During the countless conversations DanJ and I had leading up to my recent BC fly fishing & Alberta fly fishing trip west, I made it abundantly clear that I was keen on having a "western fishing experience." Browns and rainbows are nice, but I can catch those things at home. Cutthroat trout, bull trout, Cutt-bows….GRAYLING~that’s what I’m after! A BC and Alberta fly fishing plan was….hatched…
After a couple of delays with good old Air Canada, my arrival time in Calgary ended up being about midnight EST. With plans to float a giant (in my opinion) piece of the Alberta Bow River the following day, there was to be little in the way of sleep, meals……creature comforts in the next 24 hours. Fine~after all, the plan was to fish. With dozens of hours at the oars under my belt, I set up the amazing Water Strider kick boat along side Dan’s Outcast. Our put-in point was several miles upstream of the 22X bridge where we had dumped Dan’s car about 30 minutes earlier. With everything set, we launched the boats in what would end up being the roughest water we would see all day. Pretty exciting, considering 99% of my boat experiences of any kind were on lakes or canals. I quickly realized that my inexperience with river rafting, ESPECIALLY on river the size of the Bow, might well cut into my fishing time. After all, safety first. What followed was a day of bright sun, few fish, and my over-cautious (somewhat self-taught) drift of the almighty Bow river. Knowing the river a little better would have been a great advantage. In a flow that heavy, on a river that wide, you need time to cross and get yourself into any tasty-looking eddy or seam on the opposite side. There were a few spots we hopped out and covered more thoroughly, but I don’t remember any of them producing fish. Within the first 2- 3 hours, I had hooked and landed one rainbow about 14" long on a stonefly nymph. It was rigged Bow river style~a big San Juan worm with a heavy stone nymph below it….the whole mess suspended by a fluorescent float/bobber the size of a wine cork. Lob it out, follow it as you drift. With some luck, you’ll drift at the same speed making for what would be a world-record-length drift if you were wading the river.
He hit along a beautiful, steep bank along side a fallen tree. Little did I know it would be one of only two fish I caught that day. Later on, in a wide (consistent depth) stretch of the river about 3-4 feet deep, Dan hooked this beautiful brown.
Fortunately, I was not far away and was able to help him get a decent shot of it. Good fighting skills Dan~like most of that brute of a river, he was out in pretty heavy current. Speaking of heavy current, I found the speed that you drift along to be pretty intimidating. Looking up, you can tell you’re moving at a good pace. Looking down revealed one of two unnerving things #1. If you could see the bottom, the rocks whizzing by gave you the sensation of flying, NOT floating. With that in mind, any approaching obstacles like fallen trees, enormous bridge pilings etc. were good enough reasons to reel in, grab the oars and keep the boat on a safe path. #2.If you could not see the bottom in water that clear, you were not only on a huge, fast, wide river…but in one of its deepest spots. Great. Numerous times Dan and I were not within sight of one another. In the interest of keeping my bearings, I stopped the boat a number of times in quiet spots. Not really knowing the bridge area well, I started to get paranoid that I might miss it. Not the best fishing plan perhaps, but this was to be more of rafting lesson~and what a river to start with!
One thing for sure, Dan has the river/boat thing down and, subsequently, had his line in the water probably twice as long as I did. Not sure if he was making a friendly jab, or trying to sort of comfort my nerves, but Dan mentioned later that day that you could probably float all day on the Bow river with your eyes closed and have no problems at all. Didn’t get that feeling drifting it, but he would know better than I would. Anyhow, by late morning Dan mentioned that the fishing would likely pick up once we got below the "water treatment" plant.
More algae, bug life, more fish…I didn’t really give much thought to the term "water treatment" until we came upon the spot where this "treated" water enters the river. On the right hand side of the river, water that might best be described as black coffee-colored, enters the bottle-green clear water we had been drifting for the first few hours. As you move downstream, the once pale, algae free rocks disappear. More bugs are around, but so too is a kind of funky smell. As we fished our way down stream, numerous rafters, fisherman, guides in driftboats became a part of the picture. By the time we reached the bridge (22X) I had landed only one more fish, a brown about 11" long on the SJ worm. Sun-drenched, dehydrated, and having had my fill of the odd smell in that part of the river, we packed up the boats. With about an hour of light left, we decided to wade/fish a bend in the river not far from the bridge. Even after the long day, its still hard to turn your back on a good spot!
This yielded one more tank of a brown for Dan, again, deftly landed~nice work Dan! Twelve hours of sun, very little sleep and a day of power bars and warm drinking water….all I could think about was bed.
Day #2, woke up to a beautiful, cool Alberta morning……and the stink of my still-wet Bow river gear. I should probably not give my interpretation of the smell, suffice to say, it involved "waste", tar and dead fish. If my aching, stiff muscles and the dehydrated feeling were not enough, being baptized in the that stinky river was an odd beginning to an otherwise amazing experience out west. I don’t think I’m being unnecessarily harsh, but I found the Bow (in my limited time there) to be the most underwhelming place we fished~both the fishing and scenery. It no doubt holds large fish, but is not "wading friendly" and runs alongside a big city. Your first time there, I’d suggest you hire a guide and drift the river with someone else at the oars if you’re interested in fishing it.
With "western" trout species being the target for the day, Dan and I drove out to K-country. I promised myself I wouldn’t try to put into words just how stunning this part of the world is…..simply because they fall VERY short of describing what the Kananaskis region of Alberta is like. You do need to see it to believe it. This was my first time in the Rockies, the scenery is almost enough reason to return… O.K., it is enough reason alone, but the fishing is what may well keep me coming back.
In spite of the timing of my trip (probably too late) Dan and I were able to get into some of the bull trout in one of the spots he posted about a while back on hipwader. Spotting the fish, when we found them, wasn’t too difficult for two reasons~the clarity of the water, and the white leading edge of their fins. With the sink tips rigged-up, some giant rabbit strip streamers tied onto the 8lb. Maxima level leaders, we made our first casts. Within a couple of minutes, Dan was hooked into a solid bull, showing it some love! I’d seen them pictured in his previous posts, but nothing prepared me for just how beautiful they were.
Somewhere between the cool Alberta temperature, wild flowers, scenery and fish, I had to pinch myself.
Fishing from shore, hooking into these unbelievable fish…I forgave Alberta for over-selling the Bow river. Now at peace, I sank my big natural-colored rabbit fur zonker in front of where these magnificent fish were holding and BOOM~fish on! Violent head shakes, a bull trout specialty, and the line went limp. Could this be the beginning, and end of my bull trout experience out west? Well, about 10 minutes later, I was blessed with another hook-up. Unlike the previous fish, this one came to hand.
This was getting interesting. I don’t remember exactly how many fish we caught, except that it was probably more than I thought possible. Dan and I quickly settled into a routine of helping one another land, and photograph the fish. Once one of us hooked a fish, the other got his line in, grabbed the landing net and digital camera. It made for quick landing, quick release of the fish. What an amazing day. High on fresh air, sore arms from fighting bulls, changing rigs to try and catch the odd decent-sized rising fish in the area didn’t seem necessary. The lake apparently has a decent population of cutthroats and rainbows but again, the bulls were hitting the streamers often enough and the rising fish were cruising. Great hike in, awesome fish…scenery…you get the picture. I’m out of adjectives which means I run the risk of getting either spiritual, or poetic~who wants to read that sort of stuff anyway?? Keep an eye out for the next installment of this report, my two-finger typing style has brought this one to an end!
Alberta - BC Fly Fishing Part Two