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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

 

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. 🙂

 

Whirling disease in the Bow River

Whirling disease in the Bow River

As most anglers in southern Alberta are aware, this past season of fishing came with some very scary and dreaded news.

Whirling Disease has been discovered in our treasured and world renowned Bow River.

This was accompanied by a general feeling of dread and fear, as past case studies (Montana being the most commonly noted) have shown how destructive this particular parasite can be. While this is scary, we feel as though the most logical approach to solving, or at least mitigating the ill effects on our fisheries is through education; learning about the disease, and knowing what we can do as anglers to be part of the solution. And then ensuring our provincial government is doing what needs to be done to deal with this effectively.
For those of you that are not familiar with this parasite, below is a short overview of whirling disease in Alberta, written by a friend of the Bushwhackers Society, Joseph Morgan Casat. He wrote this piece for his class in the Fisheries and Wildlife program at Selkirk college and also appeared in the castlegar paper for his work. Enjoy!

Whirling down the Bow River

Joseph Morgan Casat

What a surprise, yet another invasive species we have to deal with.  This time however, the invader is tiny, microscopic.  This invasive species has made its way to the Bow River system in Banff National Park. A first appearance in Canada, the microscopic organism causes Whirling disease, affecting fish in the salmon family like Rainbow trout, everyone’s favorite game fish.

This disease causes a deformed spine and blackened tail, making it look as if someone has pinched and bent the spine near the tail.  It also reshapes the head, making it squarer.

Whirling disease showed up in North America first in Pennsylvania in 1956. Because this disease is endemic to Europe, the fish there have gained a sort of immunity to the parasites. In North America, our fish have little immunity to the disease.  Currently fish populations are being closely monitored around the Great Lakes since it was detected in some American hatcheries, but still was never recorded in Canada…until now.

While there is no risk to human health when consuming infected fish, it can be lethal to the fish it infects. The parasites first infect sludge worms, a common worm found in the sediment of most lakes and rivers.  At some point, infected worms are then consumed by juvenile fish and causes skeletal deformation and neurological damage.  Both of these lead an awkward corkscrew swimming pattern, usually belly up, giving the disease its name. Due to the effects of this disease, it becomes difficult for fish to feed and they are more prone to predation. Once the fish dies, the parasite returns to the water, are consumed by the aquatic worms and the cycle continues. The parasites end up in new places by the movement of infected fish, infected worms, contaminated equipment, birds or water

On August 23, 2016 The Canadian Food Inspection Agency confirmed Whirling disease to be present in fish found in Jonson Lake in Banff. In an attempt to control spreading, the lake was closed soon thereafter.  The concern was that it would flow out of the lake and into the connecting river systems.  Jonson Lake flows into Cascade River which then connects to Bow River.  

On September 7th, a fish taken from just below the confluence of the Cascade and Bow Rivers tested positive for Whirling disease. Recently there have been more cases including several in unnamed commercial aquaculture facilities in Alberta.  It’s also been found in a section of the Lower Bow river to Tunnel mountain, Carrot Creek, all of the Cascade River as well as Cascade creek, and Spray river upstream of the confluence the Bow and Cascade rivers.  It’s spreading quickly.

There is no known cure for the disease but that doesn’t mean we are helpless. Anglers and recreational river users can take steps to prevent the spread of the parasite. Clean, Drain, Dry is a slogan used in attempt to stop the spread of other invasive species via boats. It also applies for the spread of Whirling disease.  The program is intended to encourage boaters to clean, drain and dry their boats before transporting them between different water sheds.

Dispose of fish entrails and carcasses when done fishing. Clean your footwear, waders, lines and flies in a bleach and water solution when moving to a new area, stream or water body. Check online for reports of the disease in waters you intend to fish. By learning to recognize the symptoms of the disease and not transporting infected fish whether dead or alive, you can also reduce the chance of the disease spreading.


For more information and updates on Whirling disease in the Bow River, I recommend heading over to Alberta Fishing Guide Magazine. Dave Jensen is a prominent fly-fishing figure in Alberta and is certainly in the know when it comes to these sort of things. Below is a link!

Whirling Disease Update & Information

 

Remember, when it comes to these sorts of things, knowledge is power! All of us have a vested interest in keeping this issue as minor as possible, and we must hold everyone accountable. So, while we all sit around and go crazy awaiting the return of fishing season, maybe its time to go and bleach our waders and boots and do our small part to tackle this issue!

Hope everyone is enjoying their winter and that the shack nasties are not hitting to bad. There is a chinook on the horizon for Southern Alberta; if you can, maybe go out and sneak in a few casts!

Cheers,

The Bushwhackers Crew

Endless Fall and fading Rainbows

Endless Fall and fading Rainbows

The plan was to go to Lake Louise for the opening day of skiing and the beginning of winter… But what began as a promising beginning to what is hopefully a winter full of powder and good times has quickly taken backseat to a fall season of fly-fishing that has truly been nothing short of remarkable.

bowriver

November is typically the time I muddle away my time, watching ski videos in anticipation for winter,  and reminisce about trout from the past season. It is the shoulder period, whereby I idle unproductively in between the seasons of my two greatest passions. Yes, it is true that the Bow river in Calgary is an all seasons river that can be fished throughout the entire season with some success (we will talk about that later in this post), however, fishing in cold winter weather with frozen guides and freezing hands while catching very few fish has never been too enticing for me. Not if I could be in the mountains skiing. But this year isnt like other years. After a beginning of October that had most of anglers prepared for an early finish, the weather in southern Alberta stabilized and gave us fantastic trout fishing in all waters until the very end of October and the closing of our high country rivers. Most of us were still in a trout hungry craze, motivated by the colored up cutthroat and bull trout of the high country, and the magnificence of fishing in the fall. Myself, as with many anglers I’m sure, was certainly not ready to stop fishing.

Luckily, the Bow River is still open. And mother nature had an extra special surprise for all those who didn’t pack away their fly gear on October 31st.

bowranbow

An entire week of incredibly unseasonably warm weather, up to 20 degrees most of the week. Call it global warming, call it La Nina or El Nino or some other weather phenomena; call it what you will. I call it a beautiful gift from the trout gods and an amazing opportunity to catch world class rainbows in November. As I know the passionate community of fishermen and fisher ladies in Alberta took full advantage of. So on thursday, finally with a day off work, school, and other responsibilities, instead of heading to the mountains and being reunited with skiing, we  headed down to the Bow River and got to enjoy a beautiful day of fishing in November. What an absolute treat.

Too be honest, it was too windy at this point in the chinook and it was tough fishing. But it was warm and sunny, and we were all just ecstatic to be out there and enjoying the river. We hooked several fish, but were only able to bring one fish to the net; a big feisty rainbow in which this river is known for, one that gave me a great fight. For someone who had shifted his focus to skiing, I couldn’t have asked for more than that; a beautiful moment that will stay with me for a while. We saw some drift boats hooked into some nice fish. But casting was difficult and pretty soon fishing gave way to reminiscing and good conversation, sharing laughs amongst friends, and truly enjoying what the river had to offer.

zak

Shifting to Winter

Unfortunately for anglers, whether we like it or not, winter will eventually arrive. This inevitable reality will cause many to put their rods away for good, and while this is understandable, for those not willing to do that, there is still fishing to be had in the Bow. Keep your eyes open for chinooks or stretches of mild weather. If the temp is around 0 or higher, consider heading out with your toque and defying old man winter.  If you plan on braving the cold and keeping your lines bent all winter, we have a few tips for you!

First off, dress warm. A recommendation I have is to buy one of those hand warmers that football players wear and put hand warmers in them. You can wear it around your waste and warm your hands up in an instant if they get wet or you handle a fish. Nothing will ruin your day faster than cold hands.

Smaller is better. Typically this time of year, the best set up you can have is a San Juan (red) worm with a tiny (sz. 16-18) bead head nymph attached abour 12″-16″ behind. That or small streamers retrieved slowly. Fish them underneath an indicator and be very patient. It may take you all day, but if you fish a ffset-up like this it is only a matter of time.

Fish deep and slow. It may take you drifting a fly right beside the fishes face to induce a take. Work the water very slowly and methodically, focusing on slower, deeper runs where the fish will be wintered. Consider using split-shot to get your nymphs down as deep as possible. Takes will often be very subtle so be prepared to set the hook even on the slightest of disturbances.

Bring coffee or hot chocolate and be prepared to go home empty handed. This is just the reality of fishing in the winter. There is a high likelihood of being skunked. But that is alright, because the River always has something to offer, even if it isn’t trout.

brettbow

So, I guess this is it… Well, not really.

We are so grateful to our readers, our instagram followers and community, and anyone who has taken up the call of the Bushwhackers. We started Bushwhackers mostly to share our stories with those who share our passions. We did not really know what shape or form it might take on as we progressed, but we knew we wanted to apply our passions in a way that could help others. Some unfortunate circumstances meant that much of our time was taken up, and many of the ideas and adventures we wanted to have were unable to happen. But the first year trial was a tons of fun and we are planning bigger and better things for next year.

We will be tying tons of flies this winter, and will be creating novelty goods and fly fishing apparel. Fly wallets, necklaces, fishing hats, and much more. So heading into next year, we will have you covered for the essential gear and flies you will need for Alberta and British Columbia’s rivers. Stay tuned on instagram and facebook for updates on this.

We will continue to have fishing content posted on instagram and facebook throughout the winter. Because we all like to reminisce. Keep checking back for more short stories and photography. And if you have your own stories that you would like to share with the world, please reach out to us!

Oh yea… We also really like skiing. You too? Bushwhackers Skiing coming soon.

Coming soon we will be adding a section to our website dedicated to skiing and backcountry skiing in the Alberta Rockies and BC. Our blog will shift over to a mostly Ski oriented blog, and we will also give you all the resources to enjoy the best of skiing in the Rocky Mountains. We think a Bushwhackers mentality can apply to skiing as well, and we at Bushwhackers are STOKED to get this winter rolling. Community is at the core of skiing as well, and we want to help bring skiers together. So subscribe to the blog or bookmark us if you want to dream about skiing when your not skiing, and if earning your turns is what you are all about.

Thank you everyone for the amazing summer of fishing. To everyone who we shared days on the river with, to the people who got us excited when we weren’t fishing, we are glad to be part of a passionate and vibrant community of anglers. Till next time, tight lines!

-Kevin Rossi

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All Photography by Kevin Rossi

 

 

 

Going with the Flow: The qualms of a working man

Going with the Flow: The qualms of a working man

Life, I have come to realize, is unpredictable, and unrelenting. Like a mountain stream, we do not control the flow of our lives; instead, we are immersed in it, amongst it, shaped by it. There will be riffles, pools, and tailouts; waterfalls and canyons. But always flowing, always moving, towards some end that can not be determined; for it is the unknown.

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This thing called life happened to me this summer. After trying my hardest to pretend it didn’t exist all through the spring and early summer, my debt, lack of options, and the other inevitabilities of life caught up to me. And so I had to work (a concept that had become foreign to me after months of travel and chasing fish). 5 days a week, 11 hours a day. 7 am to 6 PM. I also joined a softball league that played every Sunday… As I embarked on this new lifestyle, I was struck by a thought…

“WHAT THE FUCK?!? When the hell am I going to fish?”

Well, my schedule really only left me one option; so I’ve been battling the crowds every Saturday like a true weekend warrior ever since. The problem is, when you only have one day a week to fish, the conditions don’t always line up perfectly. That one day of the week typically isn’t the one day where the conditions are on fire. The other problem is, when you only have one day a week to fish, and you don’t catch any fish, you get filled with an all consuming dread for the upcoming work week. It’s like a part of your soul is missing; you forget what its like to have a fish on. You start to feel sorry for yourself- harbouring secret thoughts of quitting and leaving it all behind- until you snap out of it and back to reality.

The third problem is, when you only have one free day a week to fish, you aren’t left any time to write about fishing. The only reason I’m writing now is because I have the back of a 80 year old man and it has left me physically unable to go into work for a few days, and wondering if I should feel guilty about hitting the river while my colleagues work. (If your looking for an update on conditions and some tips for catching fish in the fall, I cover that at the end of this post.)

Alas, I feel as though my struggle is relatable to most people in the fishing world. At the beginning of the season, we nourish such great hopes of everywhere we want to fish, of all the great adventures that shall pass, and all the fish we will catch. Yet somehow, you will wake up and realize that the leaves are yellow, and time is running out, and many of the things that were on the list will have to wait until next year. If your lucky.

But despite this, you always have a bank of memories from the season that was that remind you that not all is lost. I caught so many beautiful trout this year that it would be a sin to complain. And the long weeks that sometimes passed between them only made them that much sweeter. And learning to find that balance between the sublime and the less desirable aspects of life is what makes life what it is.

A turbulent ride into the unknown.

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Fishing in the Fall

With that being said, this is easily my favourite time of the year to fish. Even on a saturday, you will find you have the river to yourself (as I did this Saturday, not too far from Calgary). The fish are beautiful and coloured up and trying to get fat for the winter. The trees and the mosaic of colours is amazing. And the fishing is generally good and straightforward.

The fishing this time of year in southern Alberta will be best in the mid afternoon heat until the early evening, and follow the sun. Dry fly fishing will be more sporadic; but there are still some caddisflies and mayflies kicking around. In the sunny areas, it never hurts to throw on a small dry fly and see what happens. There can also be hatches of October Caddis; a gargantuan bug best fished with a large orange stimulator. This time of year though, sight nymphing is an absolute blast and will give you the best chance of catching fish. Small copper johns, pheasant tails, or hares ear nymphs fished slow and deep should bring you action in most pools. Fish them under a small indicator, or naked, and keep your eyes peeled for a flash in the pool or the straightening or your line. This is one of my favourite ways to fish and is really great for improving your feel with a nymph!

If you plan on fishing the Bow river, everything above also applies. Small nymphs will give you an excellent chance of catching big, hard fighting fish. Streamer fishing has also been good, the classic bow river bugger being my go to fly. On warmer days over 20 degrees, there should be some hoppers out. A hopper-dropper rig with a copper john 12-18″ below is a great setup. And don’t forget about the San Juan worm. It produces very well this time of year.

The Browns to the north of Calgary and in the Bow River will begin spawning in a couple weeks here. Come October, these streams should be left alone. As for now, they are fishing well, and Browns are big and healthy. Cloudy days should give you the best chance at finding rising fish, and almost assuredly they will be eating small BWO’s. If you see a fish that appears to be spawning, leave it alone; it will be aggressive and one streamer will probably induce a strike, but these fish are under a lot of stress and need to be left alone. So if your having dreams of one last big brown, go get him in the next couple weeks before its too late.

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Thanks to everyone who has reached out to us through Instagram and our other accounts. We really love hearing from everyone and trying to help you any way possible. This year has kind of been a trial run for us, and despite being too busy too make lunch most days, we’ve still managed to have a lot of fun running this blog and other accounts. We are going to continue to keep you inspired on fishing through the winter, and have big plans for next fishing season. Please share the blog with your friends and get in contact with us if you would like to fish or have any questions!Click here …) 

Tight lines and happy fishing!

-Kevin Rossi 

 

 

Mastering the Art of Pointlessness

Mastering the Art of Pointlessness

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I suppose I should begin by thanking everyone who is reading this. You are either here because A) you are my friend and I have pressured you incessantly to pretend to care about fly-fishing, B) You accidentally clicked the link and are now reading and not sure why, or C) you are a passionate fly-fisherman and you match the description of our social media callouts guilting all passionate fly-fisherman to get off their asses and into some of the best wilderness fishing in the world. Whatever your reasons are, I urge you to keep reading. At least for one more paragraph. I’ll try to convince those of you that don’t give a damn about fly-fishing that being a Bushwhacker is a mentality more than anything; about being resilient and resourceful as you search for your next brilliant moment of complete and utter pointlessness.

Many action sports, recreational activities, and outdoor pursuits could be perceived as completely useless, and the end result of these types of things are accomplishing absolutely nothing. This type of behavior might be considered psychotic or delusional by some in the field of human psychology. Take rock-climbing, skiing, kayaking, trail running, and of course, Fly-fishing, as examples. In the movie Valley Uprising, I remember Rock Climbing being described as a ” dangerous, life threatening pursuit of absolutely nothing” or something to that affect. Skiers and snowboarders don’t have an apparent purpose to their seemingly deranged hoots and hollers while bobbing and weaving through fresh snow. When we reach the top of a great mountain, we don’t receive anything tangible; we just walked to the top, and then walked back down. I think that is why most of us like these types of things; its because we know we are insane, and while the rest of the sane people shake their heads at us, we are grinning from ear to ear, stoked on life, without anything else to worry about. No goals that need to be achieved. No result to be attained; other that pure and simple happiness.

You see, I believe Fly-fisherman top this list. This list of the most delusional, yet fullfilled, people in the kingdom of humans. There is nothing like the peace the soul feels after a day in untouched wilderness, with the memory of a beautiful trout lingering in the back of your head, while gently dozing off to sleep with the sound of rustling trees. Yes, this is a 100% biased position. I am sorry to all those action sport enthusiasts who believe their people are more entitled to the claim of ‘most insane type of human’. If you feel that strongly about it, you are probably correct.

Catch and release fishing is something most people can’t quite wrap their head around, for the very reasons discussed above. My fathers Cousin, a born and bred Kootenay boy now into his sixties, literally shakes his head at me, with the confused look of outright incomprehension when I tell him I almost never keep my fish.

In his time, back in the 60’s and 70’s, fishing still had a purpose. It was to go and catch the fish. And once you caught it, they were yours. What is the point of catching something if your going to let it escape right after? Fly-fishing still had not entered the mainstream; fishing was not considered art, it was a time tested practice of do’s and dont’s and a foolproof method of killing time and drinking beers. But what it still had was the comaraderie; and the peacefulness, whichever side one chose to be on. It still had the exhilaration of playing a large fish, and the thrilling experience of capturing something of such beauty. And whether it was that, or the cold six pack that always came along for company, people still kept coming back for more, and more. As d0es my cousin, who is still catching his big Columbia river rainbows in the same back-eddies as he was in the 70’s, and his freezer is still just as full with more trout than he could ever possibly eat; and yet he calls me delusional.

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Yes, fishing for trout is a time tested method for those that want to avoid their problems, avoid there wives, forget about their jobs, neglect their responsibilities, waste all their money, and spend endless summers doing that same thing, over and over. Yes, fishing for trout is the very reason why I have many times found myself in the furthest  recesses of civilization, deprived of sleep, dehydrated, without food, as the sun begins to dip behind the horizon, yet still rationalizing taking a few more casts to get that one last fish, despite being more than a couple of hours away from the nearest town and that A & W that your grumbling stomach has been wanting for the last couple of hours. And yet, those that fish for trout on the fly don’t really care about those kind of petty issues. Because Fly-fishing is just damn fun, plain and simple. And when you spend all your time chasing fun, you get pretty good having some of it.

I started this blog simply because I could talk fishing all day. And I want to talk fishing all day. And when I think back to some of the best times of my life, the days on the river always jump to the front of my mind. I have an engrained tapestry of beautiful experiences on the river in my mind, and I want to share them, so that you can have those experiences too. And we want to hear about your experiences, and your favourite spots, and the things that make you insane. The fly-fishing community has a wide range of personalities and preferences for how to best enjoy the river.

Not all of us are heroes, with $1000 dollar reels and immaculate fly rods with an endless arsenal of fly-box ammunition. Some of us, like myself, are dirt-broke, with a fly-box being depleted rapidly, using the same crappy 4 wt that I have used since I was 16, with leaky waders and tattered wading boots.

However, I still catch myself trout, and I always enjoy my time on the river; but I like to think I have to persevere a little bit more, work a little harder. But it always feels even better when I get that fish, and I take out my old I-phone 4 and snap a quick pic to show my friends, and my brother and dad. It never looks as beautiful, or as big as it seemed when I held it in my hands. And I think that makes sense, because regardless of how great of a camera I use, it will never match the beauty of the present moment. And what I have found is that those who have also gone through the trials and tribulations of our sport understand what the beauty of that moment was to that person who experienced it. They can relate it back to all the times they have felt that way, and they can be inspired by the uniqueness behind each one of those photos. And they are reminded of how much they love this sport. That’s why I wanted to start Bushwhackers; so we can all remind each other how much we love this sport, and share our stories; stories form everyday fly-fishermen, who know how difficult this sport can really be, but also how rewarding it is when things do go right.

I am no fishing expert; if you want to read stuff written by those guys, go buy a fishing magazine or a Jim Mclennan book or something. But the problem with reading stuff written by world renowned, legendary fishermen like that is that those guys always know the answer to their problem. They always have the bug that’s hatching. They always have the proper set up and fish their favourite waters at the perfect time of year. And, they always catch fish, because they have been catching fish their whole lives, and they’ve earned the skill-set they possess.

But, where does that leave you when you don’t have the perfect setup, you don’t seem to have the right fly, and despite reading all about the amazing fishing on that river you are on, you can’t seem to catch a fish?

Well, I don’t know about you, but it usually leaves me with a ballcap over my eyes, sleeping beside the river with a newfound respect for trout and their tiny brains that still trick me. And thats ok, because I know there are countless other anglers all over the world in the exact same position as me; maybe the luck will turn for some of them, others will go home empty handed. But at the end of the day, maybe we did learn something after all. Lessons in humility, perseverance, and patience. Maybe its what taught me to slow down and appreciate the textures of the leaves, the contrast of the colors, the sound of the river.  Maybe what it really does, is make us realize that humans and all the ‘important, real world things’ arent nearly as important as we think. Maybe, just maybe, this sport isn’t as fruitless as our rational human minds would have us believe. We might be part of something bigger, more profound then we even realize, and thats why we are all so obsessed. Whatever it is, I know I’ll be doing it for a long, long time. And maybe then I’ll be able to give you some real information, and not just existential musings from a brain that has been stuck in a cafe too long.

Until then, I guess we will figure it out together. At the very least, I know that we have some world class trout water in the Canadian Rockies, and that if I work hard enough, I could fish my entire life and still be challenged by the pursuit of these fish. I might not be able to identify all the different types of bugs, tell you all the varietals of trout, tie all the expert knots, or catch all the biggest fish. But, I have fished pretty almost every piece of moving water between Calgary and Nelson out of sheer curiosity, and intrigue, and over the years, I suppose I know a thing or 2 about catching fish in these waters that I grew up fishing. I learned to fish here. And I plan on continuing to learn. And if you want to join me in my fruitless attempt to master the beautiful art-form of pointlessless, the Bushwhackers Society will welcome you with open arms.

Think of it as rehab for your addiction and insanity.

Only, we plan on making it worse.

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