August 26 – Sept 1, 2018 -It doesen’t seem right to lead off this post by saying that this is the worst week of fishing Cam and Pauly have seen in 17 years. The abnormal for them was still pretty exciting and new for me having memories of some of the hottest weeks in the history of the St Mary’s in the past. The oddness started at SF International Airport when I noticed 15 minutes before boarding that the wrong Gate was posted for my flight. I made it on the airplane on time but another in our party missed the flight out. We arrived in Calgary to clouds, thunderstorms and smoke from the local wildfires. The weather had turned cold the week we arrived after a prolonged heat wave. Things were not looking good before we even hit the water. On the flip side, I met some flyfishermen that I have never fished with before–a group of some of the finest gentlemen I have ever fished with. Bob Von Raesfield whom Ive known for years helped me book this week at the Mary to fish with his long time friends, Stephen Wise, Robert Rathborne, Dave Lougee, Gordon Prichett. Also I owe a debt of gratitude to Wayne Horiuchi for letting me take his place. You have my best wishes as the group had such adulation for you that I felt you were on the trip with us. There were some changes at the lodge, Elizabeth has really perfected her cooking game. The food was excellent with Steaks, Salmon and German Specialties ending with grand desserts. We no longer had to make our own lunches – Elizabeth took orders for our lunches at dinner and prepared them to our liking.
The first morning I was awakened by wind and rain. Because we were one man short I had a chance to fish with Cam as a single and we headed to the Waterton River to find some rising fish despite the cold wind and rain. I had decided that I would target only rising fish on this trip to try to improve my trout game. We found a few fish in the side channel that feeds the Waterton and I managed to land a sucker and lose a good Brown before the side channel suddenly stopped flowing and Waterton Dam Spillway opened with a roar. That changed the karma for the day in a big way – bad for fishing but very interesting. The side channel turned into puddles concentrating all the giant browns in one pool . Until I scanned the shallow pool, didn’t think that there were that many fish in the side channel. It amazed me how many big Browns live together in one area. The 25 inch plus browns swam in packs and despite the radical change in water depth appeared to be feeding. They had no interest in our flies however,
We hiked to the confluence to witness water spilling over the dam in the spillway. A quick feel of the water temp indicated a huge increase in the temperature of the water as well as a one foot drop in the water level. The water from the top of the reservoir is warmer. As a result of the surge in temperature, we witnessed the biggest hatch of PMDs and Caddis that Cam had ever seen on the Waterton with NO FISH RISING. The whole day was a futile search for a feeding fish of any sort. I was in awe of the biomass that was coming down the river from the temp and water level change.
The Rain stopped after day one and I returned to the Waterton with Bob V and Cam to see if the fish had recovered after yesterdays radical river changes. Gone were the mats of insects from the slicks and we found very few fish rising and those that were had PhDs in Fake Bug recognition. Bob and I managed some fish on hoppers. Cam fishes Fat Alberts vs standard hopper patterns and sais they outfish hoppers 10 to 1. It seems that Wateterton fish have a memory for fly patterns since nearly everybody throws standard hopper patterns over them. Most of the fish in the river have l been stung by a hopper pattern despite still eating real grasshopers which were all over the banks this week. The Day ended with a couple hopper caught fish. One PMD sipping fish had me working it for over three hours. I found a 24 inch fish suspended and feeding in a trench in a great position for a reach cast, clearly visable with out glare, and far enough away that it wouldn’t see me. I was able to cast 10 feet above the fish and get perfect drifts over its nose repeatedly. Bob stood by me for a couple hours and watched me put every pmd dun pattern , emerger, floating nymph, ant and dropper combination over it with 6X. Every time the fish would even make the slightest move on it , or slightly hesitate to rise, I changed it. I actually got the fish to eat three separate times once on different patterns but its hooked jaw pushed the fly away as it rose and tried to close it deformed mouth on the size 20 patterns I was throwing that matched the hatch. It was frustrating and comical how the fish would mess up the take. Bob and I witnessed countless naturals float over its nose without interest as well as many attempts to eat naturals and missing them. I guess thats what you get fishing for geriatric Brown Trout. I hope I can at least get 50% of the food Im trying to eat into my mouth at 90 years of age. The timing of the fly presentation, the angle of the hook set, the pause before setting and a fly first presentation were all key elements of success as I would discover the next day.
That evening, Cam asked if I would tie him up some size 18 “Shaggies”. He had sent me a picture of it that made no sense to me at all. I though it was an flying caddis but when I finally got to examine one close, it is a emerging caddis dry fly. That evening I tied 2 dozen of them exactly as Cam wanted them. Unfortunately, I used this pattern all week an never did unusually well on them as last weeks fisherman did with the pattern.
The next day, Cam thought that I would go insane if I didn’t catch some fish so he took Bob and I to the Old Man and the Livingston in the mountains to catch Cutthroats. The others were knocking the crap out of them over the last few days. The first pool we approached look like a pellet feed at the hatchery. Fish were everywhere on top. Almost every 3 foot drag free float resulted in a take and they were clearly feeding on ants all day confirmed by pumping one. It was a fun day with nearly 30 fish between Bob, Cam and I. Thank god for the mountain Cutthroat fishery for numbers and beauty. Its alway been dependable. My mind was still on those uncatchable PMD fish on the Waterton as I enjoyed catching fish regularly throughout the day
On the 4th day God created the Heavens and Stars, I looked for rising fish way down in the Canyon (the Saddle) of the Waterton River. It was undiscovered territory for me. I fished with Gordy who bikes 30 miles in a day for fun in his 70’s. He kept our pace up hiking 5 miles to the Saddle. You can learn alot about somebody hiking 10 miles up and back. I really enjoyed the day with him. We managed to find some sipping fish way down in the canyon but they were also very tough. I heard a couple more “Camisms” that I hadn’t heard such as “If you want better fishing, fish better” and “Its not technical, you just suck”. Cam is the best of mentors, always keeping you on your game. Gordy hooked a couple really big fish-the biggest he’s ever hooked- that broke him off on runs and rocks. Cam took it hard, but then he’s getting way mellower over the years. The highlight of the day was going back to those suspended fish and finally getting one to eat. The recipe was a 6x size 20 PMD with a sinking size 20 ant dropper.
On the last day, I was torn over fishing the Palmer Ponds or the St Mary’s. Two good fishermen with Pauly fished the Palmer Ponds yesterday and couldn’t get the fish to corporate. No fish were landed and Pauly threw every trick he could at them remarking that the fish seemed interested in everything till they got an inch from it.and refused. Sounds frustrating to some but that is semi appealing to me. The day before, Cam took Bob and Dave to the Gladiator section of the the Mary’s and they caught 30 fish on hoppers. Only trico’s hatch at the Mary this time of year and they weren’t hatching. Bob got one 25 inches but said most were smaller fish. I decided to try those selective PMD fish again on the Waterton with Pauly. I let Pauly loose on the Waterton fish since it was just the two of us, and the power line hole was going off on an ant hatch. I worked a few fish out of the powerline hole while Pauly went downstream to f look for fish and fish around. I went 1 for 2 in the Powerline Hole and Pauly went 2 for 3 downstream and that was basically it for the day. The fish were still super selective and spooked. I guess they never got over the big temp change last week or they were stuffed from the biomass bloom at the beginning of the week. Both Cam and Pauly were pretty surprised by the changes since they had been doing much better on the river the past weeks. At 3:00 we decided to run down to the Ponds for a few hours and try the beast fish with a pulse disc or something weird. As we hiked back, we spied a pod of huge rising fish from the cliff side 30 feet above and decided to try them instead of going to the ponds. We ended the day fishing and filming our attempts to land those huge fish. Both Pauly and I threw our best stuff at them with no luck for over 2 hours. It was a fitting way to end the week getting owned by some huge trout. I got to preview Pauly’s new album on the ride home, and I cant wait to receive my copy next week.
In retrospect that evening of the last day , feasting on huge steaks perfectly prepared by Elizabeth, the 4 guys that went to Hog Flat on the Mary’s that day didn’t do very well not landing anything and hooking very few fish on hoppers. Not like in the Canyon of the Mary’s. I think I made the right choice not to fish the ponds or the Mary. It was a dissapointing week for sure, but still, there are few places in the world that you can fish PMDs in September to sipping 5-10 lbs trout. Cam and Pauly are such great friends and guides and I learn alot when they fish . Bob V is a flyfishing machine and caught some very respectful fish that eluded me this week. I sure enjoy his company and watching him fish. Ill be back for sure.