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Cutthroat in the Rockies - by Andy Woodford.
As some of you will know I am currently working in Calgary and due to the lack of any salt water this side of a ten-hour drive, I have somewhat reluctantly begun the process of learning the art of fly-fishing.
For years I have always steered away from fly-fishing, as I'd always considered it to be making hard work of catching fish. Let's face it, are there any sea fish in Western Australia that aren't more easily caught on a slice or popper than on a fly?
By way of the Bow River, Calgary has one of the best trout streams in the world running through it and people come from all over the world to fish here. Unfortunately though, it isn't one of the easiest rivers to fish and I was certainly blanking a lot more often than I was catching trout. I'd tried nymphing some of the deeper riffles from the shore, with mixed results but found that I didn't really enjoy that sort of fly-fishing much.
It wasn't very visual and the casting is nothing short of hard work. You are faced with the combined obstacles of a bite indicator, split shot and weighted nymph attached to your line all trying to tangle with each other and the fast flowing water trying to sweep you off of your feet. Also the fast current takes all the line that you've stripped back, off down stream, where it picks up weed, making it hard work to shoot the line back out again.
I had been lucky enough to spend a day drifting the Bow on a purpose built drift-boat in the company of Ben from the local tackle shop. Ben was kind enough to show me how to tackle up and how to read the river. This day out proved a great success and I enjoyed it immensely, but unless you have access to a boat, a days guided drifting can cost up to $500 and was well out of reach of my pocket. Ah well, back to shore fishing.
Having tried and discarded nymphing as being too hard, I was left with two choices. I could go all out streamer fishing, as most of the salt-water fly-fishing is in W.A., or I could learn the fine art of dry fly fishing. Streamer fishing would be the easier option, but still to my mind, it was making hard work of catching fish. I knew that I would catch more fish with a small spinning rod and chrome spinner than with a streamer. Dry fly fishing was another matter though. When the trout are on the rise and sipping insects from the surface film. I doubt very much that you would have any real success with a spinner. Also it's a very visual method of fishing, even better I'd say than hooking up on a popper.
To stalk a trout by reading the water and looking for the most likely lies and then to have your suspicions confirmed when a trout rises is exciting on it's own. But when you select a fly that resembles what you hope that the trout is feeding on, present it in such a way that it drifts life-like within a few inches of the trout, all the time waiting to see the trout take the fly, is about as much tension as anything enjoyable should provide. When the trout eventually takes the fly, the fight is on, but funnily enough I get a lot more satisfaction and excitement from the hunt and the challenge of actually hooking the fish than I do from playing and landing it.
Now dry fly fishing for a novice on the Bow is very much a hit and miss affair. The hatches are normally in the evening and the Bow is quite heavily fished. This makes the fish suspicious and at the same time makes it hard to find a good lie that someone else hasn't fished in the last half-hour or so.
Now I was finding my dry fly fishing on the Bow rather frustrating, for although I'd found a form of fly fishing that I actually enjoyed, I found that I wasn't any where near good enough at it to catch fish on a regular basis.
Then someone suggested that I forget the Bow for the moment and build my skills (and confidence) where the fish were smaller, but a lot more willing to take a dry fly. With that purpose in mind I packed some camping gear and headed off into the Rockies where the tributaries of such big rivers as the Bow and the Oldman are nothing more than small and beautiful streams.
The trout here are generally smaller and a fish of 40cm is considered a good one. But on the bright side they aren't fished any where near as hard and with there being more competition for less food in these high altitude streams they are a lot less fussy about what they will eat.
I had the Friday off work and so got up early and guided by some good directions and not so good maps, managed to navigate unsealed roads and logging tracks until I found exactly the spot that had been recommended to me. I parked the car, put on my waders and hit the water. The river here was no more than three meters across and in some places less than two. It varied in depth from next to nothing to two meters or more in some of the deeper pools. The sides were tight grown with pine trees which meant that in order to be able to cast I had to wade up the river, climbing over boulders and fallen trees, casting upstream as I went.
Carefully working my way upstream casting into the heads and tails of riffles and runs and drifting small dry flies over still pools, I was delighted to find just how obliging these small Cutthroat trout really were. Nearly every likely looking lie produced fish and one small pool, no more than two meters diameter produced twelve Cutthroat in less than half an hour.
I eventually decided to leave the fish biting and head back downstream to the car, where I was going to camp for the night. It surprised me that I had been fishing and wading for about four hours, but it only took about fifteen minutes to walk back down beside the stream to the car. Once there I cracked open a bottle of red and read my book until the light faded. Then it was into the sleeping bag and out like a light until the next morning.
Saturday morning saw me up fairly early and rather than cover the same water as I had the day before, I decided to head further up stream. The scenery was even more spectacular and the trout here were even more plentiful than the area that I had fished the day before, even if they were noticeably smaller. The larger fish were only about 20 to 25cm in length and the smaller fish.... Well I don't think that we need to go there.
I fished various parts of the river on the Saturday and as I had to work on the Sunday headed home to Calgary in the late afternoon. After a drive through some of the most beautiful scenery going, I eventually arrived back at my digs at ten in the evening. I didn't even bother to unpack the car, I just let myself in grabbed a shower and hit the sack, with a great weekends fishing behind me.
I have only scratched the surface of what dry fly-fishing has to offer and only seen a fraction of the wonderful landscape in the Rockies. There is still a lot to see before snow closes the roads for the winter.
In fact I'm thinking of heading out that way again next weekend. It's too good not to.
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This page last updated 11 October 2002. Photos removed to make space on the website - it's getting close to it's limit.
Display of this page was updated on 21 January 2013. Contents updated as above.