Our Man In Canada
April 5th, 1999

One weekend in March

Have you ever fished in a blizzard?

By Clive Schaupmeyer

All fishing trips are winners. First, there is the anticipation. This is enhanced when plans are detailed and prolonged. If you are like me, you'll not have some of the flies you think you'll need and you'll power tie to fill these perceived voids. This too adds to the anticipation. The actual fishing experience itself is, of course, key to the trip. And if you are lucky the trip will heightened because you spent a couple of days on the water with old friends or new. Unless the gods are against you, trout will be caught and you won't break a new rod. It all adds up to a fun time and good memories. It's quite okay.

My wife, Willie, and I experienced a memorable fishing trip the last weekend in March. It had a bit of everything: complicated plans made weeks in advance; meeting new friends; pretty rainbows, if not lots of them; great accommodations in new cabin we rented; confirmation that the Crow Midge is a great fly; and, Oh yes, sun, cloud, wind and moments of raging snow. We were hit with a short-lived blizzard while on the river one afternoon.

Winter Fly Box

The first three weeks of March out on Great Plains of southern Alberta were incredibly warm and sunny. Most days were up to 15 to 21 & deg C (60 to 70 & deg F) and the snows of December and early January left prematurely. I had been down to the Crowsnest River two times in February and we did well.

So the long-planned, 3-day weekend on the Crow near the end of March was destined to be a glorious time. I was to fish under bright, warm sun; and Willie would sew and quilt in the brand-new cabin we had rented in Blairmore, in the Crowsnest Pass. Rainbows would be gorging on the active midges and would attack my killer Crow Midge flies. Heaven. And I was to meet a friend I met on the Internet.

Bert Lagimodiere from The Pas, Manitoba had e-mailed me earlier in January about pike flies. Through subsequent e-letters we discovered that he was coming to Alberta the same week Willie and I were going to the Crowsnest Pass. After a few more e-letters, and agreeing about meeting times and places, plans were set.

Willie and I arrived late in the morning of the first day, having driven into strong head winds for 3 hours. There were a few virga clouds along the mountains. A few snow flakes hit the windshield on the way in. Oh. Oh.

We checked into our cabin at Goat Mountain Get-Away resort. The new cabin was roomy and decorated in earthy colors befitting the cabin's name: the Eagle's Nest. It had a gas fireplace, kitchen, and lots of linoleum for wet-wadered anglers. Willie set up her quilting station and I attached a new line on my 6-weight rig. Outside the wind fairly howled. I was there to fish and fish I would–wind, snow or rain be damned. I had arranged to meet Bert at the river, and meet him I would. It was show time.

Cold, eh?

When I arrived at the Deer Run, Bert was nowhere in sight, so I headed to the river and stayed about 90 minutes and landed three rainbows and three whitefish. A Black Mink was my main fly with a Crow Midge dropped below it. I thought the run was spooked and decided to leave, as I was no longer warm. (Did I say the weather forecasters got this one very wrong?) Back up at the parking spot, Bert and Jarrett Page, from Calgary, had just arrived and were ready to fish. Not wanting to appear as a jamtart I agreed to go back down with them for a while.

Have you ever fished in a blizzard? Well, until my second river tour that afternoon, neither had I. Sure we have all fished in snow, but not in horizontal snow so heavy it reduced visibility to about 150 metres and plastered wet snow to our wadres, coats, hands and faces. Fortunately the heavy snow only lasted 30 minutes or so, and after that the sun sometimes shone. But by late afternoon the temperature was well below freezing and lines guides required constant de-icing.

We caught fish

Bert, Jarrett and I agreed to meet the next morning. The sun shone most of the time we were on the water (between 10 AM and 2 PM), but it was still below freezing and windy. Again guides froze most of the time. Fish were caught, but clearly the water temperature had dropped several degrees since earlier in the week, a condition that often results in trout lockjaw.

Crow Midge We could see rainbows hanging (surprisingly) in the shallows in suspended animation. Had it been warmer we should have seen frequent flashing of trout feeding on midges. But we persisted and between the three of us several fish were landed, and all but one were on the Crow Midge.

New friends, fish, flies that worked, low clear water and a wonderful cabin with fireplace, shower, comfortable bed and kitchen. And Bert, Jarrett and I get bragging rights about having fished in a mini blizzard. Bert summed up the insanity of it all. "We often fish in poor winter weather like this at home.
But when we do, we are ice fishing and wearing full-bodied snowmobile suits!" A great weekend. ~ Clive Schaupmeyer

Our Man In Canada Archives

Bio on Our Man In Canada

Clive Schaupmeyer is an outdoor writer and photographer. He is the author of The Essential Guide to Fly-Fishing, a 288-page book for novice and intermediate fly anglers. His photo of a boy fishing was judged the best outdoor picture of 1996 published by a member of the Outdoor Writers of Canada. He fly-fishes for trout in Alberta's foothill and mountain streams and for pike near his home in Brooks, Alberta. For information on where to find, or how to get a copy of Clive's book, Click here!

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