Crisp in the mornings. Sun is arcing low. Noticeable long shadows mid-afternoon. Still windy. Still mainly hanging out in the mountains trying to escape the wind. Still fishing dry flies. Did spend one half day on a tailwater river out on the Plains sight-fishing a slightly sheltered back bay.
WIND. It has been making rivers out on the Plains challenging. Top water angling out in the great wide open has been poor. So I’ve been looking for calmer conditions, some shelter and hopefully some sight-fishing opportunities up in the forested mountain valleys. Here are some nice cutthroats and hybrids (cuttbows) found in some sheltered streams caught on olives, small and mid-sized drakes, and beetles…
When you head out to a river for a day or evening of angling you often have a set of parameters that you operate by. For some people these criterion are broad. For some they are very narrow. The longer you’ve been at something like fly fishing, or any other pursuit, the more you have probably refined the way you practice it; the way you go about it; the path you chose to take. Over time you focus more intensely on some things and discard much of the rest.
Here are some fine trout fooled with small dry flies: mostly ants, beetles and pmd’s in contrasting landscapes and rivers. Some wide flat flows in open austere terrain and smaller clear ones in a treed mountainous landscape. Trout, from the Plains to the Rockies…
Cooler air and water lately and improved flows with some rain. Mornings chilly. Afternoons really perfect. The wind has been in check. Fewer people around. I’ve been on some creeks and a wider river. A great time to hunt for rising trout in the slower sections. Some found. My success has been with small stuff: cinnamon ants, a hacklestacker pmd pattern, some emergers and most importantly a lucky hat…
Due to the drought and intense heat, local reservoirs have dropped significantly. Agricultural irrigation (the aqueduct system) is the priority not main stem stream flows. Low reservoirs mean whatever is released to the rivers now often contains silt which of course affects sight fishing and fishing in general. Two of the three tailwater rivers I fish have been affected.
The good news is we just had a solid 24 hours of rain and lower temperatures. There is even some snow in the high peaks.The intense smoke is gone at least for now.
I’ve been walking a variety of rivers (contrasting water and terrain) and spotting some rising trout….they have been selective, especially on tailwaters…
The heat is back on. The smoke is also back. No rain. No moisture. Things crackle when you walk riverside. The sky is an eerie orange at sun set. I’m casting small stuff on the tailwaters I fish. Big flies are generally being ignored. The trout are selective. I have been tying small emergers, size 16 and 18: A shuck of Antron or CDC at the tail; some wire ribbing over thread body for weight to break the surface; dubbing on thorax region; a white or black polypropylene wing at the head for flotation and most importantly visibility. I wet/saliva the shuck before casting. Here are some photos from my last few outings. Trout taken on the emergers.
Went to my favorite river real early. Slightly cooler lately. Cool in the mornings. Felt there was opportunity. So I did the long drive. Fog was mixed in with smoke. A large coffee helped me get there. It kept me on watch for roadside deer in the low light. Water temperatures were good in the river flow; marginal in the shallows. Water levels were the lowest I’ve ever seen. A lot of standing water. A lot of mosquitos. The sun came out when I arrived. I figured I’d give it a few hours and then leave and fish another river on the way home. In SW Alberta you always have angling options. A fellow from B.C. arrived right after me. No other anglers were around. He parked his vehicle one pool upstream from me and started fishing it and then worked his way further up. Hmm….
I carefully walked the long pool I was on from the tail to the head. There were some smaller fish at the bottom end rising. I watched them and figured things were going to heat up fast (air and water temperature) so I decided to focus and search for a good one. The light was good for spotting. At the head of the pool, just on the edge of the flow, I saw a good trout. It was moving around (feeding); nosing into the shallows with a decent flow; working its way right to top of the pool with the best flow (oxygenated water and food) and then cycling back. Several times I lost sight of the trout due to its movements from the shallows to deeper water and when moving over darker bottom sections.
The fish ignored a small hopper. Maybe it didn’t see it. A few casts later it took a black beetle. A lot of splashing when I finally landed it. My camera lens got soaked so many blurry pictures but I think it made the fishing net photo even more intriguing. One pool, one fish, a couple of hours and then it was time to go. The fellow from B.C. had left before me.
I’ve been waiting for a break in the hot weather. The last few days have been somewhat cooler. Somewhat. So I got up early and made the long drive to my favorite river on the Plains. I’ve been avoiding it due to the intense heat and waiting for an opportunity. When I arrived I checked the temperature in the main flow. It was fairly cold. In the shallows it was passable. A kid was standing mid river smiling and casting frenetically. I saw no rises. He said he had the whole day to fish.
I can’t remember a past season where I used my river thermometer as much as I have been. It seems I’m checking water temperatures several times a day. And I’m watching river levels and flows, the 7 day weather forecast and the 14 day forecast at night on the internet. I feel more like a Weatherman, than an angler. And it’s only July 6th, the start of the summertime angling season. Prime time. The best the year has to offer. I can’t imagine what temperatures are going to be like in mid August. Fires are already burning in British Columbia. Smoke could be on the way as I write.
I walked several pools I know well and carefully watched the water. Nothing. I waited until lunch for a hatch. Nothing. The air temperature started climbing. The river pelicans landed and hunkered down.
I decided to venture to a different stretch of the river and hiked back to my car. The kid was still on the same pool smiling and casting away at the same pace. As before I saw no rises.
At the new location I checked a long straight bank where I missed a great fish late last season. I looked it over from high above. The lighting was good for spotting. The trout was there. It was also rising occasionally to small minuscule, invisible stuff. I dropped down and checked the river temperature once again with my thermometer. It was still good.
The trout refused my first offering, a size 14/16 ant. Absolutely no interest. Then a tried a size 18/16 PMD dry fly with some segmented wire wraps on the slim body to make it sit low (in the water). I think any fly the right size and sitting low would have worked. When I finally got the fly on target the fish ate. Luckily the small fly held and I landed it. A wonderful trout. With that I decided to call it a day.
I looked over the river and thought that with the heat I might not get back to it until mid to late September. I pointed my car towards the mountains and drove home windows open thinking about the kid casting away, about how the tiny hook held on a great trout, and about the river I was just on. My favorite one. It could be the best sight-fishing trout river in North America (that you can drive to) if water (reservoir) management slightly increased the flow throughout the summertime, and if ranchers kept their cattle out of the water. On the Plains ranching and farm irrigation take priority over trout and other things but that’s an old story.
That kid is probably still casting. That kid was me fifty years ago…
Ankle deep water… that’s where I have been angling the last several years. That’s where I search for fish. It’s in the thin water, the skinny water, the almost nothing water. Just a foot or so deep, sometimes just inches. Catching them in the clear nothing is never easy. In the shallows absolutely nothing goes unnoticed. Angling mistakes get magnified. Your mantra: Stay low, go slow. Sunlight helps you search the shallows for that elusive shadow that is gliding in from the deep to feed.
The shallower the better. The closer the better. The more visual the better. The more challenging the better.
Here’s a fine brown trout caught in the shallows on a simple (flat) black ant pattern (size 16) I tie. Local rivers have dropped and most are clear. Trout are starting to look up and take dries…
Doves were behind me in amongst the riverside willows and cottonwoods. Cooing while foraging the river valley floor. I never saw them. I never looked for them. I just listened while watching the water for trout. Their distinctive sound gave them away. Unmistakable. A mourning sound some say. A soothing sound I say.
It was the first real calm after days of howling wind. And with the stillness; with the low ceiling and low light; with the threat of drizzle; and with the sound of Doves, there was the possibility of rising trout. Maybe even a good one.