Spooky fish, spookable fish, and spooked fish; the definitions for each vary. Spookable fish are those that are prone to being spooked. Spooked fish are ones that for some reason or other don’t like what is happening (angler waving arms, slapping fly near its head, etc) and head off quickly to find more peaceful currents. Spooky fish are only found on Halloween.
Throughout the summer period the Crowsnest River, in Southern Alberta, finds itself host to a multitude of anglers trying their luck at catching some of the resident rainbows. The sustained pressure results in a very technical fishery which is evidenced by the presence of many highly-spookable Rainbow Trout. By fall, the crowds have dispersed for the most part yet, the fish still behave very warily. However, the reduced pressure does see them relax a bit.
I had a fishing appointment scheduled on Saturday with a friend, Elliott, and we were faced with the regular “where should we go” question. Given the warm and calm conditions and our penchant for dry fly fishing we opted for the Crowsnest - mainly because neither of us had fished there in a while. We made it a late start in the morning assuming that the action probably wouldn’t get into swing until things had warmed up. This time of year the 11am-3pm time frame seems to be the peak; there are always exceptions to every rule though.
Upon arriving to the river we made our way down to the first pool. With the calm conditions, and overhead sun, spotting the fish became pretty easy; moving into a position in which to cast without spooking the fish was not. I started off fishing a small BWO beadhead nymph. I sighted up a nice little whitefish holding in front of me and after a few drifts managed a take. I landed that fish quickly and released him. Whities are pretty common on the Crowsnest; you can target them if you like but I prefer to leave them in peace. It was the Rainbows that we came for and we decided to move along to more trouty water.
We arrived at a run where we knew there were more than a few trout and studied the water for a while. We didn’t see a single snout so we opted to set up with nymphs to work the deep blue. Sure enough, within moments of completing our rigs we observed the first sip. I studied the area while nymphing and noticed the same fish come up a few more times. That was all I needed. I snipped off all the heavy stuff and added some 5X tippet and a small BWO emerger. The fish’s selection of a small eddy beside a fast current kept me occupied for a while. I got a few drifts through that were good and resulted in a sip but upon setting the hook the fish was gone. I played that game a few times. In the meantime Elliott had switched over to a dry fly as well and quickly landed the first Rainbow Trout of the day - a pretty one at that. If you’ve fished the Crowsnest though you know that all the rainbows there are pretty.
Over the course of the afternoon we moved our way along the high banks of the river carefully stalking the shadows of rainbows feeding quietly in the shallows. Spotting these fish was only half the battle - if that. We had a few instances where we were slowly approaching the edge of a high bank (some of these areas are up to 20′ about the river) and looked over the edge only to see the fish spooked from its run. Then we’d see another fish only a few feet away and it would swim off. In other cases we’d have made a perfect spot, a careful approach and a delicate cast (#16 dry on 5X tippet) only to have the fish gun away at the landing of the fly. Now I am quite familiar with fishing to pressured fish - but having spent most of the summer on other waters it took a few fish to get used to the situation. The executive summary would still be “Crowsnest Rainbows - very spookable”. Most of the smaller fish were still quite eager but we weren’t there for the tykes. All that said, the addition of a challenge made the trip enjoyable.
We were given a second chance at the largest fish we saw feeding that day on our way back upriver. We spotted the fish and a few companions feeding in a small trough in a back-eddy; facing away from us too! Elliott offered to give me the chance but I declined. Partly out of respect (he had spotted for me probably 75% of the afternoon) and more importantly because I needed to visit the local shrubbery. When I took the next opportunity to watch Elliot’s progress I made it just in time to see a small fish race out and grab the fly before the big guy being targeted had a chance. The commotion of the take sent the remaining fish bolting for cover. There are few times in fly fishing when you can legitimately get upset over a rainbow trout taking your dry fly - this was one of them: (Error Number: 5032 | Description: Incorrect fish took the dry | Resolution: Come back in a few days, hope for good weather, dry fly action, and try again.)
We managed to tie into a few nice fish after that though. The evening action seemed to be decent and we found a number of willing fish.
We made out way up the river back to the access point and worked the water effectively. By the time we made it back to the car the dry fly action seemed to have subsided and we were ready to have some food of our own. We drove over to another access point to check out conditions there but we didn’t see much activity and decided to call it a night.
I live for the days where fishing a dry is the only way to go!
A few other photos: