Friday, November 18, 2011

An Atypical Fall

Continuing with my fall catch-up my next trip after Fortress Lake involved escorting a group of fly fishers back to my current stillwater paradise, the lakes of southwest Manitoba.  A region blessed with incredibly productive lakes, large browns, rainbow and tigers nestled within un-crowded rural landscape.  A land of six or 7 weight rods and minimum 2x tippet!  All in all, my kind of place!

Few things beat a spectacular sunset

I was fortunate to arrive the evening prior to everyone arriving to get things set up for the week.  Unload and sort out the food, check out to make sure the accommodations were in order and get my presentation materials organized for the seminars that are a feature of these hosted trips.  Bob and I were able to get things done efficiently so we were able to pre fish one of our featured lakes to see what we might expect.

As I readied my boat and gear it still felt like summer, warm and muggy.  The lake was still in bloom and the unseasonably water temperatures showed no sign of the fall fishing we were hoping to run into.  We tested out our usual favorites but fishing proved tough.  In the mid-afternoon backswimmers began to stir.  These larger cousins of the water boatman began to take flight while others returned to the lake crashing into the surface like tiny pebbles.  It took a while for the trout to clue in and respond. As soon as I saw the first aggressive swirl of a trout chasing a backswimmer I grabbed my Outbound Hover complete with a washing line set-up.  I had been hoping this might happen and had prepared my second rod in anticipation.

Backwimmers were on the move

The washing line is an English presentation technique. It is an excellent method for imitating water boatman and backswimmers.  A buoyant fly is placed on the point.  Between the buoyant point fly a traditional, non-buoyant pattern hangs from a dropper.  The buoyant fly helps keep the other fly within the depth zone you are targeting or when working near the bottom away from weeds and debris.  I wanted to target the top 3-4 feet.  So in my case one of my favorite boatman or backswimmer patterns featured in my latest book, Steve Jenning’s Ultimate Boatman on point coupled with a smaller boatman pattern and my hover line proved perfect.  Or so I thought.

For those who don’t have my latest book, StillwaterSelections here is the Ultimate Boatman recipe:

Hook:    Mustad S82-3906 #12
Thread: 8/0 Olive
Body:     5/8ths Foam Body Slim, White or Tan
Legs:      SuperStretch Floss or Stillwater Solutions Midge Stretch Floss, Olive

Tying Note:  Use permanent markers to provide the necessary markings on the foam body.  Coat your finished artwork with thinned C-Flex Cement or Soft-Tex.

Fish were swirling all around me.  A few chased the backswimmers across the surface pushing large wakes.  Their behavior reminded me of a dog snapping at your ankles.  Despite my best efforts to plop the fly in the ring of the rise I couldn’t hook up.  After a few minutes of frenzied fish activity it went quiet so I made a long cast, let the fly sink for roughly ten seconds and then began a slow erratic hand twist retrieve.  About halfway back to the boat the line simply went tight and then a whole lot of head shaking began.  After a number of runs a few cartwheels I had a beautiful fat pound rainbow resting in my hands.  It was shaping up to be another memorable week in the Parklands.

Ultimate Boatman 1 Trout 0 (Courtesy of B. Vanderwater)

Our group arrived, had dinner and after I provided an introductory session settled in for the night.  The following morning was just ugly.  Strong winds from the northeast and driving rain.  We lasted until roughly 2pm before cooler heads prevailed.  Fishing was tough and of the people who accompanied me that day we only managed a couple of small rainbows.

The next day was a typical post cold front day.  Bright clear skies, a temperature drop of about 10C and strong winds once again.  With all the change and transition following the passage of a cold front fish had shut down.  It proved a good day for sightseeing around the lake, showing different techniques for slow conditions such as hanging flies static beneath indicators, slow retrieves, working deeper areas, and targeting areas foraging fish might be found.  Beaver lodges, weed beds, sunken islands and drop offs.  It was not a banner day for fish catching by any stretch.
And then there are tiger trout.  These fish are a ‘bucket list’ experience for many who attend my hosted trips.  A brown/brown trout hybrid these fish are unique, aggressive and in the Parklands reach appreciable sizes.  Twin Lake, located just north of Roblin is a catch and release fishery that is consistently reliable.  For me it is a lake that fishes better as the day progress.  This trip proved no exception.  We were welcomed once again by a familiar companion, wind.  Some of the strongest I have seen on this small and typically well protected lake.  

As was the case earlier in the week the washing line technique proved a valuable technique.  Backswimmers began to move in the mid-afternoon.  Although the breeze was still an issue the aggressive swirls and splashes began to increase in numbers and frequency.  

I couldn’t resist any longer! Tigers are a blast on top.  Often you can drag them up using a large #8 or #6 popper or dry fly such as a Chernobyl Ant stripped and twitched across the surface.  In keeping with my washing line theme I grabbed my 6-weight rod rigged with a Rio Grand and rigged up a ChernobylAnt on point coupled with the Ultimate Boatman on a 6-inch dropper.  Within a few seconds I had my first rise and promptly missed it.  Chalking it up to excitement I recast and began twitching and twisting the fly back.  A second fish rolled, again on the boatman, I waited longer than the perquisite, “God save the Queen” count just to be sure. I missed the fish again.  This happened seven times in a row!  I brought my fly in close to see how it was working.  Everything seemed fine.

Tiger trout smash surface flies with almost reckless abandon at times

I swapped the flies around going for more of a hopper dropper approach.  The tigers didn’t seem to like this arrangement nearly as much as I think the boatman dangled a bit too deep, back to my original arrangement. Casting out, again my theory proved fact as I soon had a rise but once again no hook up.  This was getting humorous! At least that’s the way I remember it! The Ultimate Boatman rides in the surface film just like the natural backswimmers it was called to imitate.  I felt that the dropper set-up might be injecting just enough slack so the fish spat the fly just as I was coming tight. 

I stripped the flies in and re-rigged tying the Chernobyl directly off the bend of the boatman so it trailed some 2-3 feet behind.  Within seconds of placing the flies near a recent rise a rolled on the boatman. This time I did not miss.  For the rest of the afternoon I hooked fish consistently.  It proved an interesting lesson that I stowed away for future reference the next time I run into a similar situation.

Beautiful Parklands brown (Courtesy of B.Stokes)

While the trip was the gangbuster event it typically is Twin and its typically cooperative tigers iced the cake.  Getting them on top was an added bonus.  The week proved itself to be one of perseverance and patience.  Driving home the lesson that you have to play the hand you are dealt and make the best of the conditions before you.  Heck, it beats working doesn’t it?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Sight Fishing Stillwaters

It has been ages since I last provided a post.  This past fall has been one of my busiest.  My travels have taken me to Manitoba twice, B.C. twice and Utah for stillwater seminars and filming.  I have been home steady for the better part of two weeks now and I am only now starting to feel a sense of being in control and caught up

Breathtaking scenery awaits you at Fortress Lake
Rather than cram all of the experiences, tales and lessons in one entry I thought it best to walk through each adventure at an entry per week pace.  So let’s go back-up to early September and Fortress Lake.
The purpose of this trip was two-fold.  I had a small group to start that was part of a hosted trip I had put together with Dave and Amelia from Fortress Lake Retreat that was part of two auction donations we put together in support of Trout Unlimited Canada’s coldwater conservation efforts.  For the second part of my trip I was joined by eight students as I provided one of my stillwater schools.  The weather was spectacular and conditions couldn’t have been better.

Located in Hamber Provincial Park, Fortress Lake is located along the B.C./Alberta border, its eastern end a mere stone’s throw from the Alberta border.  Running in an east west direction, Fortress Lake is approximately seven miles long and up to one mile wide.  It is a mono-culture fishery full of trophy Lake Nipigon coaster strain brook trout first introduced in the early 1930’s.  Fortress Lake Retreat is an Orvis Endorsed Expedition lodge and was the recipient of the 2011 Expedition of the Year.  For all of its remoteness, the facilities and food are first class.

The flight into Fortress Lake is spectacular
Visitors have the choice of visiting Fortress Lake Retreat by float plane, an approximate five hour hike or three hour mountain bike trek.  For those interested in the hike or bike option Dave and Amelia pick you up at the east end of the lake and ferry you down the lake to the retreat.  The floatplane, of course, drops you off right at the lodge.  For me I lean towards the floatplane option as the scenic flight alone is worth the price of admission.

At this time of the year Brook trout were beginning to congregate in large numbers at the mouth of Chisel Creek and in the Wood River which flows out the west end of Fortress.  The Wood River is closed to fishing at this time of the year but the approaches are still fishable.  Chisel Creek is minutes away from the camp and during calm evenings we would venture down there and sight fish to cruising brookies using #10 Elk Hair Caddis or Stimulators.  At times mouse patterns also produce providing for some explosive surface action.  Watching a large brookie leisurely rise to the fly is breathtaking.  Not all of the brook trout were pushovers.  Often they completely ignored everything tossed at them or worse followed it with apparent interest only to turn away at the last second.  Combined with the short walk and sheer numbers of fish it was tough to leave the mouth of Chisel and shoreline areas around the camp to pursue fish elsewhere.  The compelling scenery and a chance to explore provided a powerful lure you shouldn’t pass up.

No matter where you are on Fortess always keep an eye out for pods of brook trout

We had a number of sticky hot, flat calm days that were perfect for sight fishing.  It something to see one or more large brook trout meandering leisurely prowling the woody debris or worse passing directly under your boat without an apparent care in the world.  Cruising the edges of the lake, we often came across pods of brook trout, sometimes 10 to 15 fish or more, darker males above difficult to see silver females below.  We always crossed open water slowly, always on watch for a wayward pod.

Watching a large brook trout chase down your fly is an exhilarating experience

As Dave from Fortress Lake Retreat told us, “Wood is good!” In and around sunken or trees that suspended out into the water brook trout were often around.  After spotting a likely looking haunt we cut the motor well back rowing towards our target, rod at the ready.  Often, you would see one or more brook trout suspended against a tree looking more like bass than brook trout.  We learned to take our time, study our quarry and get into the right position to make the cast.  If possible, getting behind the fish provided the best chance for success.  Your first cast provided the best opportunity for a hook up.

Ken on 'point' keeps a watchful eye for cruising brook trout

My line of choice was a Rio Deep 4 line that sinks at about 4-inches per second.  The crystal clear water gave the impression that the fish was only a few feet down but experience soon taught everyone that the fish were much deeper.  It was important to get the fly down quickly and with the 4-6 inch strips we used most often the line kept the fly level during the retrieve.  We also took fish using CamoLux clear intermediates and Nymph Lines and long leaders.  My Balanced Leeches worked well in and around the sunken debris.  These flies ride point up and tended not to get hung up should a tight cast be necessary.

Aggressive fish bolted from cover and pound large streamers without hesitation.  The pace at which they rushed the fly was unbelievable.  As the week progressed we found smaller #6-#8 dubbed leeches and Woolly Buggers worked better.

A palm full of healthy Fortress Lake brook trout

I recall one morning at Washout Creek.  Ken, one of Dave’s guides, and I had spotted a pod of fish milling around the outflow of a small creek attracted by the cool stream of oxygenated water.  Ken began working to these fish as they drifted in and out of view.  After a few minutes something made me look out to the main body of the lake.  Silhouetted against the turquoise blue background was a lone large brook trout, seemingly suspended in space.  Doing my best to remain calm I lead the fish with my small black/blue leech.  My fly plopped a good 15-20 ahead of the fish and I recall saying to Ken, “I think I led him far too much, hopefully he will see the fly.”  I began to strip the fly back aggressively, in part because I figured I would have to place the fly a little closer to him.  I was wrong.  As the fly passed in front the brookie spotted it and pounced, covering the distance between itself and the fly in the blink of an eye.  The memory is still as vivid now as it was then.

Will it take the fly or turn away at the last second?

The sight fishing opportunities at Fortress are amongst the best I have ever experienced.  In 2012 I will co-host a specific sight fishing school with Dave Jensen from August 27-31.  We will teach you how to approach fish, casting techniques, dry fly and streamer tactics, equipment and fly selection and much more.  To get a measure of what to expect check out the sight fishing video segment Dave has put together on his website.  Check out this video clip I took with my Pentax Optio camera.

I will also be holding a chironomid school from June 18-22, 2012.  Fortress Lake has an unbelievable chironomid hatch at this time.  At times you think you are sitting in a blizzard.  The surface is littered with shucks and there are thousands of chironomids flying around.  Brook trout of all sizes including some monsters take full advantage of this bounty gobbling huge numbers of large (#10-#12) chironomid pupa.  At this time Fortress Lake offers the opportunity to take fish using strike indicators, floating lines and long leaders and a number of different sinking line techniques.  Rarely do you find a location that offers the opportunity to target fish with such a variety of chironomid techniques.

Students will have the choice of hiking/biking in or by float plane.  Please keep an eye out on my website Calendar or the Fortress Lake Retreat website for additional details.

For additional images from my Fortress experience please check out the album on my Facebook page.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Friends Family and Dry Fly Cutts

After watering up in Rocky Mountain House I handed over my IPhone to my wife Patsy.  For the next week I would be off the radar as I began a welcome vacation.  The first one we had taken as a family in quite some time.  Handing over the phone wasn’t too much of a sacrifice as I was going to be out of cell range anyway.  But I understood the symbolism of Patsy’s gesture.  Roughly an hour later we were nestled amongst the eastern slopes of the Rockies. 

Not a bad view upstream from camp

Good friends Bob and Karen joined us, both familiar with the area and what we could expect.  We camped in a field close to the river.  Our 19 foot trailer set up less than 100 yards from the river.  Each night the peaceful sound of running water soothed us as we drifted off to sleep.  Scramble camping, as Bob referred to it.  No fees, no rules, our dogs could run free and a good supply of dry firewood within easy reach.  The flame broiled steaks and hamburgers were superb!

Bob likes his beef flame broiled

The river we were on teamed with Westslope cutthroat, each willing and eager to eat dry flies.  My fly boxes were stuffed with all manner of foam and rubber, Chernobyl Ants, Charlie Boy Hoppers and Orange Crushes (a variation on the Chernobyl Ant theme).  As it turned out foam and rubber wasn’t the order of the day.  Mayflies were.  Pale Morning Duns (PMD’s), Green Drakes, Less Green Drakes (Flavs) and Dark Red Quills greeted us on almost every run.  Patsy, my two sons Brandon and Sean would be able to fish dry fly’s exclusively for the entire week.

Brandon, Patsy and Sean

I fished two dry flies the entire week, a poly winged olive Sparkle Dun and my own Stillwater Dun tied with an olive body and yellow rib to suggest the Green Drakes that the cutts seemed to show a preference for.  The Stillwater Dun can be found in my latest book, Stillwater Selections.  It is a thorax style dry fly that was originally designed for Callibaetis focused stillwater trout.  By altering its size and color scheme it has proven deadly imitating river and stream mayflies.  I have tweaked the recipe that is currently in my book by swapping the split partridge hackle tails with more durable blue dun hackle.  Here is my Green Drake and Lesser Green Drake (Flav) incantation, tie up a few for your fly box.

Stillwater Dun (Green Drake/Flav)

Hook:  Mustad C49S #8-#12
Thread: Olive 8/0
Tail: Blue saddle, trimmed to a V to form a forked tail, use one size larger saddle or neck than the hook
Rib: Yellow embroidery thread (one strand)
Body: Stillwater Solutions Soft Blend dubbing, olive
Wing: Grey poly yarn
Hackle: Grizzly dyed olive

Tying Note:  Trim the hackle beneath the fly using a two-step process. First, make one perpendicular cut across the bottom hackles roughly on the same plane as the hook point.  V trim the hackle to finish.  The end result is a fly that always lands right side up.

Cutt released to fight another day

The river’s resident cutts were fat, healthy and polite.  The day’s activity really didn’t get going until the air temperatures rose and the sun warmed the water.  Still, we were in the foothills and frost was an occurrence on a few mornings.  We had to be on the water at the crack of noon and by dinner time the day’s surface activity wound down to a trickle.  A short window perhaps but one perfectly timed for the relaxing week we planned on enjoying.  No mad sprint to the water to beat the crowds.  For the most part we never saw another angler. Each run contained fish and some runs where literally boiling if a hatch was on the go, a common occurrence for most of the week.

Mayflies of all sizes and colors were out in force

I thoroughly enjoyed teaching and helping my family the finer points of river fishing.  My sons have spent most of their time chasing trout on stillwaters so teaching them the value of short accurate casts, proper positioning, how to study a run, deciphering rise forms, and using controlled slack for drag free presentations was new to them.  Both proved fast learners and were making intelligent reads and good accurate presentations in short order.

Sean with the reward of a drag free drift

This trip was also the first camping excursion for our golden retriever Tessa.  She was a wonderful companion, never straying far and most importantly stayed out of the water.  Tessa was always there to give each fish a sniff and a lick prior to release.  When we were working a run she would stand patiently at ours sides or rest on the bank.  With the hiking, wading and chasing the odd squirrel she was one tired mutt by days end!

Tired Tessa

My week long escape was relaxing, therapeutic and most of all fun.  How can you beat time with your family, good company, great food, a few beer, dry flies and cooperative cutthroat?  I hardly missed my IPhone at all!

The head of the pool.  The place to be!

Please visit my Facebook page for additional trip  images.  Bob and Karen also have an album on their Facebook page too.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Something Different

Most associate fly fishing with trout and streams, but as most of you know the sport has evolved into much more.  Near my Alberta home I have numerous opportunities from rivers to lakes, trout to pike.

Alternate species on the fly adds to your fly fishing repetoire

When I moved to Alberta I was intrigued by these opportunities, walleye and pike on the fly in particular.  Over the years I have enjoyed many successful outings particularly for walleye, a species most don’t think of chasing with a fly.  I have discovered that walleye are more than cooperative and on at least two separate occasions I have had large tournament boats pull up to ask me just exactly I am up to!  Most non fly fishers associate dry flies with fly fishing and are surprised that we can work flies effectively to 20 feet or greater.
Interest has been so great in my walleye quests that I am often asked by my guide clients to chase them on the fly.  A change I enjoy!

Little if anything has been documented about catching walleye on the fly, at least locally, so I had to learn by studying what methods traditional anglers used and adapt them to fly fishing.  For the most part is has been a straight forward transition. 

Walleye share numerous similarities with trout.  They like the same water temperatures, eat the same things, hang out in the same spots (drop offs, sunken islands, weedbeds, humps) and can be very soft feeders challenging your strike detection skills.

Trout and walleye share a number of similarities
My favourite method involves using a floating line, both with and without indicators.  This approach works well when walleye are in 15 feet of water or less such as the early spring to early summer timeframe.  Suspending small balanced leeches and minnow patterns below a Quick Release Indicator in and around weedbeds or on flats adjacent to deep water works well in the same manner traditional anglers use a slip bobber.

Walleye are a challenging fly rod quarry
This past week I spent a day on the water guiding chasing walleye using both floating lines and clear intermediate lines.  I often begin with a Camolux or Aqualux clear intermediate, covering water using Clouser Minnows and Popsicle Leeches in the same manner as an angler using a crank bait.

Temperatures were warm, the water was 70 degrees so the walleye weren’t as active as I had hoped.  It was going to be a tough day.  In the mid-morning I moved across from a favourite point to fish a weed bed next to the shore line that tapered into deeper water.  Fish were moving at the surface and after catching a glimpse of a few some were lake whitefish.  Lake whitefish are a salmonid and make excellent fly rod quarry as they love mayfly nymphs and chironomids.  They are hard fighters and in the lakes around my home reach appreciable sizes, over 4 pounds in many instances.  They are an excellent challenge when my local trout lakes are slow.

Believing the rolling fish to be Lake Whitefish we swapped our clear intermediates for floating lines and Quick Release Indicators.  I put a burgundy/red Balanced Leech on my client Brent’s line and set him up to suspend roughly 12 feet down.  Together we stared, waiting for the indicator to show signs of a take.  After a few minutes Brent’s indicator disappeared. It took us both by surprise and the fish was missed. 
Frustrating, but at least the odd fish seemed interested.  After a few more minutes Brent’s indicator plunged once again, this time he hooked up.  The fish battled hard taking line and then tried to run around the boat. Based upon how the fish was fighting we believed we had hooked a lake whitefish.  Finally the fish came up to the surface and much to our surprise it was a nice walleye, Balanced Leech stuck in the tip of its upper jaw!

Brent's First Walleye
Things slowed down again after that initial excitement so we began exploring again.  We bounced around to my favourite haunts and none produced.  This included a spot that has never let me down, until today.  As the day progressed we decided to head back to the scene of our only fish and wouldn’t you know it we hooked fish again. Brent hooked and landed another nice walleye.  An old adage popped into my mind that has proven itself on more than one occasion, “Don’t leave fish to find fish!”

Walleye Number Two!
If you have different species in your area, give them a try.  Many alternate species are both challenging and enjoyable on a fly rod and the skills you learn more often than not improve your traditional trout skills too!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Idaho Stillwater School with BS Flies

On Wednesday July 20th I headed south, boat in tow, for Island Park, Idaho.  I was looking forward to a stillwater school with Lynn Scott from BS Flies based out of Lakeside Lodge on the shores of Island Park Reservoir.  The drive was long, roughly 14 hours.  I took my time to enjoy the sights of this scenic drive down the eastern side of the continental divide.  The drive takes you across and along some of the most famous trout waters in the west such as the Missouri and Madison Rivers.

Lakeside Lodge, located on the shore of Island Park Reservoir
As the seminar didn’t start until the evening of July 21st I had time to fish a lake I have long wanted to fish, Henry’s Lake.  Henry’s Lake is steeped in history and known for producing large Yellowstone cutthroat, brook trout and hefty cutthroat/rainbow hybrids.  As we prepared the night before, Lynn informed me we would have to be on the water early.  Now I have been up early many times before but we were up and on our way by 4:15am heading to the boat launch at Henry’s Lake State Park.  The temperature gauge read a brisk 49F!  It was definitely cold and dark.

Henry's Lake at dawn

The boat launch area was deceivingly quiet.  I thought for a moment we might have Henry’s somewhat to ourselves.  I was mistaken.  Henry’s was starting to warm so the outflow at Targhee Creek was our first stopping point.  As we motored into position I could see were late as in the early morning light I could count over 20 boats had beat us to the punch.  The ‘boat hatch’ as Lynn referred to peaked at 32 boats!  Not to worry, we found a suitable spot, anchoring in roughly 8-10 feet of water.  I began with my Rio CamoLux line and a black Balanced Leech.  The new CamoLux is a fantastic line, I can’t believe how well this line has performed this season.  After letting the fly sink for roughly 10 seconds I began a steady 4-6 inch strip retrieve with prolonged pauses. About halfway through my retrieve I felt a snagging sensation and decided to set the hook.  My rod bounced to life and I soon landed my first Henry’s Lake trout, a two pound Yellowstone cutthroat.  A fish on my first cast, this could be the start of a great day or a dark omen.  I have taken fish on my first cast in the past only to struggle for the remainder of the day.  On this day it was to be the former as we all began to hook trout.  After a while I tried hanging a Balanced Leech under an indicator with limited success.  On this day the Henry’s Lake trout wanted motion to their flies.  Throat pump analysis revealed no active feeding at all.  We figured that the somewhat brisk retrieve appealed more to the trout’s aggressive predatory nature than a feeding impulse on this day.  We didn’t mind.

Henry's Lake cutthroat

We fished until just after noon.  I had over seven hours on the water catching predominantly cutthroat and few hybrids.  No one in the boat crossed path with any brookies.  After fishing Targhee for a couple of hours we moved once the sun was above the horizon.  Lynn toured me to some of Henry’s more famous spots including Pintail Point, Staley Springs and Duck Creek.

I took a good fish on a Cruncher at Pintail point as I ‘hung’ the flies at the surface prior to recasting.  The 20 plush inch hybrid rocketed from the depths as my Cruncher dangled just beneath the surface.  After every retrieve always get in the habit of hanging the flies prior to casting.  Any fish following pounce on the flies as they change both direction and speed as they angle up towards the boat.

In the afternoon we wanted to launch my boat on Sheridan and give it a bit of a pre fish as this would be the featured lake for our stillwater school.  Sheridan is a private lake located just west of Island Park noted for its trophy rainbows.

Adult damselfly
As we prepared the boats we were smothered in a swarm damselflies.  Nymphs were gathering in the shallows and clambering up the cattails and emerging all around us.  Needless to say we hastened our pace to get on the water.  We found the largest concentration of fish in the inlet bay taking advantage of the cool oxygenated water from a small feeder stream.  Lynn and his guide Chris were using clear intermediate lines.  As we were fishing in skinny water, at times only two feet, I opted for my Midge Tip line.  Callibaetis shucks and spinners also greeted us on the water so I opted for a #12 Gold Bead Pheasant Tail (GBPT) on the point and a light olive #12 PearlyDamsel on the dropper.  On this day the Pearly Damsel outperformed the GBPT by a considerable margin.  My best fish came in less than two feet of water and weighed an estimated nine pounds!

Damsels were emerging everywhere!

The stillwater school went well.  Students were provided over eight hours of classroom instruction and on the water instruction and assistance with both Lynn and I.  Everyone caught fish, in both good numbers and size.  Jim Fawcett caught and released a beautiful 6.5 pound fish while he was with me.  Clay Hash had a great couple of days using a clear intermediate line and Denny Rickards Callibaetis nymph.  For a student’s perspective on the seminar please visit Clay’s blog.  It also includes a step by step tying sequence for the Rickards Callibaetis Nymph Clay put to such good use.

Jim's 6.5 pound rainbow

Even though damsels were still present in good numbers Callibaetis nymphs was the preferred choice.  Throat analysis on some of the fish we caught revealed feeding on leeches, small chironomids, damsel nymphs, snails and Callibaetis nymphs, duns and spinners.  Of all the prey items I sampled Callibaetis nymphs were the least common but the trout seemed to want more!  I did well with a tan version of my Herl May from my Stillwater Solutions Recipes book.

One of our students Clay holds a good Sheridan Lake rainbow

Student feedback from the course was excellent and Lynn and I are already planning another event for 2012.  We hope to build on the success of this inaugural event perhaps including time on Island Park for focused chironomid fishing and Henry’s Lake in addition to the trophy opportunities on Sheridan.

Sherdian Lake rainbow returned for next season

 I delayed my return by a day for the opportunity to spend a day on the water with Rio’s Simon Gawesworth.  As one of Rio’s Advisory Team members I was looking forward to catching up with Simon to catch up and talk a little ‘shop’.  Simon and I had talked on a number of occasions about getting on the water together but we could never seem to pull it together until now.

Simon enjoying himself on Hebgen
 Simon and I had a wonderful day drifting Hebgen Lake ‘loch style’ working nymphs and teams of dries to fishing fish.  It was one of the most enjoyable days I have had on the water in recent memory.  Simon’s casting prowess was humbling.  He casts equally well either left or right handed.  If a fish rose within casting distance Simon switched hands in the blink of any to present his fly quickly and efficiently, often at a staggering distance.  

In the near shore shallows brown trout cruised and sipped Callibaetis spinners that blanketed the water.  In the calm clear conditions these trout proved both challenging and frustrating but we did manage to coax a few to our flies.  As the day wore on the breeze increased and we were able to get in some great drifts working our team of dries into the long slicks that formed.  Believe it or not Simon and I were hoping the wind would pick up.  Using a team of three flies our goal would be to place the point fly in the slick the middle dropper on the seam and the bob fly in the adjacent ripple.  Just about every slick held trout.  Once the fly landed I would retrieve the dry using a super slow hand-twist.  The small movement this produced turned trout consistently.
I began my journey home thoroughly satisfied with my experience, particularly my day on the water with Simon.   

I left the boat launch at Hebgen at 7pm and got as far as Great Falls, Montana.  I checked into a hotel just after 11pm and was up and on my way again by 6:30am.  I made it home just after 4pm on Monday the 25th.  Yes I was tired but I can’t wait to go again!

Be sure to check out my complete photo album from this trip on my Facebook page

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Getting Started

Do you remember the first time you picked up a fly rod?  Last Saturday my first memories of fly fishing were all brought back to me.

Michael Short from Lets Go Outdoors

I was asked to film with a new TV show called Let’s Go Outdoors produced by Michael Short.  Mike had asked me to spend a day filming on Muir Lake, a small shallow productive water roughly 30 minutes west of home.  Water levels were up but Muir Lake had a suspected partial kill over the winter due to the drought years we had experienced prior to this spring, one of the wettest on record.

Water levels were up at Muir

Muir Lake was a rehabiltation project for a number of local groups and organizations including Trout Unlimited Canada through the Northern Lights Fly Tyers Trout Unlimited Edmonton chapter just over 10 years ago.  This conservation effort would be a backdrop for the show as I introduced Elma, a young lady to the art and mystique of fly fishing.  We would be fishing out of pontoon boats.  I would be in my Pac 9000 and Elma in my  Discovery IR10.  It would be Elma’s first time in a pontoon boat as well.

Elma is ready to go and only slightly frustrated!

Elma proved to be a terrific student who displayed great patience and a positive approach as she mastered a new series of skills including rowing a boat for the first time and casting.

As we filmed I walked her through the basic equipment, lines, rods, reels, waders, wading boots and flies. We then ventured to the water where I explained the dynamics of casting and how a fly rod differs from a traditional spinning or bait casting rod.

On the water, waiting for the indicator to go down.

Conditions weren’t great, the water was beginning to warm and fish had been moody at best according to the research I did prior. Suspending leeches under Quick Release Indicators would be the order of the day.  Indicators are not originally designed with fly fishing in mind.  Considering this fact I taught Elma the basics of roll casting and within minutes she was able to ‘flop’ out a reasonable cast and fish. Elma tried a few successful overhead casts as well but stuck with the roll cast.  The best bet for a weighted leech and indicator. By the end of the day she could easily get out almost 30 feet of line, more than enough for our presentation method.  Short casts work best when fishing indicators so any subtle takes aren’t missed.

We targeted a number of my favourite spots throughout the day but things were slow as I expected.  Talking to other anglers on the water no one was catching fish.  We finally ventured to my fall back spot, a deep hole in the western basin where we worked into 14 feet of water.  I opted for a balanced maroon Soft Blend Leech from my Stillwater Selections book on point and a #12 black and red Ice Cream Cone roughly 18 inches above.  Lady Luck was with me, as I managed to hook four fish over the course of the afternoon, the largest just over 20 inches.  Two came to the leech and two the chironomid.  A throat sample of the large fish revealed one tiny water boatman, one small leech and one caddis larva-all dead, a sign that fish weren’t actively feeding.  The leech/chironomid cocktail I presented always seems to work in tough conditions as these are two food sources that typically always receive an instinctive response.

Elma seems to have enjoyed her day on the water

I thoroughly enjoyed the day and introducing someone to fly fishing.  Hopefully Elma enjoyed it too.  Her smile at the end of the day suggested she did.  Elma promised to return to the water soon to continue her journey.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Fishing Local Water

Yesterday I managed to sneak out and fish a local lake with friend Brian Wiebe. With my travels so far this is only the second time I have been able to venture out locally. I was glad Brian motivated me to get onto the water.

Weather was overcast with a slight breeze from the north east. We were just experiencing the last of a low pressure system that has been bombarding us with rain and wind for the past few days. Thankfully the sunny weather is returning as I type.

I chose to fish out of my Outcast Pac 9000 as the launch was a bit dicey for my 14 foot jon boat. The PAC 9000 is a beautiful platform to fish from, very spacious and comfortable.

My Pac 9000 loaded and ready to go

We rowed down to the far end. As I got my exercise in for the day I asked myself, “Why is the fishing always the best at the far end of the lake?” About 10 minutes or so later I was in position ready to go, double anchored in 10 feet of water. 

During my paddle I noticed lots of small chironomid shucks on the water along with a few #14 Callibaetis duns. Taking my observations into account I began with #14 black and red Ice Cream Cone coupled with at #14 Gold Bead Pheasant Tail (GBPT) Flashback dropper roughly 24 inches above. 

Quick Release Indicator about to dissappear

I made my first cast settled into my seat and within seconds my Quick Release Indicator disappeared. One of the lakes smaller residents, barely 12 inches long had inhaled the Ice Cream Cone. Not a bad start I thought. From that point on the action was steady. The fish were small but scrappy and lots of fun on my 4 weight. A few fish later I managed to get one over 14 inches that I was able to obtain a throat sample. They were feeding heavily on #16 and smaller olive chironomid larva.  There were also half dozen #14 dark olive and black chironomid pupas contained within the sample, some of them inflated and silver. Despite the reasonable numbers of Callibaetis duns drifting there were no nymphs or duns in my samples. Chironomids were on the menu.

Fish were active and willing to play!

After a few more fish I took off the indicator as I was changing my dropper fly to a small Chromie. I took a fish on my first cast using the ‘naked’ technique and continued to take fish on a steady basis. I switched back to the Quick Release Indicator so I had something to stare at while I ate lunch. I never moved until it was time to go! It was nice not having to chase fish all over the place!

Brian has success working the shoreline shallows

Brian did equally well and diligently worked the shallow reaches near the shoreline bull rush.  He locked horns with a few larger fish and managed to land on of the larger residents the lake is beginning to produce. His larger fish took his suspended leech pattern but as with my smaller fish it too was stuffed with chironomid larva and pupa. Brian’s leech must have looked like the perfect desert!

Brian is pleased with his results

I fished until just after 5pm, all in all a rewarding day. I made a promise to myself to try and get out more often over the coming months. I am fortunate to have a number of great little ‘pot hole’ lakes within an hour or so from home. Often we travel great distances to experience what is lying in our backyard.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Spring Parklands Report

As some of you are probably already aware, I make a point of travelling to the Parklands region of S.W. Manitoba each season.  This region currently offers some, if not the best, stillwater fly fishing in North America.  From the diversity of the species, the remoteness of the region and the average fish size the Parklands is tough to beat!

An average Parklands rainbow

Earlier in June I had the pleasure of hosting two groups of fly fishers for a weekend and week-long adventure respectively.  Based out of Arrow Lakes Lodge we visited a number of quality stillwaters within the region.  Most within 40 minutes of our base, two of the better lakes are less than 20 minutes away.

Providing a casting and presentation demonstration

Each day I provided a seminar appropriate to the region or to the specific opportunities possible on the chosen lake for the day.  Subjects included strike indicator techniques, how to fight big fish, stillwater entomology, forage fish tactics casting and presentation techniques to name a few.  At the end of each trip the group gathered their images and after a photography seminar we all relived the fish and experiences of the trip.  The final night always proves itself the most memorable.  Check out my Facebook page for my Parklands Spring 2011 album for additional photos.

Bob and Karen Vanderwater

Good friends Bob and Karen Vanderwater provide invaluable assistance ensuring these hosted trips become a successful reality, both in the months prior and over the course of the event.  Frankly, I would be hard pressed to do it without them.  Their spirit, energy and organizational skills help keep all of us on track.
While on the water I spent time with each student as we worked together to unlock the challenges each lake threw our way.  Spending time with each student is perhaps my most memorable part of each trip.  I get a chance to get to know each student a little bit better and we both benefit from the inevitable exchange of ideas, information and experiences.  The look on their faces as they release the trout of a lifetime is the icing on my cake!

Now that's a rainbow!

The weather for the 10 days I was there started perfectly, sunny skies and light winds.  But as the weekend passed into the week our weather pattern shifted.  A good day always seemed to be followed by a rainy blustery day.  The up and down conditions did not deter the group from Spokane who joined Bob, Karen and I for the week.  Seasoned stillwater fly fishers, this group donned their rain gear or waders, shrugged their shoulders and soldiered on.  Our day on Pybus reminded me more of coastal steelhead or salmon fishing than the Parklands.  By midday I gave up trying to bail my pram as the steady deluge made it pointless. 

Our last day on Tokaryk, a lake we re-visited by popular demand, the wind blew from the N.E. at over 50 km/h.  Despite the ocean like swells trout responded with unbridled enthusiasm for our leech and baitfish patterns suspended beneath indicators.  The swells pitched our patterns aggressively and that’s just the way Tokaryk’s large rainbows and browns liked them.  The takes at times were just down right scary!

Karen's 28-inch brown

Fish size was large, typical for the Parklands. We had numerous fish in the 6-8 pound range.  A 23-inch rainbow for example, weighed between 6-7 pounds!  A number of nine pound fish were caught along with one 10 pound monster.  Karen took the largest brown of the trip on the final day of the week long trip.  It measured out at 28 inches!  Also during the trip Jason from Spokane caught the largest tiger I have seen to date while he was with me in my boat.  It measured 27 inches and topped 7 pounds!

Jason's 27-inch, 7lb tiger

I began the trip using 3X 8.2 pound FlouroFlex Plus fluorocarbon tippet which did a great job.  But there were a few instances where I had to switch to 2X 12 pound FlourFlex Plus to tame some of the Parklands trout I crossed path with.  We had one fish that I estimated in excess of 8 pounds snap the hook clean off the bend on a #12 3XL black and red Ice Cream Cone!

Chironomids and some caddis were hatching in decent numbers.  We apparently missed a spectacular chironomid hatch on Patterson Lake by a day.  The volume shucks that were clustered together on the surface the following day was almost biblical.  There were also clouds of fathead minnows gathered in the shallows.  The browns and rainbows seemed to enjoy mauling them, almost at will.

The shallows were thick with schools of fathead minnows

While on Patterson my first student asked if I would show him how to fish chironomid pupa without an indicator using the traditional floating line long leader or ‘naked’ technique.  Since chironomids were definitely on the menu we ventured out into deeper water targeting the sloped edge of the main lake basin.  Double anchored parallel to the ridge that ran between a main lake point and the western end of the island we targeted water between 15-18 feet deep.  I used a leader set up that was at least 25% longer than the depth of water we were fishing, 21 feet.  A #12 black and red ice cream cone went on the point and a #12 Chromie hung off my sliding dropper some 4 feet above the point fly.  After making a long cast roughly 30 degrees to my left I let the wind swing and drift the fly line.  I let the flies sink 30 seconds before beginning a painstakingly slow hand twist retrieve.  Conditions were calm.  I concentrated on the fly line, watching either the tip or a slight ‘squiggle’ in the line for a take.  Almost every take was seen before it was felt.  After two hours I had my first convert.

The ‘naked’ technique proved itself as deadly as it ever was.  Making me wonder why I don’t use this method more often.  It also works great for imitating mayfly and damsel nymphs, caddis pupa, even leech patterns.  By the end of both the weekend and week-long events almost all of my students had had the chance to take fish using the ‘naked’ technique.  Some had such confidence in the method that they discontinued using indicators for the balance of the trip.  I encourage you to give this method a try.  he largest tiger trout of the trip resulted from this presentation technique.  If you check out one of my previous blog entries you can find out more about this deadly stillwater presentation technique.

We are already planning on returning to the Parklands in 2012 for both a weekend and week-long hosted trip in both the spring and fall.  I will be returning in September with another group.  These trips have proven extremely popular selling out in a matter of weeks just through word of mouth.  If you are interested in joining Bob, Karen and me in 2012 let me know right away.  Our hosted trips include accommodation all food, seminars and one on one time with me on the water.