Our Man In Canada
September 24th, 2001

The Dream Season, Part 2

By Jim McLennan

With some of the winter rust now off and the fishing season truly rolling, I would dedicate the next couple of months to some serious hatch-chasing. Many of our best and most reliable insect hatches occur between early May and mid-July, so my schedule would be carefully planned to try to meet as many of them as possible. This bug fixation bring dilemmas, though, and sometime in May I'd face the first one. It would be time to start directing some attention to the waters of the West Country - that beautiful area of rolling hills, mixed forest and brown trout between the towns of Cochrane and Rocky Mountain House. A few days on these streams would be necessary to avoid shirking my delicious responsibility. The fish would be relatively few, but they would be beautiful, orange-spotted brown trout, and if things went well, a couple of them might be big.

But it also would be hard to ignore a river as special as the Bow when something important begins to happen. Mid-May brings the first good hatches of caddisflies on the reaches below Calgary. These are not the caddis that pour out of the willows every evening later in the summer, but are rather a more civilized group, emerging on bright, sunny afternoons. My wife, Lynda, and I would float from Policeman's Landing to McKinnon Flats, looking for rising fish. When we found them they would likely be a little naive and quite easy to catch. It wouldn't bother me to take advantage of this though, because I know these same fish will get even in September. We would catch mostly brown trout now because many rainbows are up spawning in the Highwood system. Families of Canada geese would be everywhere on the river, sometimes annoying impatient fly-fishers by nonchalantly chugging their way through pods of rising fish.

The Crowsnest River would also require further attention in late May for what many anglers consider to be the most important event of its season. It is then that the giant black stonefly nymphs (called salmonflies) begin their migration from midriver to the banks in preparation for hatching. The river level might begin to rise with melting snow brought down by the hot sun, but with eighteen inches or more of visibility in the water, the fishing with big black nymphs could be spectacular. This is a time for full-contact fly-fishing requiring aggressive wading in fast, bouldery water and size 4 to 6 heavily weighted nymphs on 2X leaders. This is fly-fishing without finesse, and it is wonderfully entertaining. The casting is clumsy and ugly, and the fish anything but. Below Lundbreck Falls is some of the best stonefly water on the continent, and the rainbows that roar off into my backing might average close to eighteen inches through this period.

By early June the streams of the Oldman and Bow systems would be in full runoff, and I would again return to the West Country and in particular to the area around Caroline. That nasty little spring creek, the North Raven River, would be calling my name. The fishing here is all finesse, and this little stream would quickly drain me of whatever cockiness I had acquired on the Crow. Mid-June here delivers Pale Morning Dun mayflies in the morning, Green Drakes in the afternoon and giant Brown Drakes late in the evening. Back at the bridge after dark I would undoubtedly run into other North Raven Regulars - Don Andersen, Barry Mitchell or Bob Scammell - who would regale me with stories of fish just a little bigger than mine.

By late June the Bow would be back in shape, and both caddis and Pale Morning Duns would be hatching daily. A few overnight float trips would be essential with campsites carefully chosen to provide late evening binges of dry-fly fishing. These are the longest days of the year, when it doesn't get dark until 10:30 P.M., but the fish seem to feed indefintely on into the night. Camping on the river would allow me the luxury of fishing as late as I wanted before simply collapsing into a sleeping bag.

After dark the fishing on the Bow takes on a macbre tone as you cast into the darkness, listen for a slurp and then strike to see if it was your fly the fish ate. Fighting a fish you cannot see is likewise an eerie experience. You don't know how big he is until it's all over and you aim the flashlight into the landing net to discover a brown shape bigger than you would thought to hope for.

Through these long summer days I'd be sharing the big river with many foreign visitors, some here for the first time, some on their annual visit to one of North America's most celebrated trout streams.

In July the Bow would get most of my attention, but I would keep things in perspective with side trips to small streams like the Carbondale River, Cataract Creek or the Sheep River with my fishing partner and daughter, Deanna. But sooner than I realize, half the summer would be over and an extended road trip north would be in order.

Trout Streams of Alberta

August is prime time in the high country of the North Saskatchewan system, and my first stop would be on the North Ram River, west of Rocky Mountain House, where the west-slope cutthroats would chew on my big dry flies. By stationing myself at the campground south of Nordegg, I could also fish Shundra Creek for brown trout. After a few days here I'd continue north on the Forestry Trunk Road to freelance my way through less familiar country. My plan would be to try more cutthroat waters, especially the Blackstone and Cardinal rivers, but I might talk myself into a side trip west of Highway II to fish the Bighorn and the Cline.

Continuing north on Highway 40 across the upper Brazeau River, I'd enter the Athabasca watershed. At Hinton, there would be another decision to make. One option would be to shift east and fish the McLeod River near Edson for rainbows and grayling. From there I could continue north to try for grayling in Whitecourt and Swan Hills region before making a three-day excursion to the best of our grayling streams the Little Smoky River.

Another option from Hinton would be to continue north on Highway 40 and fish the Berland and Wildhay rivers before getting serious about bull trout on the Muskeg River near Grande Cache. Better still, I could stay another week and do it all. ~ Jim McLennan

Fall next time.

Credits: Excerpt from Trout Streams of Alberta, by Jim McLennan, Published by Johnson Gorman Publishers. We thank them for use permission.

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