Friday, 26 July 2013

The Seven Year Itch

               Last Thursday I headed into Saskatchewan on a trip that would hopefully involve a few different lakes and more than a couple different fish species on the fly. The trip had been planned for a while (back to last November actually) which was very unlike me and was almost a step in the right direction as far as planning goes save for the fact that it landed smack dab on my seven year wedding anniversary (which is exactly like me). My wife raised an eyebrow when I told her the date and for a split second I felt like an idiot but then I thought of the potential of catching some real big trout and the feeling quickly passed. It is kind of scary how well I can take an ass chewing both at work and at home, something I neither brag about nor’ deny; a learned ability that has aided me in minimising stress.

               So with the truck packed I met up with Steve Donnelly and we headed east into Gods country. The one thing I enjoy more than anything about fly fishing in a province which is deemed devoid of trout is the fact that no one fishes the lakes frequently enough for there to be any real information on them. You always seem to head a little into the unknown and every first fish seems like a small victory on virgin waters. Needless to say secrets and information is tight and if you expect to have consistent success you had better quickly befriend a few capable diehard trout fisherman. Luckily I have such a circle and the reports I was getting from the two lakes I had planned to fish were completely contradicting one another. One guy told me to avoid Lake A and spend my entire time on Lake B whereas the other guy told me the opposite. Fortunately Mother Nature helped decide as the wind was howling for most of the weekend anyway. We would spend our time on the smaller of the two which had more places to hide from the wind.

               We arrived at the lake sometime shortly after eight AM. We rigged up and headed out in my small twelve foot aluminum. Eyeballing the sonar we slowly cruised along the drop looking for fish. The lake had excellent shoal areas which were abruptly interrupted by steep drop offs into 27-35 feet of water. At this time of year the name of the game is finding the thermocline. With water temperatures elevated (low to mid 70’s) the trout are seeking refuge of the cooler, better oxygenated water. What I was hoping to find was where the thermocline met up with the bottom. My hopes were we would mark fish in these locations (which we did). After only about 5 minutes we found fish holing 21 feet down right where the lake came up from 32 to 27 feet of water and continued right up to 15 feet. We backed out into the deeper water and anchored up. I had noticed a tonne of sticklebacks in the shallows so I tied on a small balanced leech/stickleback/damselfly/ immature dragonfly pattern that has been a deadly for me. A foot above it I rigged up a small chironomid. We set our indicators at 21 feet and cast towards the drop.

The first Tiger of the trip.

               It didn’t take long for my indicator to go down. I set the hook and after a short fight I was surprised to land a chunky 14” Tiger trout (brook trout X brown trout). The lake, as far as I had known, had no tigers stocked. This definitely got us excited as Steve had never landed a Tiger trout which only meant that he could knock them off his list of fish to catch along with the brook trout that were in the lake (there were also rainbows as well). By the way, if you have never hooked a Tiger trout they are bulldogs. They pretty much are nose down swimming away from you the whole time. With the water temperatures as they were I opted to let the fish go as quickly as possible (no throat sample). I should point out when water temperatures are up try to land fish as quickly as you can and try to minimize handling.
One of many small brook trout landed over the weekend.
               I reset and was into another fish almost immediately. This time it was a small brook trout. Release, reset, repeat. Noticing the trend Steve increased his leader length and reset at the right depth. He quickly hooked a fish which he initially thought was small, right up to the point it launched itself two feet out of the water. After a 5 minute fight Steve cradled a gorgeous 4 lb rainbow in the net.

Steve's 1st rainbow of the trip.


 The action continued much the same for the next hour or so with a trout every 5-10 minutes. We never hooked into anything overly big until my indicator literally shot under the water. At first I thought I was into a big rainbow but the slow determined runs finally revealed my quarry as a large Tiger trout could be seen floundering 75 yards away. The fish pulled the whole time I gained line on it and when we finally slid the net under it I was quite impressed. To date it was my biggest Tiger, my best guess in the 3.5 – 4 lb range. We took a quick picture and sent it on its way.

My biggest Tiger trout to date!

               We landed a few more smaller brookies and then decided to call it a day close to 1:30 seeing as Steve and I still had to head to camp and meet up with a couple of buddies who were arriving that afternoon.

               The next morning we were welcomed at the boat launch by white caps. We tried to find shelter from the wind but after a few fruitless hours (Steve landed one small brookie) we headed back to camp for some serious power napping. This was very new to me as I am usually a sun up until sun down kind of guy, but when it is windy and a dirty cold front is moving through in July, even I know when to make an exception.

A good way to start off the last day!
              Our last morning the wind had subsided somewhat and we decided to fish the smaller of the two lakes on account of the great fishing we had the morning of day one. We moved to the spot we had been having success the first morning and set up. In short order Steve landed a healthy 16” Tiger working a streamer on a sinking line. I once again set up with the indicator and small balanced leech pattern. After 15 minutes and no luck we pulled anchor and moved out another 20 feet. I checked my depth and reset and soon my indicator went down. Another good looking rainbow shot out of the water and made a few quick runs before I slid it into the net. A quick picture and it was gone. I reset and five minutes later had another good fish on. The fish bore deep so I never new what I had on right up until it was alongside the boat. When I slid the net under it I was pretty impressed with the rainbow on the bottom of the boat. Another quick photo and release. 

A great Sask Rainbow!

             We landed some more smaller brook trout throughout the day (Steve did most of that) and after a quick meal back at camp we finished the day in a small bay where Steve landed one more nice rainbow and I managed to land another brookie. All and all, for the kind of conditions we had and the variety of trout we were getting into, I was more than content as I headed home Sunday.

A nice way to end the trip.

Friday, 28 June 2013

Fortress Lake Retreat

The truth about fishing trips is that they are often more about where you go and how you get there than about what you catch.’”

                                                                                                            – John Gierach

This past weekend I had the good fortune of knocking Fortress Lake located in British Columbia off of my bucket list as my ever understanding wife had bought the trip for me as a thirtieth birthday present. Sometimes I wonder if she gets just how passionate I am about fly-fishing; but when she goes and does something like this I really do feel like I am starting to break her resolve (rewarding and kinda sad at the same time). If you are curious where and what Fortress Lake is then I suggest you crawl out from under your rock you have been living under and check out the website Fortress Lake Retreat. Simply put it offers some of the best brook trout fishing you will find anywhere. My fishing partner this time around was my prodigy and casting hotshot Justin Mecklar.
Two conquering anglers ready to tackle leviathan Brook Trout.

     Our hosts for the trip were Dave and Amelia Jenson who, if you are wondering, are the Canadian equivalent of Joan and Lee Wulff (Much younger though). Through out are stay they were extremely helpful and along with the other staff, Kevin (part owner) and Andrew (ace fire builder and guide), made our time with them as comfortable as can be expected when you are in the middle of nowhere. Actually, to be honest, the amenities offered far exceeded anything I expected. I was full on preparing to go four days without showering (which I did anyway) and was surprised by the hot water on demand system in place and the flush toilets. Needless to say by day four I was the only one in camp smelling like a sea side shit-house after boxing day (flies are lucky!).

Justin definitely improved his casting with some good advice...not from me of course.

       The food and accommodations were top notch. I know I am not easy to please but really the food was, in my opinion, exceptional. I think the best part about it was our first night having Kevin bring our supper out to us while we cast streamers along the shore. Definitely better than PB&J I am used too! Honestly though, I fealt spoiled.
      The flight in was absolutely breathtaking. Yeah, I said it, breathtaking. Words can't describe it and I am not going to try to attempt but I hope that when (if) I am on my way through the pearly gates of heaven they look something like the view of our final approach into Fortress.
Brookie Heaven!
One hell of a nice trout!
      Towering peaks loom over head as you cast your flies into turquoise waters and if that isn't enough the rumbling of an avalanche echoing through the valley is more than enough to remind you just how insignificant you are. This is big powerful country that, if you pull yourself away from the fishing or conversation for a moment overwhelms you and leaves you with goosebumps.
       During our stay the fishing was a little off although still good by my standards. The inconsistency in the weather pushing through did create some challenges during our stay and despite what you can be lead to believe brook trout are brook trout and when they are not feeding they are not feeding. Sure, we didn't catch the numbers of brook trout I was probably hoping to spoil myself with, but the average size is better than anything I have experienced anywhere else.

Myself proving once again you don't always have to look good to catch fish!

      We did get a taste of the exceptional fishing that can be had at Fortress one afternoon. The sun was out, the wind was calm and the brook trout were more than willing to eat our flies and trust me, when big brook trout are eating your flies all is right in the universe. That was of course until another storm front moved through and shut the fishing down. Still, it was just enough to whet our appetites and remind us of what a truly exceptional place Fortress Lake is.
       In the end I can truthfully say that I have never experienced a place (or some of the other guests...sheesh!) like Fortress. I will return, if anything for the people and the scenery as much as the fishing. And if you know me that speaks volumes (as do the following pictures). If you like big brook trout you owe it to yourself to go because Fortress Lake truly is the trip of a lifetime.

The entire lake to ourselves.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

A time for Change

     This weekend I spent a couple of days on a local "run of the mill" put-and-take Alberta stocked trout lake (Little Bear Lake). Fishing was, in my opinion, very good considering the lake has been stocked with 25,000-28,000 trout for as long as the SRD stocking reports tell me. My fishing partner and I landed several trout in the 5-6 lb range. Some were freshly released brood stock from the local fish hatchery and some that had overwintered the last couple of years (very noticeable difference in fighting quality). The catch rate was high and we never went more than five minutes before one of our strike indicators dipped below the surface. All and all I was satisfied with my experience on the water.

Justin Mecklar with a "brooder"

        Part of me has to wonder how much this lake could benefit from a little regulation and some help from an aeration system. What would some of those trout be like in say their third and fourth seasons? Most of the anglers that were fishing on the lake had no idea what the limit was and or if there were size restrictions. In my opinion SRD's move to implement quality trout lakes throughout Alberta is a good one that all anglers can benefit from. Of the 300 stocked lakes in Alberta only a handful are managed as quality lakes with reduced limits and seasonal closures. The current census is that a majority of anglers would rather catch a few larger trout rather than lots of little ones. I am sure it will be a slow one but my hopes are that through the bureaucratic process this lake will be given the opportunity to meet its full potential.

My "wet sock"
To be honest though I haven't given this lake much thought until this season. The idea that it is managed as a put-and-take fishery coupled with frequent winter-kill has always encouraged me to seek big trout elsewhere. This springs revelation that trout have overwintered along with a good average size have peeked my interest in its potential as a candidate for lake aeration and quality regulations. The more time I spend on it the more it reminds me of big fish "haunts" elsewhere.

A healthy trout that will probably be lost to winter-kill without lake aeration.

     I have already been in communication with the local area biologist, the local Fish and Game Assoc. and a few other like minded anglers who I am hoping will get behind the idea. As far as I am concerned the proof of the lakes potential are evident in the quality of the fish that it is producing despite heavy angler use and in my mind, a crap creel limit that reflects a dated mindset.

     Hopefully the general angling populous of this area will feel the same. Like anything entailing change there is usually resistance and opposition from people set in their ways, and I can sympathize with that if only to a limited degree. I strongly feel that if angling opportunities in this province are to be maintained and or enhanced than the notion that a management plan on a lake or stream to reduce government costs and promote conservation has to become everyone.

Justin getting the hang of indicator fishing.
      Still, I can accept this past weekend for what it was. Simply put, some fine trout fishing and laughs with a friend getting into the sport.

      Small micro leeches with some chironomids splashed in the mix produced well anywhere from 7 to 18 feet of water. I even lost a "mystery" fish at one point that definitely peeked my interest as it never showed itself and left me guessing at how big it may have been. The last time I checked we had estimated its weight around 9 lb's based on the "feel" (give or take a couple of pounds).
A good trout on any water-body.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

The Learning Curve

     This past Friday I had the opportunity to fish with a friend who, over the last three seasons, has started getting more into fly fishing . I enjoy getting on the water with people just starting out as every fish seems to have a little more meaning. As much as I enjoy success and catching trout I am finding greater enjoyment teaching people in becoming more proficient fly-fisherman. This isn't to say that I myself am an expert. In fact, one thing I have learned over the years is that just when you think you have a good handle on things someone comes along and shows you that you have a long way to go to becoming Zen like in the art of fly-fishing. Still, I figure the least I can do is maybe give someone a different way of looking at things.  My hope for the day was to show Keith how to fish chironomids and micro leeches below an indicator.

     It is amazing how much a guy can take for granted after doing something for years. We arrived at the lake just before eight AM and quickly started rigging up. I went over a typical setup starting with the leader, strike indicator, barrel swivel. Keith was quick to ask about the barrel swivel. I explained that when using a mono leader and fluorocarbon tippet you run the risk of having the harder fluorocarbon cutting the softer mono filament at the knot. By using a small barrel swivel you eliminate this problem as well you ad a little weight to the leader to get your flies down. We each rigged up with a micro leach as the top fly and differing colored chironomids on point. I also showed him how to tie the non-slip loop knot and explained its importance in giving life to our flies.

Keith with one of many trout caught under the "bobber"
We made our way out and were soon double anchored in ten feet of water. Although we had some smaller fish showing interest I knew there were better fish to be had. We quickly moved to a sheltered side of a small point in twelve feet of water and reset our anchors. With the wind howling the last thing I wanted was to have a new comer discouraged from untangling rats nests that can come with casting an indicator and double fly setup. We were back into fish again and were now landing 12-14" fish (not huge I know but definitely confidence boosters for Keith). I did manage to land a healthy 17" fish and after a quick throat sample sent it on its way. Nothing of course in the throat sample...

       We continued fishing throughout the day and although I did manage to land another 16" fish we never did touch anything bigger than the 12-14" average. The action was fast and furious however and as much as I am sure it helped Keith get a feel for fishing in this manner I definitely managed to work off the winter rust.

     Towards the end of the day the wind died enough to move to the downwind side of the lake. I noticed several good boils in the shallows so we opted to move into five feet of water adjacent to a weed bed. We reset our indicators so our point fly was a foot off the bottom and cast out. Keith landed another smaller fish and it looked like we would be ending our day on that note.
He cast out again and let his indicator settle. No more than 30 seconds later his indicator dunked under and he set the hook. The fish immediately shot out of the water and I was surprised to see it was a healthy 4-5 lb rainbow. It dove into the weeds and as quickly as it started it was over. I was quick to point out that with fishing indicators you never know how big the fish will be when the "bobber" slips under. I was also quick to point out that it was probably the biggest fish of the day and that he would never hook another one like it (I enjoy pouring salt on fresh wounds).

     As Keith was re-rigging I noticed what looked like a good boil near a tree sticking up out of the water. I picked up my line and fired my flies right smack in the middle of the rings. The indicator immediately shot under the water and I raised my rod tip. After a somewhat lengthy battle I netted a dark 19" male. Although not the biggest trout I have ever landed it definitely felt good, especially after the long crappy winter we have had. We decided to call it a day and headed in.

A good way to end the day.

     I encourage any of you out there to try and introduce someone to fly-fishing. Whether young or old there is a lifetime of enjoyment waiting to be had by both the teacher and the student. Sure, sometimes it can be frustrating, but the rewards almost always outweigh the shortfalls.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

When it Rains it Pours

     Yesterday I headed out for the first time this season to a favorite trout lake. I had checked my gear the day before, inflating the pontoon boat and float tube to check for leaks (wait for it...), retied knots and went over my gear. With the truck loaded I went to bed for a sleepless night.

      3:30 AM Couldn't have come quick enough. I was on the road for the two hour drive to meet an old friend and hopefully catch a trout or two. Smoking a dried out cigar from my vacation in February and listening to the Nightwatchmen (Tom Morello) I watched as the sun began its march to noon. I was happy and content and thought to myself, "this is gonna be a good day,"

      I was welcomed at my destination with calm waters, the cry of loons and not another soul insight. Excitement took over as I quickly began gearing up. The rods were rigged, waders donned and the pontoon boat ready to be inflated. I pumped up both pontoons only to hear the horrendous hiss as air was escaping one of my bladders. No problem. I always pack my belly-boat just in case. To my horror it too had a leak.

     I waited until Kent showed up to try a quick patch job as I was all out of Aquaseal but to no avail.

     As I begrudgingly drove home I thought whoever coined the phrase, "a bad day of fishing sure beats a good day of working," probably never had a run of bad luck like that. Sitting at a railroad crossing waiting for a train to pass I noticed a fresh deer carcass near the tracks, "you and me buddy!"

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Dragon fly Nymphs

"I kill where I wish and none dare resist. I laid low the warriors of old and their like is not in the world today."

                                                                                                             - Smaug

      I have a fondness for fishing dragonfly nymphs simply because on average, they catch big fish. I do not, however, have a great desire to tie them. I have wasted a lot of time and tying material trying to come up with a pattern that I fealt represented the large Aeshnidae (Darners) and smaller Libellulidae in looks and animation but also fished worth a damn in places where dragonfly nymphs live (the bottom of stillwaters). This poses a problem in that for the flies to have any consistent success whatsoever you must fish in and around debris strewn bottoms and macrophytic growth (weeds).

     I have been a believer in floating patterns ever since I read "The Gilly" and learned of Alf Davey's Bottom Walker. The concept was not entirely new (Gary Lafontaine used deer hair poppers on fast sinking lines for Bass) but it was entirely new to me on how one could approach lake fishing for trout. I have found fishing a floating nymph on sinking lines the best way to imitate the dragon nymphs and so I have been persuing the "ultimate" dragon nymph for some time now.

     Have I finally cracked it? Hell no!!!! But I do have a pattern that floats all day, looks and breaths with life like the real thing and gets crushed when trout are on to them. Fine by me.

     This isn't to say that their aren't a lot of great patterns already out there. Dunc's floating Carey is a great pattern as it can imitate a multitude of insect species. The Gomphus is a classic (if you have never read Jack Shaw's "Fly Fish the Trout Lakes" you should) and Phil rowley's Draggin is a great imitator of the large Darners and fishes well. It is just that I have always observed dragon patterns as something rarely persued by creative minds and for the most part many patterns really don't do the bug justice. That and I just wanted to come up with a pattern I could call my own. It is an amalgamation of various aspects of other patterns that I like and I feel it makes it entirely its own....maybe!

       This current batch is for a bloke by the name of John Kent who, if he wasn't so busy tying flies for everyone else, would probably be better able to do them justice.

     If anyone is interested in details on the patterns let me know. I can post recipies...


Sunday, 7 April 2013

Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow

  "Now nearly all those I loved and did not understand when I was young are dead, but I still reach out to them."

                                                                                                                                  - Norman Maclean

As a teenager on one of many pilgrimages to the Bow River in Alberta

      As like any fly fisherman during the winter months, I spend a lot of time reflecting the past season and anticipating the new one. This of course is speckled with the odd ice fishing trip that, if anything, allows me to get out of the house and remind myself that I am still willing and able. I may even catch a fish or two if I do everything right which isn't often.

     To me there is something about the cold winter here in Canada that almost purifies us. It is tied to who we are and escaping it is almost like trying to be something else entirely. This isn't to say that our winters are enjoyable by any stretch but one learns to appreciate the pace of life it brings which is essentially a crawl. Every fall we go in holding our breath and each spring we come out gasping for air as if we are being baptized. In all honesty though, it's as if mother nature is saying, " see how bad it can be?" It is also an eye opener to just how much I enjoy fishing. There is nothing that spells dedication and passion (or stupidity) like traipsing out onto a frozen lake in -37 degree Celsius weather to attempt to catch a fish you are more than likely going to let go anyway. You climb into your tent, light your heater and periodically step out to wave to the other idiots who are just as like-minded as you are.

A couple of Lakers destined for the smoker.
       I wonder if people who head south for the winter eventually get tired of having a tan all the time. While the rest of us are trying to catch the first good heat waves in May and June they are walking around, sticking out like smarties in a peanut bowl. Probably not, but I have thought people who travel elsewhere for the winter months to prolong/continue their fishing season may, at some point, simply get tired of catching trophy fish. It would be like the equivalent of you or me catching fifty twelve inch trout except that the twelve inch trout are leviathan Browns or some exotic saltwater species. I can see it now: somewhere in Argentina some pompous asshole is complaining that he only caught seventy five trout on size 16 dry flies and there was not one in the lot over 25 inches. I doubt that too, but I know if something were to ever push me to the brink and force me to ask myself, " why am I doing this?" then it isn't worth it. Can you sense the envy?

      This isn't to say that I haven't thought about heading south for a fishing holiday, on the contrary. I plan on doing it someday when the winter eventually numbs me to my core every waking moment and I have to wear the red one piece underwear to bed (or when there are no more idiots on the lake to wave too). I am sure I will enjoy it and relish (even appreciate) every moment of it, but I doubt I would be able to stay away for too long. There is just something about my spring rebirth I am so used to that lets me appreciate those twelve inch trout a little more with each passing season. You could almost call it a "Spiritual awakening" but my wife would tell you it is just the start of the fishing season.

Robert Varey played an integral role in my development as a fly fisherman.
      Winter also allows me to reflect on those in my life who I get to experience my passion with, past, present and future. Looking back over the years, I have had and still have the good fortune to spend many days on the water with some real character people. Many of my fondest memories involve fly fishing and the people that were there to enjoy those moments with me. In the end it is the fisherman and not the fish that stand out. Perhaps that is why we take so many hero shots of fish we have caught. They become secondary to time spent sitting around campfires and the bonds forged in their embers.

      I can vaguely remember one of the first fish I ever caught, but the mental picture of the frustration on my fathers face dealing with rats nests' and lost lures is ever so vivid. Later, as I got into fly fishing, I was fortunate to have my father encourage me to do something he knew nothing about.

      I can't imagine the feeling he must have had as his ten year old son stood lip quivering next to a trout pond because he lost all except one of the overpriced store bought flies. I remember my father quickly tying on the last fly, reassuring me the knot would hold. I remember casting and awkwardly laying down the fly line which was followed by seconds that seemed like eternity. Then, just as suddenly as someone flicking on a switch, I was hooked. The tip of the fly line darted, I raised the rod tip like the books had said and like, "that," something that seemed so far away was right there in front of me. I can't imagine the feeling he must have had at that moment but from the expression on his face I can speculate. I remember that day as a turning point in my life and I hope I can look back on it after another twenty years and still appreciate it for what it was.

A wasted misspent youth...

      My fathers patience and persistence paid off for he has instilled a passion for the outdoors in me that burns to this day and I am ever indebted to him for that. Going forward, I know my kids will remember, "Dad loosing his shit," but I hope they won't lose site of the fact that Dad was trying. Which brings me to my little bit of wisdom of the day on parenting. The hardest part about being a dad isn't trying to encourage your kids to do the things you love to do but to let go and accept and encourage the things they want to do. I might have made some mistakes on this point but luckily I have three boys meaning I am bound to get it right eventually.

I have a group of fishing friends roughly my age now that I do most of my, " should have thought this through," fishing with. For the most part a lot of the bad ideas are mine meaning I will take 40% of the blame when trips don't go as planned. Still, I try to get out and fish with those who helped mold me as a fly fisherman though not as frequently as I would like. I am also reminded that we aren't getting any younger and as I see them less and less I am always reminded of my own mortality and that all good things will come to an end eventually. The lakes or streams have to be more easily accessible and naps are
common with these guys. I spent years fishing with them and over time we have grown apart, in distance and in life but the bond, I doubt, can ever be severed.

     Some day the phone calls will stop and I will be left to hope that maybe at least one of my kids will want to take me fishing.

Codi Butterfield on an Alberta lake.
Good friendships can be found and forged on a trout lake.