On The Water

The weather in Crowsnest Pass continues to be absolutely gorgeous! We’ve been receiving above seasonal temperatures for the past couple of weeks and it looks like there’s more to come. Our forecast is calling for the warm, sunny weather to continue for at least the next week or two. Temperatures are expected to reach 26°C on Saturday, the first day of autumn. Amazing!

Yesterday, I took advantage of the beautiful weather and went fishing with Ernie, a friend from Bellevue. We headed south of Crowsnest Pass, in search of cutthroat trout. Our first stop was a tiny creek, where fish are not very large. We weren’t looking for big ones, anyway, nor did we catch any. Ernie and I spent  a couple of enjoyable hours, sight-casting to 10 – 12 inch cutties. Every pool held at least one or two fish and we took turns casting to them. We also took turns removing our flies from bushes and trees behind us. Oh, the joys of fishing a small mountain creek! 

Ernie hooks into a cutthroat trout

Later in the afternoon, we headed to another spot to fish bigger water. It was getting on in the day, so we wouldn’t be able to stay long. There wasn’t much going on, in terms of insect activity, and we only encountered a few rising trout. In one pool, I caught a cuttie on an Elk Hair Caddis. The fish was about the size of the ones we were catching on the small creek, earlier in the day. I always thought bigger water meant bigger fish, but I guess it’s not always the case. Ernie had fished this stretch of river a couple weeks earlier and caught some larger fish on dry flies. I switched to a nymph and it wasn’t long before a nice fish decided it was time to eat. I got a glimpse of it, just before it broke my tippet. In another pool, I was able to sight-cast to a number of trout, by hiding behind some bushes along shore. The water was crystal-clear, allowing me to watch the fish move in the current to take my nymph. A couple of times, I was so absorbed in watching the trout, I forgot to set the hook. On the times I remembered to strike, I was rewarded with a fish. All in all, it was a great day!

Fishing for cutthroat trout

Time to head for home

Where did our summer go? June and July disappeared before I knew it, and August quickly turned into September. Kids are back in school and family vacations are all but done for another year. For many anglers, including myself, this is the time of year we enjoy most. It’s a great time to be on the water. There’s less people fishing now and trout are beginning to feed eagerly, in preparation for winter.  Oops … did I say “winter”? 

Thus far, the weather has been really nice this month. Although evenings are becoming cool, afternoons are warm and pleasant, with temperatures climbing into the mid 20° Celsius range (70° Fahrenheit). Leaves on trees are starting to change color. Within a week or two, the Crowsnest River valley will be decked out in full autumn splendor. 

There are a few caddis flies present on the rivers and blue-winged olive mayflies are beginning to interest trout.  As September progresses, the best hatches of BWOs will occur during early to mid-afternoon. Currently, there’s lots of terrestrial insects along the stream banks. If you’re heading out fishing soon, be sure to carry a few grasshopper, ant and beetle imitations. 

Fishing the Castle River in July

It was a late start to the season, due to cool weather and rain. Most of the rivers in southwest Alberta remained high and discoloured until mid-July. Fishing was good, though, once water levels dropped and the rivers cleared. 

Waiting for the evening hatch to begin and the wind to end

Some of the best dry-fly fishing on the Crowsnest River can occur at dusk, providing the wind cooperates. In the photo above, taken during the September long weekend, Rolf and I were waiting for the strong gales to subside. They never did. What happened a few minutes after I took this photo made up for the lack of fishing opportunities that evening. We watched in amazement as a large black bear suddenly jumped into the water from the bushes on the left, before swimming to the other side of the river. We remained calm, quiet and still, and watched to see what it would do. The bear didn’t realize we were less than 50 feet away. Once the bruin crossed the river, it didn’t stop. It kept going, heading through the trees in a northerly direction. Rolf and I breathed a sigh of relief and were glad we didn’t need to pull out our cans of bear spray. The fishing may not have been great that evening, but we returned home with an exciting story, nevertheless.  

Landing an Elk River cutthroat

Lately, I’ve been guiding on the Elk River. The cutthroat trout are truly amazing on this river, and it’s a lot of fun catching them on dry flies. However, contrary to what some people say, Elk River cutthroats can sometimes be as challenging to catch as Crowsnest River rainbows. After trying nearly every fly in his box, this angler was rewarded with a nice cutthroat trout that wanted a foam ant pattern.

Fishing conditions on the Crowsnest River and other trout streams in SW Alberta are shaping up … finally. Water levels are continuing to drop daily and the rivers are becoming wadeable once again. I like fishing the Crowsnest this time of year, because there’s so  much going on, in terms of insect activity. The river is quite clear and the trout are beginning to rise to dry flies.

Dry-fly fishing has started on the Crowsnest River

I was fishing on the Crowsnest River on Wednesday and there were plenty of adult golden stoneflies, yellow and lime Sally stones, caddis, pmd mayflies, and even some green drakes on the water. The best part, though, was I only encountered one angler the entire time I was out. Not bad, considering it’s almost the middle of July. The fishing was pretty good, too. I fished a hopper-dropper rig most of the day … a Stimulator or SA Hopper dry fly, using a Bead-head Prince or Copper John dropper. About half the fish I caught were on dries, the rest on nymphs. It was a great day!

Dry-fly fishing on the Crowsnest River

On Sunday, I travelled to Police Outpost Lake with my brother-in-law, Paul.  This lake is located southwest of Cardston, about an hour and a half drive from Crowsnest Pass. It’s stocked with rainbow trout. I had not fished here since the delayed harvest regulations were implemented about three years ago, and figured it was time to go back for a visit.

View of Police Outpost Lake

 We arrived just after 9:00 am and within thirty minutes had launched the boat and were fishing. It was a bit windy and cool most of the day, but not enough to make things too uncomfortable. From time to time, the sun would poke through the clouds and it would warm up nicely. We starting catching trout early on and by the end of the afternoon had landed a couple dozen fish, some measuring 18 inches. There were three or four float tubes on the lake and about a half dozen boats. It wasn’t very busy at all, considering it was a weekend. We caught most of our fish on Copper Johns and Glenn’s Leeches, under a strike indicator. There were a few chironimids (midges) hatching, but the fish didn’t seem too interested in feeding on them, at least where we were fishing. Later, we heard some anglers in the float tubes had good success “chronie” fishing. By three o’clock, the fishing tapered off and within an hour we were on our way back to the Pass. We’ll be back!

Paul netting a nice Police Lake rainbow trout

Lees Lake is a popular fishing spot in southwest Alberta. It’s located along Highway 507, about fifteen minutes from our shop. This lake provides decent fishing for rainbow trout and it’s a great place to fish in spring, once the ice melts. It’s not a large lake and is ideally suited to small boats, pontoon boats and float tubes. The rainbows are typically small to medium size and are usually very cooperative. There’s always a few larger trout around, too, just to make things a bit more interesting. After a long winter, it’s the perfect place to visit. And because it’s close to Crownest Pass, it’s handy.

Sunday April 1, 2012 - An angler in a float tube on Lees Lake.

 The lake had begun to open along shore a couple weeks ago, but cold temperatures returned, causing it to freeze again. While checking the Crowsnest River last Wednesday, I stopped at Lees Lake to see whether there was any change. It was still froze. On Saturday, a couple of anglers stopped in to say they had just passed by the lake and noticed there was some open water at the boat launch and in the small bay along the highway. I headed over on Sunday to see for myself. It was about 3/4 open, and with the way the wind was blowing, it probably wasn’t going to take long for the rest of the ice cover to disappear. It looks like ice-out on Lees Lake will be a month earlier than last year. On Sunday, there was one fly angler on the water in a float tube and another casting from shore. It doesn’t take long for word to spread, once the ice starts to come off. I checked again yesterday and there wasn’t very much ice left anywhere on the lake. Providing Old Man Winter doesn’t return, the lake should remain ice-free. I guess it’s time to put the pontoon boat together.

Sunday April 1, 2012 - Looking west from Lees Lake, toward Turtle Mountain in Crowsnest Pass.

It’s springtime in the Rockies, including here in Crowsnest Pass! We got off pretty easy this winter, compared to last year. I know we’re not out of the woods yet, and anything can happen between now and summer, but it didn’t seem like we received very much snow in Crowsnest Pass this winter. Yet, when you check the Alberta Environment website, their data indicates average to much-above-average mountain snowpack in southwest Alberta. It appears the snowpack is greater north of Hwy. 3, than it is in the south.

The section of the Crowsnest River between Lundbreck Falls and Highway 3 is closed to fishing from April 1 to June 15.

I went for a drive yesterday to check conditions on the Crowsnest River. I stopped in at Lundbreck Falls and chatted with a couple of anglers who had driven down from Edmonton. They were going to fish the day, then head home. They had only been on the water a short time when I caught up with them. One of the anglers mentioned he had already caught a nice rainbow trout. Making a six hour drive to fish for eight hours, and then driving another six hours to get home at the end of the day is what I call dedication. At least, they wouldn’t be going home skunked!

Below are a couple more photos of places I checked yesterday. I also headed over to Lee Lake. About a week ago, there was a bit of open water at the boat launch, but cooler temperatures over the weekend caused it to freeze again. I’ll update conditions, once they change.

If you’re planning to go fishing on the Crowsnest River soon, remember the section between Lundbreck Falls and Highway 3 is closed April 1 to June 15. The section upstream of the East Hillcrest Bridge is also closed until June 16. If you’re in doubt about what sections are open, check the fishing regs. Watch out for ice shelves along the river and fish with a friend.

Yesterday, as I was leaving the parking lot at Lundbreck Falls, a robin flew in front of my truck. I guess spring has arrived to Crowsnest Pass, after all!

The Crowsnest River downstream of Hwy. 3


Downstream view of the Crowsnest River from the Hwy. 507 Bridge.

It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade. ~Charles Dickens

It’s official, fall has arrived. Yesterday was the first day of autumn across the northern hemisphere, including right here in Crowsnest Pass. You would never know it,  though, judging by the awesome weather we have been experiencing lately. It feels more like summer than fall, that’s for sure. The temperature outside today reached 30 degrees Celsius (86 ºF). Amazing!

The fishing has been holding up really well on our local trout streams. Water levels are good and most streams are in perfect condition for wade fishing. Terrestrial imitations, such as hoppers, ants and beetle patterns, have been producing quite well. Blue-winged olive mayflies and caddis have also been providing decent dry-fly opportunities. 

The Crowsnest River is in great, late summer condition.

 The weather forecast is calling for things to start cooling down over the next week or so. It’s still going to be nice, but temperatures are expected to return to normal for this time of year. I’d be real happy if it stayed like this until Christmas. Then it can warm up, again!

The fishing is picking up on the rivers and streams in SW Alberta. Although water levels on some of the rivers south of Crowsnest Pass are a bit high at the moment, they’re clear and fishable. The Castle is still a little on the high side, but some of its smaller tributaries are wadeable/crossable and fishing well. The Crowsnest, upper Oldman, Livingstone River and tribs are in good shape and anglers are having good success on these waters.

The rivers and streams in SW Alberta are shaping up nicely

 Insect activity has increased over the past couple weeks and dry flies are working. Hatches include, golden, yellow and lime Sally stoneflies, caddisflies, pale morning dun and green drake mayflies. Good fishing everyone!

I was able to get out fishing on the Crow yesterday afternoon. Until last week, the river had been high and discoloured, largely due to all the precipitation we’ve been receiving over the past several weeks. All that snow melting in the high country hasn’t been helping, either. The river is still quite high and you probably won’t be able to wade across it for a while yet, but at least the water has cleared to the point where it’s fishable again.

The Crowsnest River remains high but fishable

 When I arrived at the river, I noticed a few adult salmonflies flying about and was hoping that the trout would be on the lookout for these big bugs. We’ve received reports of anglers having some success with large attractor dry flies, so I decided to start with a Stimulator. Over the next hour, I fished some nice water with my dry fly, without success. Not even a look or refusal … nothing at all. Yet, there was more than enough water visibility close to the stream bank, places where you normally expect trout to be holding in these conditions. They just weren’t interested in coming to the top to feed. It was time to change tactics. If the fish wouldn’t rise to the surface to take my dry, I was more than willing to go down to the bottom of the stream with a nymph.

One of the rainbows I caught using a Kaufmann Stonefly nymph

 I switched to a Kaufmann Stonefly Nymph and attached a strike indicator and some split-shot to my leader, then started working a current seam behind a rock deflection jutting out from shore. It didn’t take long, one or two casts,  before I hooked a fish. It got away before I could tell what it was. I moved upstream to the next pool and hooked a couple of fish right off the bat, but they got away, too. Not long after this, I hooked and landed a decent rainbow. I managed to catch one or two more trout after this, before calling it a day. Not a lot of fish came to hand, but it was a great afternoon, nevertheless. I’m sure things will only get better on the river from here on in.

Today is opening day for the trout streams in southwest Alberta. It’s not uncommon for rivers and streams in this area to be flowing high and discoloured on opening day, and this year is no exception. Temperatures have been cooler than usual this spring, which is slowing down the snow-melt. The cooler weather we’ve been experiencing over the past month is probably a good thing. Conditions could have easily been a lot worse had it been warmer, especially with the amount of rain we’ve received over the past several weeks. Warm temperatures, combined with above-average snow-pack and heavy spring rains, are a recipe for disaster. We all remember what happened in 1995. Fortunately, it doesn’t appear this is going to occur this year. Providing we don’t get too much more rain over the next week or two, conditions should begin to improve shortly. Water levels on the Crowsnest River are beginning to drop and it’s clearing up. Visibility was approximately 2 feet this morning.

View from the East Hillcrest Bridge yesterday, looking upstream

 Even though water conditions are not ideal at the moment, there are a few anglers on the river today. They’re catching some fish, too. One fellow stopped by the shop while I was writing today’s blog to rearm his fly box with woven body stonefly nymphs. He had caught a number of nice rainbows this morning using this fly and decided it might be a good idea to to pick up some more while he was in the area. He was in a hurry to get back on the river and didn’t stay long. I can’t say I blamed him. Now if we could only get some sunshine!

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