Our Man In Canada
March 24th, 2003

Fly-Ins, Part 5

By Dr.Martin Lamont
From Fly Fishing Canada From Coast to Coast, Published by Johnson Gorman Publishers. We appreciate use permission.

The Rocky Mountains and Alpine Adventure

Situated amid the western slopes of the Rocky Mountains in Golden, British Columbia, a good departure point to remote, spectacular Fortress Lake. The only access to the lodge at Fortress is by a long hike in from Alberta or a short hop in a 185 Cessna floatplane from Golden. The latter is the choice of most anglers.

Located in British Columbia, just west of the Alberta border, Fortress Lake is an narrow body of water about 7 miles (11 km) long. It supports large native bull trout to 15 lb (7 kg), lake trout to 20 lb (9 kg) and brook trout, which were mistakenly planted between 1920 and 1930 by Alberta Fish and Wildlife personnel who thought the lake was in Alberta. The brookies are now naturalized and grow to 5 lb (2 kg).

One fall, when a friend visited from Italy, we decided to hike in on a route starting at the southwest corner of Jasper National Park. We were well prepared with hiking gear and camping equipment for our 16-mile (26 km) jaunt, including multiple freshwater fishing licenses for Alberta, British Columbia, and Jasper National Park. We drove Highway 93, the Icefield Parkway, and left our vehicle at the Honeymoon Lake campground.

The hiking trail starts close to where the Sunwapta River meets the big Athabasca River. The Sunwapta is part of the upper Athabasca drainage, and here we fished the confluence for bull trout, brook trout, whitefish, and occasional rainbows to 3 lb (1.5 kg). Luckily, it was late summer, so the river was finally running clear of silt from high altitude snowmelt. Our trek was delayed by many fine fish.

Our plans included taking pack rods. My favorite for small lakes and rivers is an old fiberglass fly rod - a 7', 2.5-weight, sturdy enough to handle the abuse encountered in camping situations. It works great with a shortened 5-weight shooting head, performs well for close-river casting, and attached to a light running line, it can be cast a mile when necessary on the lakes. A 7-weight, 9' rod which breaks down to 18" (46 cm) was in reserve for the big lake.

The trail followed southward along the Chaba River and required a challenging fording of the river to eventually reach the remote back-country campsite at the lake's east end. On the trail we heard and saw several helicopters in the distance. They were flying out of Canmore, Alberta, with heli-hikers and anglers. Westward down the long lake, Serenity Glacier and the Hooker Icefield dominated the scene, and to the north, Fortress Mountain rose over 3,000' (9 m).

Upon reaching the lake we pressed on to comfortable Fortress Lake Lodge, where we were make welcome in tent-camp accommodations and provided with good food and the latest fishing reports. Our hosts said fish were present in several feeder rivers and creeks and at the outlet. We were told that fishing is best right after ice-out in June and that the overall drifts of schools of brook trout was from the east end in the spring and to the west by season's end.

The following day we were provided with a 14' aluminum boat and outboard motor to search out the schools. We boated all over the lake, checking for shoreline cover such as submerged logs, trees that had blown down along the shoreline, points, bars and drop-offs, plus any inlets that looked like holding water. Using fast-sinking lines we tried No. 6 - 2 Leeches and Woolly Buggers in black, olive and yellow, and a few sculpin and fry patterns.

Once fish were located there was a tendency for sudden action at each location. Brook trout do not show at the surface, so we kept scanning the lakes for physical characteristics that might prove attractive to them. Growing whitecaps blew us off the lake in the late afternoon, by which time we had a few good fish to our credit.

Fly Fishing Canada Around midmorning the next day, a floatplane from Golden arrived with a new party of anglers. The return flight was not booked - a perfect opportunity for us "hide-in-fly-out" lazybones. The floatplane was buffeted violently on the trip, but the bumpy air time was well under an hour - hardly long enough to reflect on our wonderful alpine fishing adventure.

Continued Next Time

Credits: Excerpt from Fly Fishing Canada written by Outdoor Writers of Canada, edited by Robert H. Jones, Published by Johnson Gorman Publishers. Used with permission.

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