coulee, and on to the highway. Wide open windows at 110km blasted any pesty hitchhikers out of the car. One hour later I removed my wet wading boots and socks at a Walmart parking lot.

The only past bug experiences that were as close or worse would be the relentless black flies while Brook trout fishing on the North Shore of Quebec and beach Snook fishing along the gulf coast of Florida in June where at sunset on heavily vegetated Pine Island the no-see-ums ate me alive while camping. My skin burned. The following morning after no sleep I pulled up tent pegs, rolled up my damp tent, drove to the mainland and got a cheap motel with air conditioning on Tamiami trail where urban sprawl and pavement stretched on forever. Every night after a day of beach fly fishing I retreated to the bugless cool of my room and watched Michael Jordan dominate his opponents in the basketball playoffs. Best B-ball player I ever saw.

Here are some photos of my drive in and out of the prairie river and a few trout pictures. I heard the other day the mosquito situation on the river has abated. I’m not sure whether to believe it or not but I’m willing to go back and check it out…

august

Early August. There is smoke in the air some days. Fires are burning west and southwest of us. Seems that’s a given every Summer. The ground is dry. Rivers are low. The wind is warm. Cloths dry quickly outdoors on the line. My dog is panting a lot. I add a bit of powdered Gatorade to my water bottles when I head out for a day of angling due to the heat.

The Cutthroat streams are fishing well. I need to visit them more often. They are cool and clear, and the trout willing. The tailwater rivers that I frequent have been challenging. Generally poor hatches in comparison to past seasons and therefore often not a lot of opportunity at least until the end of the day, sometimes not even then. If you spot a good trout you want to make it count as there might not be another chance.

I’ve had several fine fish eat my small impressions lately but no hook up. A tiny hook can catch or sometimes simply slip out of a big mouth. That’s all part of the small fly game. Hopefully things will balance out by the end of the angling season.

The past few weeks I’ve walked a number of rivers. Here are some photos. I’m still getting accustomed to a new camera and at times experiencing some framing problems…

Abby snoozing riverside
cutthroat color

trout on the plains

The third week of July. Hot. Summer has finally arrived. It took forever to get here. I took a brief road trip to a river out on the Plains. Very few bugs were on the water. Usually insect life is much more prolific at this time of year. Often Pmd’s pop all summer long. And waves of caddis. Not this year. Finding fish was challenging in the somewhat lifeless, bugless looking water. A couple of trout were eventually spotted after hiking and watching several pools in the bright light. One was a brown trout which surprisingly surfaced in shallow moving water to a size 18 emerger pattern in full mid-day sun.

brown trout

Some photos from the half day outing. Several windshield shots of the road trip to and from the river…

size 18 emerger
rainbow trout
brown trout
dry fly pool
road home
rainbow

late june

Most local rivers are still high but subsiding. We are in the tail end of run off. I visited two rivers recently. One that was low (controlled flow) and one fairly fast and high. I walked a lot and found a few nice fish rising. Hatches are starting. I saw some pmds mid-afternoon when things warmed-up; some small (yellow and lime sallies) and larger caddis; a few small western green drakes (flavs); some golden stones…

low and slow

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rainbow caught on size 18 pmd
pmd hacklestacker
small western green drake
rainbow caught on small caddis fly
high and fast
healthy riverside grasses
stonefly

wolf creek

wolf creek bridge

ANOTHER ROAD TRIP.

It was much warmer three hours south of home. Almost Summer-like for a day or two. Even some classic warm weather thunderstorms. It was also greener. There were blossoms. There were Pale Morning Duns (pmd’s) on the river I was on; another sign of approaching summer. There were Olives. There were Midges. There were Callibaetis in a slow (lake like) section of the river that I spent too much time on. In the evening there were shimmering clouds of size 22, Olive colored mayflies, that behaved like Tricos. Tiny olive spinners? I don’t know. After a long day I was too tired to inspect them closely. Suffice it to say, there were plenty of bugs around from morning until nightfall.

slow flat water, always challenging
rainbow

The Pmd’s were small, size 18, but much easier to spot than the Midges and Olives, especially when sunlight touches them and they illuminate.

pmd box
cotton candy series pmds for riffled water

I’ve learnt more about dry fly fishing and trout behavior on this river and one back at home in Alberta, the Crowsnest River, than anywhere else. It’s the combination of prolific insect life, many rising fish, and clear water that allows you to observe the reaction of every single trout targeted. You cast, watch and learn. You are constantly getting feedback. The amount of feedback condensed into a single day on this type of water is like a whole season of learning on some other, less insect rich, rivers.

brown trout
rainbow
river in distance

I camped near Wolf Creek. In the mornings I visited the On the Fly Coffee cabana for a breakfast burrito and a coffee. Then I went to the aptly named Wolf Creek Angler Fly Shop. It’s a great little shop. In the past I’ve stayed in some of their cabins. It’s decent lodging and a reasonable price for the region. The Shop changed hands several years ago. Author Neale Streeks used to guide there and might have been a co-owner. If my memory serves me correctly it was called Montana River Outfitters then. One of his books, Small fly Adventures in the West– Angling for Larger Trout, is an excellent resource for fishing tailwater rivers. I read it from cover to cover several times over 20 years ago when I first started visiting the river having mainly fished small freestone rivers in the east. I still refer to it today. It made me a better angler on tailwater rivers, spring creeks and other rich rivers, which I gravitate towards whenever I get the chance.

wolf creek eatery, tavern
don’t mess with shotgun annie

Here are more scenes from Wolf Creek and this road trip….

brown trout
midge
storms
rainbow
slow side channel
brown trout
easy walking along river
brown trout
brown trout

road trip: midges, olives and browns

drift boats

SOME IMAGES FROM ANOTHER BRIEF ROAD TRIP SOUTH. I focused on a river section where I’ve had some of the best small dry fly fishing that I’ve experienced anywhere. It’s a shallow flat water section on a large river. In the Spring and Fall often there are midges in the morning, olives in the afternoon, then sometimes midges again late in the day. Insect life, a fairly calm day and low light conditions can bring out some fine brown trout. I hit it right on this road trip. On most days the weather was cooperative, and the small hooks (size 18 and 20) and fine tippet held.

flat water
midges on tent, riverside
olive spinners
brown trout
brown trout
size 18, bwo fly, hacklestacker
size 20 midge dry, fooled largest brown trout
brown trout
unused railway tracks great path to river sections
brown trout
fly shop
brown trout
shucks and spent flies
brown trout
rainbow
drift boats
river guide

scenes: brief road trip south

rainbow on size 18 BWO dry

Cold at home. In fact snow hit the ground. So I headed south across the border to a Trout Town on a wide tailwater river. The weather was slightly better but still behind schedule for May. Most days it was fairly cool. My dog’s water bowl was frozen most mornings.

I camped in a section called Mid-Canyon to try an avoid the ever present wind. The dry fly fishing was for the most part poor. I rarely saw a head/nose break the surface in spite of some good hatches. Most surface disturbances were trout displacing water when feeding on emergers an inch or two below: BWO’s. I still managed to catch several on dries: Klinkhammers and Parachutes while sight fishing.

There were no sipping trout on the banks or even in collector areas, or on the flats. And there were few fish feeding in some of my favorite side channels. The water was as low as I have ever seen it. That’s a ongoing condition out West. There was high wind and a lot of sun. Not the best conditions to find large rising trout.

side channel

Trout would bulge (emerger feeding) in the riffles when clouds rolled in, then disappeared when direct sun light returned. It was a yo yo (fish up, fish down) event on days with a mix of sun and cloud. Fun to watch as it became so predictable.

home
3 feet of shucks and spent insects against shore
main river
fly shop
another fly shop
side channel

early season

SPRING. It has been slow in coming. Insect activity has also been slow to develop. Hatches have been weak. I haven’t been able to check river temperatures as my thermometer was tucked in a shirt pocket and went through a Wash and Spin cycle. It’s certainly clean now and shiny looking but unfortunately it is stuck at 10c. Not a bad temperature but inaccurate at this time of year. The water is much colder. Warmer weather and water will bring out the bugs and trout.

On cloudy days I’ve seen some midges, some Olives (size 18), March Browns (size12) on one river, and a few Skwala stoneflies. There simply hasn’t been enough bugs to get a lot of the bigger fish “looking up” on the tailwater rivers that I’ve spent some time on. The window of opportunity in my region for quality Spring dry fly angling is brief as just when the fish start to rise, mountain runoff ( high water) begins to threaten. Hopefully a few good days will come. Here are some photos from recent outings. Some early season trout caught on dries…..the start of a new season.

goose eggs
deceased goose