“Excuse me while I kiss the sky”
The room I get to play in on weekends is very, very large and it has a limitless ceiling; and it has rivers flowing through it; and if you search in the four corners you’ll find trout.
There’s this river I go Bonefishing on. I don’t really catch Bones there, I catch trout. But it’s just like Bonefishing. The angling is all visual.
Around mid to late morning when the sun gets high in the sky I look for some shallow water areas that have a fairly light and uniform bottom; or as uniform as a trout stream bottom can get. The presence of trout and their movement is harder to detect when I’m walking so when I get to a promising location I sit or stand still and watch.
The trout in this bonefishing river often move out of the deeper water into these shallows and prowl for food. They tend to cycle in and out of these spots. If I see one exiting such a location for deeper water I wait as it will probably be back. If you watch cycling trout for a while you soon realise they often repeat the same route or path over and over. If a trout disappears I plan for its return and strategize my approach and get ready to cast. It all sounds easy but with wary fish in clear shallow water on a bright sunny day, a lot can go wrong. Trout are always hypervigilant, especially for any kind of movement from above.
To spot these fish I look for movement. A blue sky with few or no clouds to create reflection is ideal. Clouds and sun can turn the river surface milky white blinding your vision. Light colored riverside cliffs are just like clouds, they reflect light and create glare when it is sunny. Dark cliffs with vegetation are good but unfortunately my favorite sight fishing river has little of this. I prefer river terrain that is flat and open on a sunny day so there is little around to reflect light. The neat thing about this angling style is that you can often sight fish even when there is no hatch occurring, and on my Bonefishing river there has been an unusual absence of bugs lately. This makes the game even more challenging.
I do best with this type of fishing when the river drops and I can wade across it in many areas. This allows me to take advantage of the changing light as the sun arcs throughout the day. A good spot late morning is probably not going to be as good mid-afternoon. Cross the river and you can sight fish again. The key is to use the light to your advantage so you have maximum vision and can spot movement. This type of angling is all about seeing. I move around until I can see real well and look for a section of river bottom where a fish will stand out.
Once I spot a cycling fish I stay low and still. I often creep up on fish and cast from my knees. Drab clothing helps me blend in. A white shirt or hat in full sun is like waving a flag and causes trout to bolt. Forget about those shiney silver or gold fly reels. I also tuck away anything that glitters or shines on my vest or pack. I try to blend in, stay still, cast side arm and if I have to move for a better position I do so when the fish turns away from me or re-enters deep water. It is best to approach a fish from behind but often that’s not possible. I catch many from the side or feeding them the fly from above (downstream presentation). In these situations staying low, still and at some distance is even more important.
My Bonefishing river harbours some great trout but not a lot of them and therefore on any given day you only get so many shots at a good fish. If you throw in a bit of cloud, some wind, intense summer heat and an absence of bugs, and some snooty/selective fish into the equation, then a hook up becomes even more special. I often come home from such an outing knees sore from crawling on hot river rocks and eyes tired. On my last outing I hooked several but only landed one.
Sheep Creek road; North Picabo road; Kimpton bridge road; Spring Coulee road…and the list goes on and on. What they all have in common is they are dirt roads; back roads. Follow them and like the North Star or Southern Cross guide an ancient mariner, they deliver you to rising trout. All are in the middle of Nowhereville and Nowhereville is always a good place to be if you are into trout. Here are some photos taken while casting dries somewhere up Sheep Creek road.
After a winter of fishing blind with a two handed rod it was a real pleasure to sight fish with a light 4wt rod and dry flies this past weekend. I spent two days walking and wading the Missouri river in Montana. I tossed midges all weekend and on a couple of occasions a small beetle. Most fish were on emergers (bulging the surface). A few could be found eating dries, especially when the wind died down in the flat water sections of the river. Some bulging fish could even be enticed to eat on top; however, many would not. A lot of the midges were clustering in the mid afternoon so cluster fly patterns worked fairly well. A few Blue Winged Olives were out but not many. This hatch should be developing soon which will make the dry fly angling easier. All of the fish below were caught on dries. I spent my time fishing flat, shallow sections; slow wading ankle deep water. Some great fish landed; many more missed. Some humbling moments. Trout fishing doesn’t get much more challenging or better. If you love dry fly fishing you owe it to yourself to one day visit this river.
“At one stage I fished the Yellow Breeches Creek, along which I lived, almost eight evenings a week.”
Charles K. Fox – This Wonderful World of Trout
GETTING GOOD PHOTOS OF TROUT IS ALWAYS CHALLENGING especially when you fish alone, which is what I do most of the time. Fish aren’t cooperative. After you land one you have to do a number of things in order to get a picture. All seem easy but aren’t, especially when you’re kneeling in moving water, and often in imperfect weather conditions. You have to gently control the fish; keep it in the water and unhook it; dig your camera out of a deep pocket; turn it on without dropping it into the river; focus the shot; ensure there is no water on the lens (I still have trouble with that one); check where the sun is in order to avoid shadow; etc. And you want to do all of this fast so that you can safely release the trout. I have had many great fish bolt on me before I got all of the aforementioned tasks done, and therefore missed a wanted image.
I was lucky this past August to have a photographer with me for part of an afternoon. I felt no pressure when I was directed to, “Go and catch a trout…I’m all set up to shoot”.
Although SW Alberta has great rivers, quite a few people fish here (angling pressure) and the trout are wild, wary and usually not easy. The river that I was sight fishing is especially challenging. It is a quality not quantity fishery. It runs through wide open terrain where it is often sunny and there are few places for an angler to hide. The trout are spooky; some even seem clairvoyant. In order to have a “crack” at a great fish you generally have to do things well. In mid summer when the water is low and clear the resident rainbows simply don’t tolerate mistakes and catching one on a dry-fly in my mind is always an accomplishment. Usually each good fish takes some time.
Well, shortly after being directed to, “Go and catch a trout”, I caught one! If you fish a lot you know that it doesn’t usually work out this way. I was lucky, things just came together. Having a photographer nearby made getting some nice shots so much easier. It simplified things. I just had to focus on safely handling the trout.
What I like best about some of the images taken is that they show the girth of the trout. That’s something I have trouble capturing when I’m taking pictures by myself. The rainbow is quite representative of the ones I catch there. I have caught more large trout on small dries there than on any other river along the continental divide, either side of the Medicine Line. The place is an ace.
“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”.