It never gets old fishing Alberta in August. Seems like no matter how many times you go back on the same weekend of the year, there is always something different. This year we had the best weather. No wind except for a rainstorm that hit right in the middle of the week. Conditions favored hopper fishing, Flying Ants were hatching and the nymph fishing with small micro mayflies was phenomenal all the time.
What was noticeably lacking were sipping fish working consistently on mayflies. There were morning caddis and Trico hatches but the fish were not on them much. Notably, the streamer fishing was consistent, and on the final day, the hopper dropper was the ticket. Wayne had two 20 inch plus fish on at once on the last day fishing a dropper caddis 3 feet off his hopper on the last day. The working flies in demand were, Missing Links in 16s, Orange and Brown Caddis Puppa size 16 (stout hooks), Floating Caddis Puppa tied parachute style with body in the water. Jack Black caddis, Soft Hackles and Foam Hopper Patterns in smaller sizes for River X vs the BOW. The fish were so hot averaging over 20 inches that our group, Wayne, Roland, Mike, Jim, John and I , blew up three fly reel drags (on a Peerless, Ross and Galvan) and lost approx 66 percent of all fish hooked and on the reel. The water was running low this year and the fish were int he deep lenses, pockets and runs. We had hopper days where we hooked between the two of us, over 75 fish which makes this year the most prolific year I have ever had. This years big fish was 25 inches although I did catch a farmed trout in Greg’s Fish Pond that measured 27 inches which I don’t count. Jim Cramer was master of the streamer using his infamous Stumpbuster and doing well earning the nickname from the guides “Lefty Cramer”. We noticed lots of small minnows in the river this year and Paul the guide told us that they fish streamers on indicators effectively as well as swinging them. One of the largest fish I lost this year was on a monster green marabou, bead eye streamer with a trailer hook that the owner of Country Pleasures Fly shop in Calgary recommended.
The fish were as hot as ever, taking wild runs into the backing, porpoising and cartwheeling, and taking runs along the bottom rocks and boulders, rocking us at every oportunity. For hoppers, most were using 2X to 3x tippets and when things got more selective, 15 foot leader down to 5X for the small nymphs and dries. The fly shops in Calgary are great. It is prudent to stop and stock up on hoppers at the fly shops there since we were loosing so many on large fish. I would say two dozen next year of anything that works is minimum. The guides from Fish Tales Fly Shop that drifted us on the Bow River were some of the best and nicest we have ever run across. We had a nice bankside lunch together and everyone warmed up for River X with some nice fish. Next year, I think we will skip the float on the BOW and head straight for Cardston however.
Fishwise, the highlights for me were two hot 25 inch fish that were caught under unusual circumstances. Walking the river with Paul, we came upon a very small and shallow run about two feet deep with rolling water that was just deep enough to hide a monster fish. Paul thought for an instant that he saw a large fish at the head of the run, Running the standard nymph indicator rig with two flies and a small split shot, I fished the area with concentric cast working over the area thoroughly from inside out with no joy–at least ten casts. Finally deciding to try something different, I put a huge split shot on and high sticked the head of the pool with the indicator out of the water on my 10 foot 4 wgt Helios. The water there was only a foot deep and white water. The fish finally slammed the nymph and the indicator took off in the air criss crossing the pool never touching the water before the fish headed downstream like a train. After 10 leaps, and running downstream 100 feet, we landed the fish. Czech nymphing could be nuts here. It was the first fish I ever high sticked in shallow water in the river.
While walking back to the car around 4:00 pm. Paul and I stopped on a bluff and surveyed a large flat run from 25 feet up on the bluff. The sun was low and you could see into the water like an aquarium from up high. Starring into the glare-less water, we both spotted a huge flash on the bottom, in the lower middle of the run. Jokingly, I stripped out line and walked upstream to see what it would be like to drift a fly on the run from 25 feet above the river and too my surprise, I was getting phenomenal drag free drifts by basically high sticking a grasshopper fly with almost all my fly line out. John, Paul and Mengo, proceeded to drift that run when suddenly up from the depths rises this monster trout. Following the drag free drifting hopper about twenty feet downstream, it swam in a lazy arc below the hopper and opened its mouth like a snake disarticulating its jaw, sucking in the hopper. It was like watching in slow motion as we starred in disbelief at the white lining in the huge fishes giant mouth. I hooked the fish after the “toilet bowl flush take” and it jumped out of the water and tore off downstream cartwheeling. I handed the rod to Paul and grabbed my camera as we contemplated how we were going to try to land the fish. We believed that the closest place to get to the river from the cliff was about 300 yards downstream. Paul walked the fish downstream as we laughed about the situation until by luck we found a notch in the cliff that allowed us to slide down 30 feet to the river. Paul and I skied down the cliff on our butts with fish on, net and camera and landed the fish in the run.
One evening after dinner, Wayne and I set out to check the inlet to Waterton Lake which was a short wade from the lodge and had been the site of some killer dry fly fishing before dark. Cam suggested we ask a local Hutterite named Erin to show us how to drive down to the inlet. Erin, a Hutterite local who was hanging around the lodge, had us follow him in a golf cart as we drove are rental Ford Focus through the Hutterite colony, through a bunch of locked gates and down dirt road paths. After the last gate, Erin jumped in the car and directed us down this long dirt road while talking about how they had to kill a couple Grizzlies with Strychnine to prevent them from eating their Sheep heard and how the Wardens were out to get them and made them up and show them. All the time we were heading for the main lake which was not our destination. Finally he directed us to park and then proceeded tell us he was taking us to his favorite Pike bank. Wayne looked at me, and then at his 4 wgt fly rod. I told Erin we didn’t have the gear for Pike and he looked at my 5 wgt fly line and said, “thats just fine for pike”. We walked down to the river, thinking about the dead grizzlies and wondering if we were next, tied on some 0x tippet and the largest fly we had on us–3 inch streamers–and proceeded to fish our trout rods like we were fishing for tarpon. Wayne’s fly blew up first as he hooked and lost a monster 3 foot pike at the take. Later that evening, a submarine of a fish breached behind my little fly and snapped at it. I set through its teeth and managed to floss a barnacle off one of its fangs. No flesh was pierced. We left scared and flyless. Next year, maybe Ill bring a 9 wgt and some wire leader for kicks. I guess Erin though we were going to tie casting spoons directly to our fly lines and fish. It was fun despite.
I learned some things this year that will help me fish better and more efficiently. I tried packing my camera gear in a backpack, and using a belly pack for flies, and a neck lanyard for the basic stuff. Epic fail. Line got caught on the lanyard, and the heavy backpack did not ride well with the belly pack. You cant use both comfortably. There were 5 mile walks in the stream with this gear that wreaked havoc on my knee (an old torn meniscus). Secondly, no problems wading wet but I want lighter , metal cleated wading boots and waist high waders if it gets cold. I fell only once but bottom of the river was especially slippery with the moss and shallow water. A wading staff monopod would be nice as well. I learned about tippet rings from Wayne which appears to double the strength of tippet attachments. We spent hours comparing know strengths with tippet rings. Also, I am now convinced that 4 turn surgeon knots are about 1-2% stronger than three turn. We all started using Flyagra–a new fly floatant that is lighter fluid based and has a warning on the lable that if your fly stays floating for over 4 hours, to consult your fly shop! Bring extra stuff like line cutters and buffs.
I learned some things about camera work flow on the river also. I brought both the Nikon D7000 and the Lumix GH2 along with two Gopro’s. I only took the Gopros and the GH2 onto the rivers and never touched the D7000, The weight of camera equipment is critical when you are walking 5 miles in the river. Next year I will go ultra light taking only one GoPro and the Lumix GH2. Roland showed me his new Cannon S100 and I was impressed. Also the new Sony RX100 looks pretty darn good with the huge sensor and 1080P\60 video. The only thing I really will miss not lugging out the big boys is not using my Nikon 14-24 which by itself weighs as much as the camera but there are some new ultra wide angle fast lenses for the the Micro 4/3 GH2 that I should look into. One of my GoPro’s cost me some critical footage when I noticed after filming (red light still blinking) that they had froze during shooting. In my distgust, I switched the camera housings and managed somehow to get both both briefly submerged and non functional. Using the old trick of putting them overnight in a ziplock of rice, I managed to restore both. I think I might be an issue with the SD card. It would be wise to make a test shot of over 5 minutes on the cameras before using them for critical applications. So next year I think I will look at the Sage Typhoon Large Waist Pack for cameras and boxes. Also, Ill take only a lumix GH2 with lenses, one gopro, one tripod and extra batts and cards.
This trip was the first time I ever fished with John Brezzo. John and I go back to the Millpond days and he is a great fly fisherman. I enjoyed fishing with him. Not only is John a skilled fly fisherman and past president of the San Jose Flyfishing Club, he is a wine expert who makes his own award winning wines which he graciously shared with the group. Hopefully we will fish again together.
Roland and I fished Pronghorn a couple months ago and as usual, he landed the biggest fish of the trip at 26 inches–luck favors the prepared. Rolands partner Mike was a pleasure to hang with. Basically he just learned to cast and we watched him evolve over the week . After Cam’s browbeating “NO CLAMPING” sessions, he managed to land a few very large fish. Too bad he has started out catching the best fish in the world on his first trip.
Finally, to Paul, Greg and Cam, the guides of Eastslope Adventures, thanks and see you next year.