On The Water


It’s taken its time this year, but it looks and feels like spring has finally arrived in Crowsnest Pass. The grass is green once again and some of the wildflowers, like prairie crocus’, are in full bloom. Temperatures remain a little on the cool side, but at least we haven’t had to shovel any snow for a couple of weeks.

Prairie crocus' are in full bloom in SW Alberta

 The spring runoff has started and streams are flowing high and discoloured. Most of the trout lakes in the area are ice-free, providing anglers with the opportunity to whet a line while waiting for the runoff to subside and rivers to open. I spent a couple days fishing Lee Lake last week and had lots of success. It was fun catching fish on Lee, even though they were mostly small ones.

Lee Lake is ice-free and fishing well

 There was concern that some of the lakes around Crowsnest Pass may have experienced winterkill. However, there is no evidence of this occurring, as of yet. I didn’t see any dead fish along shore on Lee and I checked Beauvais Lake yesterday. There was concern that Beauvais may have been hit, but I didn’t see any sign of dead trout here, either. While I was there, I spoke with a couple of boat anglers who had spent the day fishing and had caught quite a few trout, including a few browns. Unfortunately, it appears Summit Lake, located across the border in BC, didn’t fare as well. We have been receiving reports since the weekend of numerous fish laying dead along the shoreline. It may not all be bad news, though, as trout have been seen rising on the lake.

Summer Hours

With the long weekend coming up, we would like to inform everyone that we are returning to our summer hours. We’ll be open each and every day, 9:00 am – 6:00 pm, until mid-October. Hope to see you soon!

For the past couple weeks, we have been receiving numerous calls and emails daily from people seeking information regarding current conditions on the local trout lakes. It seems there’s a lot of anglers chomping at the bit. I’m one of them. It’s been an interesting spring, to say the least. You could probably sum up spring’s arrival in southern Alberta quite nicely this year with one word, “late.” By this time last year, all of the lakes around here were completely ice-free and lots of boats could be seen bobbing about on them. That’s not the case this year, though. The photo below was taken at Lee Lake yesterday morning. It shows about 20-30 feet of open water near the boat launch. I looked back at a blog post I made last year, where I had a similar photo of this lake. The main difference between these pictures is last year’s was taken March 22, a full six weeks earlier than the one I took yesterday. What a difference a year makes! 

May 4, 2011 - Lee Lake finally beginning to open

 Jim McLennan, of Longview, Alberta, stopped by the shop the other day and presented me with a copy of his first solo CD. Titled Six-String Gumbo, the recently released CD  features Jim playing acoustic guitar. Although Jim is perhaps best known in the fly-fishing world, where he is a respected angler, instructor and author, he has also been a serious musician for over forty years. I’ve had the pleasure of fishing with Jim a few times over the years and knew he was darn good at it. I knew his guitar pickin was something to hear, too, but until the other day I had never listened to his music. Can you believe that! We’ll, we’ve been playing his CD in the shop for a couple days now and we’re hooked! I’ve become an instant fan of his music. While Jim was in the shop, I mentioned I once played trumpet in the junior high school band. Now that Jim knows I can blow, maybe he’ll feature me on his next CD. I’m a little rusty, but I’m sure with a little practice I’ll be as good as before!

For more information on Jim’s new CD, click here.

The weather has improved in Crowsnest Pass, since my last post. Spring arrived officially last week and temperatures are finally beginning to warm up enough to start melting some of the snow and ice in the valley. Hopefully, this melting will occur gradually. Otherwise, we could have some real issues with water levels later this spring.

Yesterday, I dusted off my fishing gear and headed down to the Crow for a few hours. Fishing opportunities (Chinooks) were rare this winter and I wasn’t able to get out on the river for several months. It’s amazing what a week of warm weather can do. Sections of the river that were completely froze last week are open and fishable again. There’s still areas with ice cover, and lots of ice shelves around, but there’s no problem finding open water to fish.

Plenty of open water to fish

 The river was clear and in good shape, and there was no problem wading. The snow was knee deep in some of the treed areas along the river, but I had no difficulty getting down to the water.

The river was clear and wadeable

There were lots of small winter black stoneflies crawling along the snow-covered stream banks. I also saw a few ducks, some Canada geese and a small herd of mule deer. It was great just to be on the river again. The trout I managed to catch were chunky and appeared to have wintered well. Like me, I guess!

Early spring rainbow trout

The weather in Crowsnest Pass has been very nice over the past several weeks. Who can complain when temperatures reach the mid-teens in November? If you remember last year, winter arrived with a vengence in early October and by Thanksgiving everyone had already put their fishing gear away. By this time last November, there was lots of snow on the ground and everything was froze solid. That was not to be this year, though. It’s been warm enough the past few afternoons you could have been outside in short sleeves. Okay, I stand corrected … It was almost warm enough to be outdoors dressed like this. Also, there’s been very little wind the past two days. That’s a switch! 

Early morning on the Crowsnest River

Early morning on the Crowsnest River

Although the season has closed on most of the rivers and streams in the area, there are opportunities available and places that remain open to fishing year-round. These include portions of the Crowsnest River and the lower Oldman, downstream of the Oldman Dam. It appears there’s still a bit of time to get out before weather conditions return to normal for this time of year. This could happen as early as Monday.

A Castle River cutthroat, caught during last week of the season

A Castle River cutthroat, caught during last week of season

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of  spending the day floating the Elk River with Linder and his grandson, Mitchell. Conditions on the Elk have been quite good lately and the trout have been cooperating nicely, at least most days. Mitchell has recently taken up fly-fishing and with the help of his grandpa, he seems to be picking it up nicely. Earlier this summer, Linder invited Mitchell, who’s eight years old, on a couple of fishing trips in the area. During one of these excursions, Mitchell landed a dandy cutthroat trout, measuring close to twenty inches. That was a great accomplishment for a young kid like Mitchell and he was really proud … Linder, that is.

During yesterday’s trip, Mitchell didn’t land any twenty inchers, although he hooked one that was close, using a Fat Albert dry fly. The trout came out from behind some tree branches overhanging the water and gulped the fly. Mitchell played the fish well and it looked like he already had years of fly-fishing experience under his belt. At one point the fish came close enough to the boat for me to net. However, the mesh bag  became tangled and the fish flipped out of the net before it could be scooped from the river. Then, just as I was about to make another attempt, the hook came loose. The trout quickly disappeared in the swift current. I think I was more disappointed than Mitchell that we didn’t boat the fish. He only wanted to keep trying for another one.

By the end of the day, Mitchell had landed some decent cutthroats. He was a bit tired, but happy. Afterward, I asked him what he’d remember most of this day. He responded by saying, “Fighting the big one, before it got away.” I’d say Mitchell has the makings of a true fisherman! Not only did he catch the biggest fish of his fly-fishing career this year, he also came away with a good story of “the big one that got away.” I suspect Mitchell and his grandpa are already looking forward to next season. In the meantime, I’ll practice my fish netting skills!

Elk River Trip

Linder and Mitchell

I had so much fun creek fishing last week I decided to do it again this week. This time I headed further away from town. I knew there would likely be some rainbows and cuttbows around, but I was hoping to find a few brook trout. I like fishing for brookies, especially when they’re all decked out in their fall spawning colors. I grabbed my 2-weight Winston rod and headed out for the afternoon.

Great cover for trout

Great trout cover

I’m happy to say my hook-set /catch-and-land ratio improved significantly from last week. Mind you, most of the fish were a lot smaller too. It’s funny how the small ones never get away. Most of the pools held at least two or three trout. They were all eager to rise to a dry fly … any dry fly. They weren’t fussy at all. Presentation didn’t matter, either. The only thing I had to watch out for were snags. In places, there were quite a few of these to contend with.

A nice shady section

A nice shady section

There were lots of cuttbows and a few rainbows in the creek, but I never saw any sign of brook trout. That’s unusual here. I’ll try to go back in a few weeks and see if they’re still around. Photos to come, if I find some.

One of the larger trout

One of the larger trout

I was able to get away for a few hours this afternoon and decided to do some creek fishing. Because I had to be back before the shop closed, I didn’t go far from town. There didn’t appear to be anyone else fishing the creek and I was pleased to see I’d have the water to myself. It wasn’t a particularly long stretch of water I planned to fish, perhaps 200 yards. But there would be four or five pools and runs … enough to keep me occupied for a couple of hours. Here’s how things went for me this afternoon.

POOL #1

I missed a good fish here, right off the start

I missed a good fish here, right off the start

On my first cast, a nice trout rose to my SA Hopper, but missed. Not wanting to take any chances, I changed flies and put on a Coachman Trude. The fish rose again, but refused the fly. I changed flies once more and tied on an Elk Hair Caddis. Yet another refusal. I made a few more casts, but nothing. “Smart fish; it’s probably seen a few flies this season,” I thought. I headed upstream to the next pool to look for one that was “less educated.” Maybe I could come back and try for this one again, later.

POOL #2

This pool was a bit deeper than the first and looked quite promising.  I had two more refusals, on back to back casts.  Another trout rose 20 feet upstream. I  managed to get my fly to the fish. Missed it. It was my fault, though, I was too anxious when setting the hook.

Great looking pool

Great looking pool

POOL #3

Fish On! … finally. Wait a minute; fish off … it got away! At least I still had my fly. I made a few more casts, without success. It was time to move up to the next pool.

Pretty water, that's for sure

Pretty water, that's for sure

 POOL #4

Maybe the deepest pool in this section, with trees and “fly-eating” branches that kept getting in the way. Twice, I managed to hook the same branches behind me. They were too high for me to reach my fly. I gave the leader a good tug and got everything back, including the fly … both times. Had a fish on for a couple of seconds, before it slipped the hook. I was beginning to wonder whether I should have stayed at work, instead. The last pool was just around the corner. 

Yet another good pool

Yet another good pool

POOL #5

I cast my fly onto the water and lost sight of it. A trout rose, but I couldn’t tell whether it was to my fly. It was. I didn’t set the hook in time. Another missed opportunity. A couple of casts later and there was another rise to my fly. This time, I did everything right. The trout jumped from the water a couple of times before I was able to land it.  A decent cuttbow for this creek.

A colorful cutt-bow

A colorful cuttbow

 POOL #1  (One More Time)

On my way back to the truck I decided to try the first pool one last time.  I re-attached the SA Hopper to my tippet and crawled on my hands and knees, until I was in position. A trout rose in the tail-out of the pool, just as some people drove by in a black jeep. They didn’t see me and I started to cast. The fish came to the surface and took my fly. I quickly landed the trout, a 12-inch cutthroat. Nice fish, but not the one I had seen earlier.  I made a few more attempts, without as much as a look by another trout.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. If the trout wasn’t going to come up to a dry, maybe going down with a nymph would be the answer. I attached 18 inches of 6X tippet to the hopper and tied on a #16 Copper John.  I cast the flies into the current flowing against the grassy bank and watched the dry fly as it drifted toward me. It only floated a few feet, before it disapearing under the surface. As soon as I set the hook I knew it was the fish I’d seen a couple hours earlier. The rainbow trout provided a good work-out for my rod and arm.  Shortly after landing the trout, I headed back to the shop. I had a big smile on my face.

A great way to end the day!

A great way to end the day!

It’s hard to believe we’re already into the middle of July. With all the rain and cool weather we’ve been receiving lately, it seems like summer has yet to begin. The good news, though, is that the sun is shining again in Crowsnest Pass and it looks like the nice weather is going to stick around for a while. The Crowsnest River is in great shape and the trout are being very cooperative, particularly with dry flies.

Dry-fly fishing on the Crowsnest River

Dry-fly fishing on the Crowsnest River

 All of the rivers and streams in southwest Alberta have cleared up nicely since last weekend’s rain. There’s lots of insects hatching on the river these days, including golden, yellow and lime Sally stoneflies. Stimulator dry flies have been working as well as anything, when trying to imitate these bugs. Green drake and pmd mayflies are also hatching in good numbers and are drawing trout to the surface. If you’re planning on fishing in the evening, be sure to include a few caddis and rusty spinner imitations in your fly box.

A happy Crowsnest River angler

A happy Crowsnest River angler

 Yesterday, I had the opportunity to spend the day with Hunter Neal, a fly angler/professional photographer visiting from Connecticut. Hunter was in Crowsnest Pass for a couple of days two years ago and was so impressed with our beautiful scenery and fishing he decided to return. This time, he’s here for a month. We had planned to shoot photos in the morning and fish in the afternoon, but got carried away snapping pictures and ran out of time for anything else. Maybe we’ll try fishing next week. This time, we’ll probably have to leave our camera gear at home. Otherwise, I’m sure it will be a repeat of yesterday.

Thanks Hunter, it was great to be able to spend the day with a real “pro.” Thanks also for all the great photo tips!

Hunter Neal at work

Hunter Neal at work

It’s taken a while, but most of the trout streams in southwest Alberta are running clear again. It appears the rainy season is over, at least for now. Some of the rivers and streams are still a bit on the high side, but at least everything is fishable once again. Stream flows are dropping daily and many of the rivers, including the Crowsnest, are wadeable.  Golden stoneflies and their smaller cousins, yellow Sally stoneflies, are starting to provide some decent dry-fly fishing. Pale morning dun mayflies and caddis can also be seen along the rivers most days. As water temperatures warm, dry-fly fishing will only continue to improve.

Fly-Fishing SW Alberta

Side channels are good places to fish, when flows in the main river are high.

 Yesterday, I spent the day with a couple of friends, Dan and Arnold, on the Oldman River. The river was in pretty good shape, with  maybe three feet of visibility. It was a bit too high to wade across, but we managed all right. The cutthroats and rainbows were a bit reluctant to take our Stimulator dry flies, but didn’t hesitate to eat Prince nymphs, suspended about two feet below our large dry flies. There was a good pmd hatch mid-afternoon, and for the short time they were on the water, there were a lot of trout feeding on the surface. We also had good action, using streamers. All in all, it was a great day with a couple of friends.

Fly-Fishing in SW Alberta

Dan lands a nice trout.

  

Should I head down to the river to fish for the day or take my pontoon boat out and do some lake fishing, instead? That was the question I had to answer on Wednesday. The salmonfly hatch has started on the Crowsnest River and water conditions were excellent for this time of year. The river was wadeable and there was at least three feet of visibility. It’s not often you have this kind of water clarity in the river at the end of May. The spring runoff was in progress, but cooler temperatures had slowed the snow-melt in the mountains. The weather forecast was calling for it to start raining in the afternoon and for it to continue for at least the next few days. I knew this was probably going to be my last chance to hit the river before it muddied up. If I didn’t fish the Crow today, I’d probably have to wait a couple weeks before conditions improve. It was a tough decision to make, and in the end I opted for rowing my pontoon boat on a lake.

Terry reaching out to net a nice rainbow trout.
Terry reaching out to net a nice rainbow trout

 I headed west of town, just across the Alberta-BC border and met Terry at Summit Lake. His pontoon boat was in the water and he was already rigged up when I arrived. A couple of other friends were gearing up on shore, too. Terry has been having some great action on the lake for several weeks, fishing mainly with chironimid (midge) patterns, suspended beneath a strike indicator. While some people compare this type of fishing to “watching paint dry,” I enjoy it … especially if there’s a chance of hooking a big trout.

Ponton Boat Fishing

A happy angler!

 Terry rowed out a little ways from shore and started fishing, while I assembled my gear. Before I had even strung my rod I glanced up, only to see that Terry’s rod was doubled over. Moments later, he netted his first trout of the day. I quickened my pace and in a short time was on the water, myself. The fish were cooperative from the get-go and the fishing was steady the entire time we were out. I landed a colorful brook trout early on, but it was all rainbows after that. I didn’t latch onto any cutties, but I think Terry managed to get one. The rainbows were gorgeous and displayed some of their amazing aerobatic qualities for us. I seldom count fish and didn’t this day, either. However, we caught plenty of trout and it appeared everyone else out that day did, too. At one point I looked up and every boat within sight had a trout on the end of a line.

Around 4.30 pm, the sky opened and the rain started to fall. By morning the Crow was the color of chocolate milk. Even though I would have enjoyed fishing the river had I done this instead, I still feel I made the right decision to fish the lake on Wednesday. I’ll get back to river soon enough.  Also, when the fish are biting like they were at Summit, it doesn’t feel at all like you’re watching paint dry!

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