Our Man In Canada
December 11th, 2000

Dry Flies and the St.Mary Cutthroat (Alberta), Part 2

By Jeff Mironuck

As with any trout stream the St. Mary is affected by the different seasons. Winter fishing requires an angler to be dressed as a skier combined with all the necessary fishing equipment. Winter is generally known for quality nymphing. The fish are lethargic and a slowly drifted nymph will usually produce fair results. Dries and streamers require a trout to move uncomfortable distances with the exception of a streamer being passed directly in front of the fish. Strike-indicators are not allowed on the river in the fly fishing only sections. I recommend a dry line, greased at the tip so you can easily see any unfamiliar movements. Wet lines seem to do the trick when presenting streamers at all times of the year.

Sunset on the St. Mary

Spring begins early June. The water is often murkey and slightly high, but the fish can still be enticed into striking. Streamer fishing is by far the most productive with the more brightly colored patterns finding a place at the end of my line. Nymphs and dries just won't work well in these messy conditions. Fish tend to hold close to the bank and feed very little. They are more concerned about protecting themselves from the onslaught of Mother Nature. Some small fish are killed off in the runoff, but as the water slows and clears the trout once again feed actively and start to move around.

Mid July starts my summer on the rivers and is a nice break from the continual lake fishing scene. About this time the lakes cool down and the water level in the river reaches that perfect point. Dry fly fishing is what the St. Mary is famous for. In the summer I can't find anything more enjoyable than drifting a hopper or an Adam's on the surface and then watching a large curthroat either sip it under or violently attack it. Prolific hatches occur throughout the river in summer. Caddis and mayfly are my favorites but I can't dismiss the stoneflies or even the midges. Terrestrial fishing is arguably the most visual and exciting type of fly fishing on the St. Mary. July, August and September offer a good variety of crickets, grasshoppers, caterpillars and ants. The St. Mary runs through a small valley of trees, bush and grass. It's these grassy banks that breed such immense numbers of terrestrials. Hopper imitations like Dave's Hopper or Joe's Hopper work very well while almost any ant imitation will catch fish too. Near the end of August the water drops, wading becomes easy and the trout are easily brought to the surface. It's this time that I enjoy the most. A wide variety of insects are available to the fish into September and as the tourists leave for home the river is often bare of visitors.

Fall fishing can be deadly. The fish are stocking up for the long winter, everyone has left the river and the insects are few. Dries, nymph and streamers all have their days in the fall. I like to change up quite often as the trout can become very selective. The fish begin their move into the deeper water zones and they tend to become more concentrated in the larger pools. I suppose if anything streamers may be slightly more effective. Zonkers, Muddlers and Woolly Buggers tend to draw out the big fish. Nymphs also have their place. Flashbacks, stoneflies and Gold Ribbed Hare's Ear nymphs should work assuming you are able to fish them deep. Warm afternoons can trigger moderate hatches of caddis and mayflies. It's best to carry all the fly boxes this time of year.

Overall it is very easy to fish the St. Mary and catch large and wild trout. This has become somewhat of a rarity over the last few years in North America. The river has been returned to its natural state and in some ways it has benefited from the pollution. It is now hard to find a summer day without experiencing some major insect hatches. The river opens itself for the many different types and techniques fly fishing has to offer. The result is still the same, quality trout and breathtaking scenery.

Cranbrook and Kimberly provide lodging and sport shops for the fly fishers. Many prime spots on the river are within a 20 minute drive from either location. Overall the river has seen many changes through its life. A once pure stream was inundated with pollution and again cared for in only a short time. We will not know the effects man has had on this stream for quite some time. As it sits now, we are blessed with natures beauty in its natural state. Let's hope that we will have the knowledge and will to keep it this way in the future so that our following generations will be able to enjoy our fly fishing too.

As my fly drifted that perfect, flawless drift, a nose of a very large trout rose. I watched the trout sip in my fly and then silently eased the rod up setting the hook in the top of his mouth. As I played out my trophy it felt rewarding knowing that my creation of feathers and fur was enough to fool this seasoned cutthroat. I unhooked the large male and released him back to the stream. Returning the favor. ~ Jeff Mironuck

Excerpt from Angling in the Shadows of the Rockies, available though Frank Amato Publications. We greatly appreciate use permission.

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