“Cause a little bit of summer is what the whole year is about”
Late July. Summer. It took forever to get here. The sun is blasting. It’s even warm in the early morning. That’s rare in the Rocky Mountains. The local ice cream shop is packing them in. My lawn is burning. Abby, my dog, is lazier than heck. The kitchen ceiling fan is spinning. Thunderheads build in the late afternoon heat. A lot of storm watch alerts. Blankets on the vehicles to protect them from hail.
Friends have been in town. Long days spent wet wading the rivers. Fishing until darkness. Little time spent indoors or for other things. That’s alright, it’s summer. And where I live it’s brief. It’s just a flicker. Catch it while you can…
Lots of fish pics. Few people pics. Some dog pics. Most trout featured caught sight-fishing with dries/emergers, size 16-18.; mainly Pale Morning Duns with thorax built with Golden Retriever hair. A few trout taken on beetles and crickets.
“For as long as I can remember, my nickname was Dusty. I remember my Dad naming me that because of the streets where we lived”.
I PURCHASED a neglected old Miners home in SW Alberta 17 years ago. I’ve been working on it since. It’s tiny and really just a cottage. The best thing about it is that it is in the the heart of Trout Country: right near the Crowsnest river and many other spectacular flows. You would have a hard time finding a better fly fishing location anywhere in North America. Winters can be brutal (that’s Canada) but most summers are picture perfect on the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains. The rivers are clear, insects often hatch and trout rise, and there is a great fly shop (Crowsnest Angler) just down the street. For years I’ve wanted to name my home and have a sign made. Time flies! Seventeen years later here it is. The cottage is small, it’s a faded blue color and has a lot of green foliage around it in the summertime. I named it after a hatch on my local river…the “Blue Winged Olive Cottage”.
I was on the Crowsnest river this past weekend. Sunday was a rare nice day and warm. It felt like Spring! Some Midges were out in the afternoon, however, no fish were up on the section I was on. I even saw a couple of Blue Winged Olives at about 4pm. Just a few but promising. With no rises I started focusing on the river bottom instead of the surface. It’s a completely different type of looking. Through the river glare I eventually spotted a few dark shadows creeping along the bottom mid-pool. They would travel upstream six feet or so then drop back a bit, and then repeating the cycle. They were active. They were feeding. I managed one on a size 18 PT nymph with a cassette tape wing case and a small black beadhead. A dull fly; no shine to it. I landed a classic Crowsnest river rainbow. No hook marks. It was nice to be out sitting riverside in the sun. Nice to sight-fishing again. A new season.
I spotted several decent rising trout in the tail section of a big slow pool last week. They were feeding on pale duns. It was the end of a fishing day, I was tired and it was a long walk back to my car so I made a couple quick casts with no results and then moved on. One week later I returned. It was as calm as before. The trout were rising as before. It was the same weak PMD hatch as before.
In full sun and low clear water the trout inspected my flies carefully often rejecting my impressions last second. Fun stuff to watch. Many fly changes. Mostly the same result. Parachutes, hacklestackers, cdc duns, and a variety of emerger patterns were casted. All scrutinized. Just about all rejected. One trout ate a hacklestacker. I dug through my fly box and then hooked two fine trout on a fly tied several years ago with a swiss straw wing, one turn or so of dun hackle clipped on bottom, thread body, size 18 hook. I tied a few more this week…
Summer took forever to get here. And what has arrived feels like an impostor; an anemic fake. No real consistent heat. Warm one day, cool the next. Wet wading in shorts one day then layers of fleece and a wool hat the next. And from time to time, some real heavy rain to make things muddy. It’s hard to get in sync with local streams given the dramatic variability of the weather. And with that, hatches have been inconsistent; they’ve been all over the place.
The good news is Crowsnest river fish are big this year. Other rivers that I have put time on have also produced, not many, but some memorable trout which required a chase and a lot of rock hopping. Quality over quantity. I’ll take that exchange any day of the week.
The other day I found myself in the middle of an unexpected golden stone-fly hatch. The tailwater river I was on is not known for this large insect. If some do make an appearance it is usually in early summer, not late July. Then again everything is late. July is like June. Maybe August will be like July. Maybe August will be like September. Maybe…
I had no stone-fly impressions. I fished the same water the day before (in the cold and heavy rain) and tossed mainly miniscule size 18 BWO and PMD emergers to bulging trout. With the giant stones skittering the surface the trout wouldn’t look at anything but the big bug. Why would you eat a single Bon Bon when you can have a whole Snickers bar?!
I lucked upon a fellow and his friend fishing a soft spot on the river. He was kind enough to give me a yellow stimulator (golden stone impression) from his fly box. Shortly after I hooked a fine brown trout that took me way downstream. I chased, once again rock hopping a long way.
Many thanks to Scott Smith I believe from Edmonton. Here’s the brown I wouldn’t have caught without his generosity.
Also, photos of other trout taken sight-fishing with dry flies and some SW Alberta scenery from the past 3 weeks…
The Hacklestacker. A creation of Bob Quigley. An innovative fly tier who is unfortunately no longer with us. Over time I’ve learned that his creations such as the Hacklestacker, Quigley Cripple, Film Critic and other patterns, can fool some very picky (selective) flat water trout. Here are some PMD and BWO Stackers all tied on size 18 hooks; with size 18 or size 16 hackle.
When looking for rising trout I watch the flat water river sections first. That’s where they are easiest to spot. If there is no activity then I search the riffles. Trout in this location are much more challenging to find due to the water being broken and faster. Throw in river glare and spotting can be especially daunting. So I focus on very shallow sections. Often water just six inches to one foot depth. Large trout feeding sub-surface in very skinny water occasionally break the surface, and therefore make noise and notify you that they are around. Sometimes it’s barely perceptible above the constant sound of the flowing water. But you get good at hearing it. You just have to stay in one place for a while and listen. Large trout in the shallow riffles also push or displace water as they intercept nymphs and emergers, and occasionally rise for a dun. Their feeding can disturb and slightly change the riffle surface pattern. Again, almost imperceptible. You have to concentrate and watch the water to notice. It’s all subtle. You have to observe and concentrate…kind of the key to learning and becoming a better fly angler or really a better anything.
The trout in these ultra-shallow areas can often be enticed to take a dry-fly or a dangling emerger pattern. On my broad local tailwater river fish hooked in the riffles sometimes have to sprint 40, 50, 60 yards before they get to the main deeper flow. Thrilling first runs. Thrilling stuff.
simple dangling fly, black wing for glare
Of course an angler can fish the riffles blind by swinging a streamer or prospect with a nymph below a strike indicator, or below a big dry-fly. These can be effective ways to cover these bumpy areas and catch trout.
I find spotting them first before casting, however, requires all of your senses and observation skills, and the practice further develops and hones your angling abilities. A decade ago I would have walked by the riffle stretch I fished this past Sunday afternoon and spotted nothing. It’s the same now as it was then…but now I see (and hear) more.