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Reflections from the 2017 Fly Fishing Season

Reflections from the 2017 Fly Fishing Season

What a season of Fly-Fishing it has been! And, even now, as we proceed deeper into October, the lines have still been tight and the rod has been bent over more days than not… As always this time of year, I find my mind wandering and reflecting back on the many great times the river has granted me in the past months. To the many new rivers and streams I’ve explored this year, to the amazing clients and friends my new job has afforded me, to the odd and whacky weather that is seemingly becoming the norm. Yes, every year does bring something new, something enriching that reminds us why we fly fish. So, as the season winds down, I have compiled my top riverside reflections from the past season. Enjoy!

 

The amount of water to explore in Alberta is endless

 

I was beginning to think that I was starting to get to know most of the good places to fish in Alberta. That is until I began to work in a river system (Red Deer River) that is generally not  considered the Creme-d-la-creme when it comes to Alberta fly-fishing. Yes, the spring fed creeks in it’s lower reaches is great fishing for browns, and most people know about these streams. I have explored almost all of them and thought I knew about all the good streams in the Red Deer system… But working up in the Red Deer River high country, I simply had no idea as to the extent of the Backcountry Streams.

What about the Panther River? Sheep Creek? Williams Creek? James River? Places where the scenery is worth the trip alone, like the upper Red Deer near the Ya-ha Tinda. And hidden backcountry gems, places that I have no regret sharing because there is probably only a handful of people who fished them all season, like the Dormer River, DogRib Creek, and the Upper Panther.

And then thinking about the places where I have barely scratched the surface, in the Ram watersheds, the Tribs of the N. Sask, the peace, and the Athabasca… We are truly blessed. So next year, maybe instead of going to the overfished waters like the Livingstone, the N. Ram,  the Highwood, the Oldman, or the Crowsnest, maybe think about heading somehwhere where you can’t find any info about on Fishing forums and threads… Cause, from this years experience, there is fish almost everywhere for the angler willing to put in his time.

 

A lunker from the Panther River

Let the Universe surprise you

 

This season, I had the pleasure of meeting, working with and spending time with a couple of my fly-fishing idols, Jim Mclennan and Derek Bird. And, it happened out of complete random chance. It’s not everyday you roll into work (luckily I was early, or would have missed them altogether), and see Jim Mclennan sitting on his tailgate right in the parking lot, with Derek Bird and the Fly Fusion crew, and Naoto Aoki, Josh Nugent and the rest of the guys from Out Fly Fishing Outfitters.  I obviously went right up and began chatting, seeing what the hell the worlds second largest fly-fishing magazine was doing up here in one of the lesser known corners of Alberta. Apparently, the southern portions of our province were closed due to wildfire smoke. They had to improvise, and decided to come up to the S. Ram, and then to the Upper Red Deer, where they needed some lodging (and that is where we came in).

After a few minutes of chatting, I figured I should let the crew know that we had a helicopter on site, one that could give them access to some world class high alpine lakes. And from there, an episode of the upcoming Fly-Fusion TV was born. While I didn’t get to join on the fishing, I got to spend 2 days getting to know everyone, learning from Jim and Derek, and helping the crew by giving them tips and advice on fishing in my backyard. They were all so ecstatic and grateful, and for sure it was one of the highlights of the summer. I am hopeful and excited for the chance to work together again in the future. So, keep your eyes peeled for that episode of the upcoming season 3 of Fly Fusion TV.  

 

Climate Change is a real thing

 

Alright, I know anyone who isn’t a dimwit already knows this. And if you are reading this and you disagree, I find that a little troubling, so please unsubrscribe and go back to watching trump propganda videos. What I do take away from this season, and what I feel is significant to the whole climate change dialogue, is that I feel as though we are genuinely beginning to experience this entire phenomena as we enjoy and interact with our trout streams, on a day to day, month to month, and season to season basis.

What do I mean by this?

Climate change is shifting from that hypothetical, far-off yet inevitable reality to something that is actually beginning to impact us in the real world now. And its people like us, Fly anglers, who are one of the few demographics that interact with the environment on such a intimate level that we actually begin to notice these changes.

Maybe I’m over reacting. Maybe not. What I can tell you is that climate change experts will tell you that we will experience climate change by have larger seasonal variability, AKA more ‘anomalies’ in our weather systems. More floods, more droughts, more extreme weather, and overall, just more unpredictability. And nothing sheds light on this reality like the past several years taken as a whole. Starting with this season, where many parts of Alberta went over 2 months without receiving any measurable rain, and a summer that was one of the driest in living memory. All I can tell you, is that since I have become a serious fly angler, almost every year has been considered an ‘anomaly’. Starting with the 100 year flood of 2013, the consecutive low snowpack and impending droughts of 2015 and 2016, and now the dryest summer in memory, which also resulted in dangerously low river flows, particualrily in our spring creeks.

I’m just saying. I’m also a skier, and we have received some alarming avalanche conditions in the past several years, including the largest avalanche cycle on record last season. This stuff is beginning to affect us, and will continue to affect our trout. As I’ve discussed before, trout are fickle creatures, and can only withstand very small amounts of climate variability. So, being the in-tune, climate conscious outdoorsmen that we are, it’s up to us to recognize these things, and do everything in our power to protect our resource, including practicing catch and release, safe handling, pinching of barbs, staying off the rivers when conditions dictate, and also helping educate those in our community who arent as aware of how fleeting out trout populations might be.

 

Browns were in tough with the low rainfall this season.

 

Always carry Bearspray!

 

My final reflection from this season. In late August, a man showed up to our Lodge after being visciously mauled by a grizzly. We were able to helicopter him to safety. I was able to meet this man, and seeing how quickly things can happen really made me think. This man was lucky to survive, and it was his sheer will and determination that saved him and got him to our Lodge.

When venturing into the backcountry, which is what we support and condone here at Bushwhackers, you MUST be prepared. Even if you have gone to a place a hundred times and never seen a bear, you never know when you might turn the corner on a big griz. So dont take chances. Carry spray!

 

Thanks for Reading! Now get out and enjoy the fine fall fishing! The Bow River has been Bonkers as of late; small copper johns, pheasant tails, hares ears have been producing epic fish! And the high country is still going. Go get em!

 

KR

 

5 Tips for Fishing in the Fall

5 Tips for Fishing in the Fall

Well, it is that time of year once again; when the leaves start changing colors, and your breathe wisps up in front of you in the crisp morning air. The vibrant colors beckon fisherman to their banks, hanging on to the season of fishing that fleetingly hangs on for however long mother nature decides.

And the trout, colored up and beautiful, gobble down the bugs that are still around, trying to get fat for the long winter ahead. Yes, this is certainly the best time of year to fish. However, it can be more challenging than the days of summer, where big dry flies and prolific hatches mean fisherman can chuck dry flys around and have a pretty good shot, most days at least. Luckily, I have compiled here my 5 best tips to make sure you keep the lines bent this fall!

 

 

1) Embrace the Rain!

 

Often times, anglers look outside and see rain and decide to hide inside and forego their fishing plans. DONT! Particularily in the fall, I’ve had some of my best fishing days in that consistent drizzle. In fact, these days usually offer the best dry fly fishing this time of year. You may have heard of the Blue-Winged Olive (BWO). It is a tiny green mayfly that hatches this time of year, usually when the weather is rainy or overcast. So instead of hiding away from the rain, stock up on BWO’s and head out to catch some rising fish!

Blue Winged Olive Pattern

 

2) Go Small and go deep

 

As mentioned, fall does not bring with it the prolific hatches of the summer time. Just because you dont see rising fish does not mean the fish arent eating. Actually, fish are usually feeding aggressively, but their primary food source is subsurface nymphs. Tiny size 16-20 bead head nymphs are absoultely the ticket this time of year, and if you methodically work the pools using small nymphs, you should have great success. These include: Copper Johns, Pheasant Tails, Bead Headed Prince, and the Hares Ear Nymph.

TIP: Try using these small nymphs as a tandem rig to cover more of the water column. Fish one slightly larger nymph, and using tippet, attach a smaller nymph 8″-12″ inches beneath it. This is a great tactic this time of year.

Small nymphs work great in the fall

3)Fish during the heat of the Day

 

The night times and morning this time of year are very chilly. The best fishing this time of year will be during the warmest hours of the day, typically sometime between 11 am and 5 pm. This is when the water will warm up sufficiently to allow fish to begin feeding, and will also be the time when the few hatches that are still going on will occur. Me, I like to still get an early start and hike into a spot that I know will be good, allowing the water to warm up while I’m hiking and then begin fishing once I begin to warm up. Try to be at your favourite spot in that afternoon window when you will have the best shot.

 

4) Fish the Deep pools, deep banks, and Logjams

 

In the Summer, fishing riffles and tailouts can give good results. As fall progresses, fish will begin leaving these lies and move into the deeper water in preparation for winter. Waist deep troughs up against banks will almost always hold fish, and the pools will begin to fill up with fish later into the fall. Focus your fishing on these areas, and ignore the riffles and shallow tailouts. This will allow you to narrow down your casting options and focus on water where there is surely to be fish.

 

 

5) Savour every last fish!

 

Some years we can fish until the end of the open water season in october. Other seasons, the fishing will be no good by the end of September. It is entirely up to mother nature, and while  its great to be optimistic about fishing into october, some years it’s just not realistic. For this reason, make sure you enjoy every last fish; maybe instead of fighting with it, trying to get an awkward iphone pic, just enjoy it;, the brilliant colors, the way it feels, the way it indignantly retreats back to shelter when you release it. It might be a long time yet before you catch another. So be thankful each and every time you hook up, and enjoy the fleeting days of fine fly fishing before winter.

Fishing on November on the Bow last fall

Hopefully this list can help you get plenty more fish before the snow starts flying. Finally we have recieved some rain in Southern Alberta; something that hasnt really happened since June. But looking ahead, it does seem as though summer has officially left, There is lots more chilly, wet weather in the future, and while its been an ideal summer in terms of sunny days, it looks as though Fall might be a bit more variable. This might mean snow up high, which might mean an early conclusion to the season. So I mean it; get out now while you can!

Thanks for reading and tight lines, Bushwhackers!!

 

KR

 

Roadtrippin Pt. 2: Columbia River Rainbows

Roadtrippin Pt. 2: Columbia River Rainbows

The second half of my trip through BC began with a beautiful drive down Highway 33, along the always stunning waters of the West Kettle and Kettle Rivers. Playlist bumpin’, windows down, I made my way  through the portal of the Kootenays, towards the Columbia River, where I was meeting fellow Bushwhacker, and fly fisherman Jack.

 

To gain access to the geographical region knows as the Kootenays, no matter which way you are coming from, you must pass through a grand mountain pass. Over time, I have come to think of these routes of passage as a gateway of sorts; into a place that holds everything a contented man could want. And once through the gateways, your worries seem to disappear into thin air; slowly, and without notice, as the comfortable sway of Kootenay time takes over. On this day, I came through the portal from the east, over the Paulson Pass, and all the way down to the mighty river where all the water from this area ends up eventually.

The Kootenays are just awesome. Plain and simple. these interior mountains of British Columbia just have an aura to them; the sunsets more colorful, the lakes more calm and serene, and the people more enchanting and unique. The East Kootenays are known as a world class fly fishing destination. And in the West Kootenays, well… There is only endless rivers and lakes, big and small.  With fishing opportunities ranging from Trophy Fishing for the massive Gerrard Rainbows of Kootenay Lake, the worlds largest native strain (which can push the scale to over 30 pounds!), all the way too recreational opportunities minutes from your door.  And while the purists fly-fishing is not as highly noted as that in the east, it’s the combination of being in such a amazing place, mixed with  good fishing that make the West Kootenay’s a great destination for the trout fisherman.

I was meeting Jack at a Back-Eddie we had fished before. At no particular time, mind you, cause we were back running on Kootenay time. Mid-afternoon, we said.  

Me and Jack used to fish the Columbia together in 2014 when I was living in Nelson. That spring, me and jack spent most of our days exploring the stretch of the Columbia River from Castlegar to the US border, which is open for fishing year round. This stretch of water flows out from the Keenleyside Dam, which is a lake-bottom drawing Dam, which means cold, clear water even when everything else is high and muddy. During this time, we tried our hardest to figure out this mighty river, and tried to catch some of the big rainbows all the locals talked about.

But try as I might, I almost never ended the day with anything to show for it. I felt overwhelmed and intimidated by the turbulent and gargantuan porportions of the river. I could see the fish rising, but I couldn’t quite make it to them. My standard fly-fishing approach did not seem to be working. I usually ended up smoking to much and falling asleep with a Ball cap over my eyes. And to make matters worse, the crusty Kootenay locals with their bobbers and bait would be pulling out huge fish after huge fish.

 

Yes, my initial days fishing the Columbia were very humbling and also provided me with a great learning experience: If what you are doing isn’t working, do something different! Seemingly simple advice, but fly-fisherman can be a stubborn bunch. And also, don’t be afraid to learn a thing or two from those the fly-fishing community so often views as ‘inferior.’ aka Bait fisherman, bobbing, ect… Especially when they are catching fish and you aren’t!

The main thing I began to re-think on the Columbia is that maybe slack was my friend. Typically, fly-fisherman try to keep as little slack on the line as possible, keeping their tip up, in order to minimize drag and also to be more responsive when a trout takes the fly. Thats great. But unfortunately that doesn’t work when you are chest deep,  casting 40 yards from shore across swirling back eddies and fast currents. Your fly will simply not get down. So I began to rethink this and used much more slack, and allowed the current to take my fly wherever it wanted; hopefully right to the fish, and used the straightening of my line and light strips to feel for a take. And the second thing I began to do is super-size my fly selection. On the Columbia, bigger is almost always better.

With these few changes, I did begin to catch more and more fish, and while I certainly haven’t figured it out, I like my chances a lot more now then I did.

And a little hope can go a long way towards success.

 

Today, I felt with the utmost certainty that I would get some fish to the net.

And I was right; except that it didn’t end up happening for me until the next day. The first obstacle we faced the first day, and throughout both days, was the high water.  It was running high, which meant the shoreline was flooded and casting/ getting our flies out far enough was challenging. I missed on a few takes, and Jack was able to catch one smaller rainbow. We decided to begin moving back towards Nelson and met our other friend Dave at another spot on the Kootenay River, Shoreacres. We faced the same problem here. We could not wade out far enough to get clean casts and not snag the branches behind us. And the fish were out jumping just beyond where we could cast.

Dave, meanwhile, is new to the sport. He was using a spin rod with a big heavy bobber, and then had a sunk fly about 10 feet down from that. He was able to chuck his big bobber way out into the eddie. And while me and Jack were getting snagged in trees, Dave caught the first 2 trout of his life, including a nice 13″ incher. No wonder people around here wonder why people mess around fishing with Fly-rods.

Dave with his first ever trout!

 

After a great night of catching up and hanging out at Jacks place in Nelson, we headed out to the Columbia again the next day with even more resolve.

We went back to the same Eddie as before, and despite a slow start, things began to heat up. After about an hour, I hooked into a nice 14″ rainbow that gave me a good fight. 

Shortly after that I was hooked up with what seemed like a dandy of a fish. While I was fighting him, Jacked hooked into a rainbow just downstream from me. We both played and landed our fish with smiles and got them in the net for the obligatory ‘double-header’ photo. Mine eneded up being a beautiful Rainbow of about 20″.  We caught a few more and had some nice trout spit our hooks a few times. But all in all the day was great.

Double header on the Columbia

 

We took a break and then came back to the spot just before sundown. We fished a few spots with no luck. But then, right as I was starting to consider gathering up my line and calling it for the day, my line straightened up and I felt the pull of a nice trout. I fought him as the sun set, and he turned out to be the nicest fish of the day. It was the perfect way to finish another perfect day in the Kootenays.

A beauty at Sunset.

A few tips for Fly fishing the Columbia River:

The best set-up to have is a 6- 8 wt Rod, and a sink tip if going below the surface. The Columbia is best fished fished from a boat. This gives you the best mobility to fish several different back eddies and to get your flies right into the middle of them. During the summer, there is lots of hatches and dry fly action, particulrily Caddies flies. Using huge caddis patterns, like sz. 4 or 6, is usually how I’ve had my success. Sunk flies also work very well; so don’t feel the need to re-cast your dry fly when it begins to sink and swirl about a few feet under the water. the fish love this and sometimes works better than a nicely floating fly. Using an indicator or a bobber a few feet away from your dry fly (similar to how Dave was using his spin rod) can help you recognize takes. This trip, we caught all our fish on nymphs, with the best Fly being a big bead head prince. These fish seem to love bright colors, so anything with pink, red, purple, or blue is often the ticket.

If your heading to fish the Columbia, stop in at the Fly shop in Castlegar and you will find a great many flies that will work great in the Columbia. Rod ties them all himself and he knows how to catch his big Rainbows. But, don’t expect to get to much advice from the guys in here; they are pretty tight lipped and guarded bout divulging too much info. They’ll let you figure it out 🙂

 


Kootenay Peace of Mind

The next day, I’m sitting in the revered Oso Negro cafe sipping on a latte and reminiscing about the fish of the day before. The colors and patterns of the whimsical Xeriscape Garden patio pulsed all around in the Kootenay sunshine. The hummingbirds buzzed around as people sipped their drinks and enjoyed each others company. I was about to hit the road again; back towards home and the summer of work that awaited me. But I was in no rush; the easy swing of ‘Kootenay time’ had taken me over and I felt no need to leave this moment.

After 8 months of living here, and many trips back, I have firmly come to decide 1 truth. The Kootenays are a fairy tale, ruled by some magical force.

And Nelson is where this magical force emanates from.

I’ve never been to a place with such a lively dynamic of human life living in harmony; Outdoor junkies, adrenaline enthusiasts, hard working blue collars, hippies, old people (old hippies, too), and homeless people, all sharing one commonality; there’s no where else on earth they would rather be.

The universe.

Maybe it’s cause everyone has been puffing on the good stuff, or maybe it’s cause everyone is there doing something they love, surrounded by beautiful lakes and mountains, or maybe it was just the good coffee; but the cafe buzzed with an energy that seemed to consume everyone within. The city buzzed with the hope of spring. Everyone seemed genuinely stoked. And I felt amazing.

I finished up my coffee, jotted some notes down in my journal, and became very conscious of my gratitude towards this world. I was exactly where I was supposed to be. Thoughts of a great summer ahead filled my mind, and all the adventures and lessons it would bring. Images from this great roadtrip flashed through my head. Not a ounce of regret was present in my mind.

Yes, being in Nelson is the best reminder that life is only as complicated as you make it. The ‘real world’ can be this simple, and beautiful. And if you make your goal in life to be as happy as possible, there is an endless amount of ways to make this possible.

So then I hit the road, and made for the Crowsnest pass; the exit portal that would mean I would shed the Kootenay cloak of contentment and re-enter back into the ‘Real world’. Yet, somehow, the real world seemed better now; more enchanting, more hopeful. I wasn’t sad that the roadtrip was ending.

I was glad that it happened. And looking forward to another.

And as with Trout fishing, a little hope can go a long way.

 

Roadtrippin’ Part I: A Call to Adventure

Roadtrippin’ Part I: A Call to Adventure

Have you ever just been hit by an all consuming and irrational need to get away? To hit the open road without a plan? To explore without an agenda and get away from all the routine and boredom of regular life?

The urge hit me last week as the rain poured into southern Alberta for the first time, and the water got high and murky. Not being on a shift at work for another 10 days, I wasn’t really sure what I was gonna do with myself. It was Thursday, and the thought of hitting the road never even crossed my mind.

And that’s when my brother Mark called me and told me some friends were heading out camping. And that I should come too. And it didn’t take long for me to realize he was right; and the upcoming roadtrip was already starting to take form in my mind.

The roadtrip took me over the divide, into the interior mountains of BC, through the Okanagan and Boundary Country, and back again through the Kootenays. Stops on the trip included Golden, Chase, Kelowna, Nelson, and the Crowsnest Pass.

The best part of a roadtrip is having your fly-rod ready to go in the car at all times. And with no agenda, any piece of water that is open for consideration, at least for a few casts. These few casts lead to a few more, and inevitably you find you’ve been fishing for an hour and are now running behind your loosely defined schedule. Rivers were primarily closed on this trip until I made it to the Kootenays (where we fished the Columbia with success), but the lakes were open and the drizzle had fish rising. So there were lots of chances to take a few casts along the way.

The second thing I like about road trips is the peaceful time alone, to contemplate and think. But this roadtrip also had lots of time spent catching up with my brother and good friends I haven’t seen in a while, along with meeting new people. The long nights spent talking and enjoying time with friends contrasted to the peaceful alone time on a BC highway is something that made me grateful for both.

 

Trouble on the Highways

 

The first night saw a speed bump. I was trying to get all the way to Chase, BC (near Salmon Arm). However, mother nature had other plans. The rogers pass was closed for 2 days, with extreme avalanches that were actually mind boggling once we drove by them. For backcountry skier types, these avalanches were size 4 and ran full path, carrying full mature timber in them. There were probably close to a dozen to be seen from the highway, and two that crossed the highway. An amazing avalanche cycle. There was also a closure for a mudslide near Sicamous. So the chance of getting to Chase were very low, even if the Pass opened. To make matters worse, it was raining steadily on the divide where we were. And Firewood was not sold in the park. And all of the campsites near golden were full cause of the closure.

Sometimes, things just work out.

Luckily, another good friend of mine and my brother was also heading out and got blocked as well. We rendezvoused in Field, got a few tips from the visitor center, managed to find a few logs from a local in field, and headed down some logging road that took us to a land use zone. Somehow, me managed to find an incredible camp spot hidden away with a beautiful view of a waterfall, a bench and fire pit. And right as the rain stopped. Miraculously, we got a fire gong in the wet conditions with only full logs and no axe or hatchet.

We proceeded to drink beers and shoot cans and get gloriously tipsy all night before I stumbled over to my hammock and fell into a deep slumber with the tumbling sound of the waterfall in the background.

Some might know this spot… A true gem. Directions not included.

 

Getting back on track

 

The only complaint with day 1 was that I didn’t get to fish at all. So I fixed that on day 2. I stopped at a few lakes on my way over to Chase and the Rec site where my brother and their clan were chillin. Spot I knew and have had luck before. I hooked a big bully but couldn’t land him. Missed a few rainbows and probably got some ticks in the deathly willows that seemed so innocent from the highway. So I ripped over to the hangout for the next couple of days, another great rec site on a beautiful Lake called Harper Lake. This lake is tough to find, and after being lost for a bit and some very demanding but managable logging roads, I found myself at the beutiful spot they had. As soon as I got there, I could see the trout rising. Finally, I could put a fish on the board.

We caught up with everyone for a little bit once we got there. Caught up, ate some food. But it wasn’t long before the rising trout were all me and Mark could think of. Tactfully, we slipped away and finally got fishing.

I didn’t have a boat so Mark did the kind thing and ditched his belly boat so we could fish together. The casting was tough from shore, but after some bushwhacking, mud wading, and then navigating some floating tree islands, we found ourselves in a nice position to cast to some risers. It was a good night fishing, and while neither of us hooked into anything big, we each caught 3 fish and it was nice to get some dry fly action.

 

After that, with the trout itch stratched, we bundled up for the cold night and didn’t move far from the fire the rest of the night, except to grab a beer or a hot dog. It was a good night with good people, and again I fell asleep in my hammock very satisfied and tired.

I fell asleep in my swinging hammock under the moon, and awoke to the rustling of trees and the sound of birds.

After a morning coffee and a few goodbyes, I fished a little bit and explored that morning, cleaned up camp and then hit the road again. I was headed to Kelowna today, staying with Mark. A shower was very necassary. And maybe something that wasn’t a hot dog.

This day was the hump day, as there was no fishing to be had in the Okanagan as the rain came down and everything was flooded. But, I knew I would be able to find some good fishing in the Kootenays, and the thought of fish had me excited for what the road ahead would bring. I got cleaned up, showered, and had another good sleep on Mark’s couch.

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The great part about this roadtrip is that it took me to some places that are not necassarily famed trout waters, or well known, well publicized waters. Out of all the places I wet a line: Salmon Arm, Revelstoke, and in the West Kootenays in Nelson and Castlgar, none are considered the best places to fish. They are not like Fernie, Kamloops, the Skeena, or the Island, where people flock to for trout. No. These are the lesser known, but if one puts in a bit of time and knows the right people, there is still tons of great fishing to be had, and big fish to be caught, even in the middle of run-off.

So I left Kelowna with the mighty Columbia River in mind. It was a tail water fishery that flows out of a bottom-drawing dam. Meaning clear, consistent flows. I used to live in Nelson, and I always head back there. It took a while, but slowly but surely, I’ve begun to figure this huge river out.

A Columbia River Rainbow. In part 2 we will talk about this great fishery and how to catch these bog rainbows!

But I suppose this departure marks the Halfway point of my journey, and once you enter into the magical portal of the Kootenays it really becomes a story of its own. And you should probably get back to whatever it is that you should be doing besides reading this (although I thank you for reading this far).

So that is where I’m going to leave it for today. Right as I enter the portal into the Kootenays and begin my search for big rainbows.

I will talk about the Columbia River and tips on fishing for these Rainbows in the next post, as well as the town of Nelson and it’s amazing culture of happiness, and the rest of the trip in Roadtrippin PT  II… 

 

Keep your eyes open the next few days!

Tight lines,

KR

 

Here she comes!

Here she comes!

Well folks, its been a pretty good start to spring so far. Not epic, or amazing, but pretty solid and enough to at least scratch my ‘fishing itch’ that has been building all winter.

But things are about to change. In most mountain fed rivers across the province, run-off is around the corner (GASP!). I know. It is very frightening. The thought of that epicly large mountain snowpack coming down with a vengeance and rendering all our favourite rivers and creeks unfishable until an unknown time in the seemingly very distant future. Hopefully, we will all survive. But its not all over once those rivers turn to chocolate milk. If you’re lucky, you might just be able to catch yourself fish despite that evil R word, that is coming- whether we like it or not.

A quick update on what I’ve been up to. Despite it being late April, the skiing continues to be incredible, and on April 25th I was treated to the best Pow day of the season. So the skiing put fishing on hold for a few days. Overall, a good problem to have. Also, I somehow seem to have landed my dream job. I will be working up at a wilderness/ fly-fishing lodge on the banks of a great river in the Red Deer River basin; doing all sorts of stuff around camp, and also guiding and outfitting once I get to know the area. If you want to know exactly where, send me a message and I will give you some more details. I headed up to my new home for the second time this week, in what was a great excuse to go fishing for a couple days

So, before I went up to the lodge, I spent a few days exploring the Spring creeks of central Alberta. The water is running at a healthy rate; the rain of last week had the water up and kind of murky, but I was able to garner some attention on bigger streamers. I hooked several; but a log jam broke me off once, and the crafty browns shook my hook a few other times. I was only able to get a few to the net, but overall I was happy to see some action.

So then I headed to the central Alberta high-country where I will be working this summer, and went searching for some Bullies. I haven’t had to much thought for Bullies yet, as the Browns are slightly addictive and a little closer. But the water in the high-country is in pristine shape and I was glad to see some white fins at the bottom of the deep pools when I started fishing. It didn’t take long before a big bully smashed my articulated streamer and I was off and running. I was able to catch fish in most of the pools I tried, or at least get some action. Having the fine water of the Red Deer River basin right in my back yard this summer, I think there is plenty of Bull Trout in my future. Can’t wait to explore all this area has to offer.

Unfortunately, there is probably only a few more days to go chase fish in the high country. So I’m glad I got up there and got some fish before spring actually comes and the chocolate milk comes with it.

Run-off will begin as soon as overnight temperatures in the mountains stay above freezing, and the snow-pack doesn’t freeze overnight. This leads to a runaway melt effect during the days, and the flows of our streams jumping up. The temperatures will be reaching double digits in the mountains by the end of the week, and it doesn’t look like the overnight temps will be low enough to recover.

So basically, if you have time to go fish in the next few days, go and get it now before run-off comes and your options will be severely limited.

So, what to do once run-off does come?

Well, there is a few options, the first being lakes. This is the best time of year to go fish some lakes. I will certainly be taking a few days to go fish some of the lakes in southern Alberta in the Crowsnest. The spring creeks should stay OK, but during times of rain they will go a little off-colour, because the springs are full. But there should be some good fishing to be had in anything not attached to the mountain snowpack. Make sure to check regulations and ensure that anything you are fishing is open. Another option this time of year is to go fish beaver ponds and little ponds that are often located in the upper reaches of spring creeks and small creeks. There are many, and they are typically right at the base of the mountains. This can be fun fishing for big brookies, however it will take some searching and exploration. Do some homework, find some water, catch some fish. And repeat. That what fly-fishing is all about.

And of course, while I forget it sometimes, there is other activities other than fly-fishing. This is a good time of year to knock the dust of the mountain bike and rip up some trails, do some easier hiking in the front ranges, or even do some ski touring along the divide. Point is: Life does not end with the chocolate milk. Get outside and enjoy being outdoors, stay active and enjoy the budding of leaves and flowers. The rivers will be gin clear again before you know it!

 

  • KR

The cringeworthy history of Alberta’s Fisheries- And how we are barely hanging on.

The cringeworthy history of Alberta’s Fisheries- And how we are barely hanging on.

The best part of having a mind that wanders is stumbling across something completely random and having it fascinate you and change your outlook on some particular topic. Well this happened to me last night as I lay up in bed and read through this random article/blog post discussing the historical abundance of Alberta’s native trout, and how widespread the destruction of these systems really is.

You see, most of us get this feeling when we are on one of Alberta’s productive trout streams that we are connected with something pure- something unchanged for thousands of years. This however, I now know, is completely untrue. Over the past hundred and a bit years, Alberta’s fisheries have been decimated to the point where they are literally a shade of what they once were. And the truth about the pioneer days is enough to make any conservationist cringe and also bring attention to how susceptible these systems are to human impact.

Now, before I share with you this article, I think it makes sense to re-iterate how special a native trout is. When you catch one, you truly are connected to something pure and rare; something that has evolved over hundreds of thousands of years; something evolved with a distinctive genetic code, a code that allows it to survive within a narrow set of parameters, and withstand a certain amount of natural variation and change. Any extraneous, unnatural impact on these systems can swing the pendulum of variation a little to much, and the results can be the complete extirpation of entire populations.

Basically, Trout live in very specific places for very specific reasons, and these places happen to be the most beautiful places on earth. And, it doesn’t take much to make them disappear.

Alright, so the article I stumbled upon is written by U of C Biology Professor, Lorne Fitch, and was published on another blog by Don Meredith. It is quite long (around 9000 words), however I highly recommend giving it a read and having your mind blown, about A) the extent of overfishing in the pioneer days, and B) how fickle trout systems are. I have posted the link Below. For those not interested in chugging through all of that, I have compiled some of the interesting parts and more eye opening quotes to give you an idea of what Lorne is talking about.

 

 Two Fish, One Fish, No Fish- Alberta’s Fish Crisis

By: Lorne Fitch

“anglers were greedy, wasteful and even rapacious…”

 

Yes, the above quote does sumarize how I felt best described the anglers of early days while reading this article. It is truly astonishing to think about days when cutthroat got up to 12 pounds, Bullies were roaming the creeks of Red Deer, and 100-200 catch days were commonplace. Lorne discusses the collapse of Large Lake Settlements like Lac La Biche, the disappearance of Goldeye populations, and just how widespread native trout  and grayling used to be. It is a interesting past to consider, and one that hopefully can be learned from.

The article discusses the decline of Grayling populations… 

There has been a 40% contraction in the range of grayling waters, most of which has happened in living memory. More than half of current grayling populations have been reduced to 10%, or less, of historic population numbers.

He describes his findings of the decline as a “perfect storm” of a bunch of different factors. The loss of Grayling population is a perfect example of how slight changes to the environment can come with pronounced changes to ecosystems. An example is the Beaverlodge River, a once prolific Grayling River now considered to have no Grayling left. He describes the main reasons…

The Beaverlodge River isn’t fed by glaciers or snow melt from mountains. The headwaters rise in the forested foothills, the “rain barrel” for catching, holding and slowly releasing water. As forest canopy was replaced by farm fields the flood peaks rose higher with a faster release of snow melt and rainfall to the river. Compared to memories of consistent flows throughout the year, now the Beaverlodge River experiences greater floods in the spring and subsides to very low flows in the summer, often shrinking into a series of isolated pools by autumn.

I found the part about Cutthroat Trout and Bull Trout to be the  most relevant to me personally. Especially when describing little creeks that I fish now. With these fish, over harvesting certainly played a significant role. Has anyone ever fished Fish Creek? Up in the headwaters, its not bad. I fish it sometimes with decent luck, for rainbows and brookies up to about 10″. But do you ever wonder how many fish you might have been able to catch in your favourite creeks in the early 1900’s?

From the June 15, 1903 edition of the Calgary Herald comes this insight into cutthroat populations in the Bow River watershed: “Two sportsmen went out after trout at Fish Creek one day last week and as a result brought back 400 fish.”

Geez. 400 fish in one day! Talk about ruining the fun for future generations. And, has anyone ever caught a Cutthroat Trout of 12 lbs? Well, apparently thats how large they used to grow.

Cutthroat trout were described by the NWMP in 1890 as “speckled”, or “brook” trout with “the special mark is a red patch on each side of the throat, where it joins the mouth, and, in the fish of 12 lbs and upwards, a reddish tinge along the belly.” In living memory there are no examples of cutthroat trout of “…12 lbs and upwards…”

Many times I’ve driven past Trout Creek. When I was younger, I thought it must be great creek for fly-fishing, as early explorers must have named it Trout Creek for good reason. I searched a little more, only to discover that there is essentially no fish in Trout Creek. Well, isn’t that a shame. But after reading Lornes article, we find out that that was certainly not always the case.

The archives of the Glenbow Museum contain an image of four anglers and a child on the banks of Trout Creek, a small stream that flows from the east side of the Porcupine Hills and is part of the Willow Creek watershed. Taken in 1902 it depicts two long stringers of cutthroat trout with an additional large pile of trout on the ground. There are approximately 125 trout, or nearly a hundred pounds of fish, taken in what appears to be a day’s fishing trip.

Lorne goes on to suggest that the trout population was largely gone in Trout Creek no more than 50 years later, by 1950, due to overfishing, cattle grazing, and livestock salting locations.  Similar stories unfold in many smaller creeks all across Alberta, including Willow Creek, which I still fish today, for almost exclusively tiny fish. Essentially, if there is a small creek that doesn’t have fish today, chances are it used too, in abundance.

Now, the poor old Bull trout. Back in the day, they werent even considered Trout; more like invasive, weed dwelling sucker fish, that were to be exterminated. Lornes findings support as much. What is even more startling is the extent of the Bull trouts native range before the onslaught.

Historically bull trout ranged throughout the Peace watershed nearly to the Peace-Athabasca delta. In the Athabasca watershed they were commonly found to the confluence with the Pembina River and occasional catches were made downstream to beyond Fort McMurray. The North Saskatchewan watershed had bull trout well below present day Edmonton, to perhaps the confluence with the Redwater River. The range of bull trout in the Red Deer River watershed extended to almost Drumheller. In the Bow and Oldman watersheds the range extended to the confluence of those two rivers near Bow Island.

Public perception towards Bullies…

Wherever bull trout were caught there was antipathy if not outright aversion towards them. Red Deer anglers would catch bull trout, because there were no others, but would not recognize them as “official” trout. Fish yes, trout no…. there were almost universal recommendations to get rid of bull trout, because of their “predatory” habits and perceptions they were a “weedy fish, unworthy of protection.”

Hard to believe this is how sportsmen viewed the Apex predator of all our Native streams. It is well known that the health of Apex predators such as Bull Trout are great indicators of the overall health of the ecosystem. The article suggests that the decline in populations was already noticeable in the late 1890s,

“When I fished this section about fourteen years ago [1876], the rivers and streams teemed with fish. Now, it is very different.” One infers that he was talking about trout populations, especially the bull trout. That a decline in fish populations was observed so early suggests the beginning of a negative trend that persists to current times.

An image from 1893 exists in the Glenbow Archives, showing two anglers on Callum Creek, a small tributary to the Oldman River. Arrayed around them are no less than 60 trout, several of which are bull trout. If McIllree’s observations of change are correct, imagine the catch those two anglers would have had a decade or so earlier. There are no trout left in Callum Creek currently.

As we all know now, Bull Trout are a protected species and Albertas Provincial fish, and are catch and release only. This has helped curb the decline, however, Lorne concludes that 94 % of the provincial Bull trout population is still in trouble.

Lorne does maintain that while the greedy, wasteful approach of sportfishermen was a major contributor, the major cause of the shrinking range of both Bull Trout and Native Cutthroat is development, like the dams on the Bow and Oldman Rivers, and habitat loss through agriculture and ranching.

Finally, I enjoyed the description of what is called the 4 C’s, or the 4 critical factors for maintaining that small window of liveable conditions for trout.

Cool water (or cold in the case of trout) is a function of watersheds with a high degree of ecological integrity where water delivered as rain or snow melt can be trapped and stored in shallow ground water aquifers for release later in the year… These mechanisms of keeping water cool are key to adapting to the impacts of climate change.

Clean is maintaining water quality in which fish survive and thrive. It is as simple as keeping nutrients, pesticides, herbicides, contaminants, pharmaceuticals and sediment out of the water, the same water we will eventually drink. Sediment is a pervasive problem, interfering with fish spawning, eliminating aquatic invertebrates (the building block of fish flesh) as well as being the carrier for many of the water quality contaminants.

Complex speaks to in-stream habitat as well as near-stream habitat and the niches provided with woody debris, channel diversity and flow regimes that provide the dynamic systems within which fish evolved.

Finally, Connectivity is ensuring fish populations have the opportunity to interact to maintain genetic diversity. As well, it is the ability to weather the natural catastrophes that can wipe out fish in one area but the population can rebound because of movement and migration from another.

These 4 principles are good factors for anglers and conservationists. What I love about the trout fishing environment is how dynamic it is; turns out, this dynamic environment is exactly why the trout can exist there in the first place, and any sort of switch to the more mundane will also lead to the loss of the trout.

 

So, what does this all mean? Well, firstly, it means that old-timers are very justified in saying things like “they just don’t grow as big as they used to” or “back in my day this was loaded with trout.” It also means our generation is very justified in saying, “god damn, you idiots ruined this precious resource for all of us.” And, like climate change and other cases where we bear the responsibility of having to balance things back to a sustainable level, we are also the ones who have to protect the crucial resource of trout populations going forward.

Generally, I would say things are back on the right track. But I think more efforts have to come on the land use and development side, where government officials have to consider the effects of development on fish populations and how much of a runaway effect can occur from things like agriculture, oil and gas development, and forestry.

Hopefully you all found this as interesting as I did. And hopefully it inspires you to take care of the resource and maybe support some sort of cause like Trout Unlimited that is working to protect our fish.

 

For now, when you’re hooked into a nice cutthroat or Bull Trout on the Oldman River, enjoy that little sliver of a resource that used to seem so plentiful it would never go away. Until it does- and all that is left of it is memoirs and excerpts from a long, forgotten time. 🙂

 

“I am God’s gift to fishing” : Reflection’s from the Local Pond

“I am God’s gift to fishing” : Reflection’s from the Local Pond

-Written By: Mark Rossi

“I hope my wife calls,” he chuckled through his thick Russian accent “every time she calls the fish start biting.”

“ All the more reason to not answer!!” laughed his friend in the wheelchair at the end of the dock.

I overheard this conversation as I sat on park bench on the hill behind the dock and I watched the scene in front of me with with a sort of amazement… “this is what fishing is about” I thought.

A man in a wheelchair on the dock with his immigrant friend fishing for bass using bait and bobber rigs; a father and son to my left, the father teaching the fundamentals of a roll cast to his son; two kids walking down the path towards the other side of the lake, school backpacks and lunch bags packed together with their spin rods and tackle box; a young man in his waders and belly boat wearing his worn in Patagonia hat and polarized Smith glasses working the drop off for trout with slow retrieve chironomids. All of these people were here, together, sharing the experience of fishing.

I was at Shannon Lake, for those of you from the Okanagan, you will no doubt be familiar with the location. Within city limits, a small local lake with a park on one side, golf course on the other and houses in between. I am sure your community has some similar type of park/pond combo where fishing is laidback, central, accessible and public.

I’m not sure what motivated me to go to the lake; I was bored, I was curious, I was feeling the sadness of not being able to fish the streams and lakes of the high country since the snow had set in. All these are valid reasons. Regardless of why I went there, I was really glad I did.

I sat there and reflected on the fishing season that was. It was great, some awesome highlights, personal bests, new species caught, new basins explored! More than I could have asked for. The thing that struck me most about it though was that, at no point had it looked anything like the scene laid out before me.

 

At what point did I stop pursuing this kind of fishing experience and why?

 

I think back to my teen years and the many hours spent on Lake Bonivista in Calgary with my highschool buddy Andrew. We rowed around the small urban lake everyday after school trolling mepps spinners for stocked trout (Sometimes we would sneak some beers out with us hehe, sorry mom). We were rarely the only ones out there. Many others: old and young, boat and shore, fly and spin all enjoyed the same experience. These were some of the most enjoyable fishing experiences of my youth.

As I got older, cooler and more hardcore I think I stopped thinking about fishing as a shared experience. I took on an opinion that many fly anglers often do; “fly fishing is superior to all other types of fishing”

Enjoying a nice hatchery rainbow in the days of my youth.

Over time I became better than everyone on that lake, my thought process was something like “I catch more fish than you”. Not just that, “I catch more fish with a fly fishing rod. I am god’s gift to this sport.” I started to avoid these places where the inferior fisherman fished for dumb, stocked trout together. My brother and I ventured deep into the woods on backcountry roads finding a bounty of wild trout and char in some of the most beautiful places on earth. Through this rejection of urban pond fishing, I found a new community and took on a new view of fishing. Gone were the days of drinking beer in a tin boat chucking metal lures at hatchery rainbows I was now a part of a community of wild trout fly fishermen who value wild places, solitude and mastering the art of fly fishing…for this I am grateful, I am glad that I have grown into the angler that I am today. I’m just not sure that I’m proud of how I got here…

As I sat there watching the scene at Shannon Lake that evening I couldn’t help but feel guilty. I thought that this type of fishing was inferior? That these people were somehow lesser fisherman?

I realized that I was the lesser fisherman. For years I had been missing out on this brilliant shared experience, catching fish, finding peace and making memories with people from all walks of life who are out there because they like to fish. The fact that I couldn’t see that made me upset.

Maybe you can’t afford that $400 fly rod.

Maybe you don’t have a 4×4 truck to take you into the backcountry.

Maybe you don’t even own a vehicle and need to take the bus.

Maybe you only have 2 hrs to go fishing.  

Or maybe you no longer have the use of your legs.

YOU CAN STILL FISH!!!

 

And that, in my opinion, is pretty awesome.

So, thank you urban fisheries! Thank you for providing an accessible and approachable option to anglers of all walks of life. The role that the urban fishery plays in developing the sport, and developing a society that understands and values the natural world is really immeasurable.

Fishing turns people into conservationists. If you like fishing and want to continue fishing then you are undoubtedly a supporter of pristine waterways and healthy ecosystems. Living in a city makes it easy to fall out of touch with nature and to lose sight of the joy and value that it can bring to our lives. The urban fishery bridges that gap by providing city dwellers a glimpse into the beautiful natural cycles of nature as well as access to the fantastic and therapeutic pastime of angling.  
So as the sun set over Shannon Lake I hopped off the park bench, grabbed my rod, tied on a big green woolly bugger with some split shot and walked down to the banks to join my fellow anglers and shared that perfect moment with them. And it felt just as good when I hooked into one, feeling a newfound respect for the local pond