Why a small town in the Canadian Rockies is a fly fisherman’s paradise

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After passing by a tunnel heading eastbound on British Columbia’s Freeway 3, my three angling companions and I spied the Elk River … and our hearts dropped. The Elk, the fly-fishing centerpiece of the area, was excessive and off-color, regardless that it was late July. The dry fly-fishing we’d anticipated would in all probability be off the desk.

However as we’d quickly be taught, better Fernie has no scarcity of first-rate trout streams, all set towards the dramatic spires of the Canadian Rockies. If the Elk couldn’t be our focus, we’d nonetheless have likelihood at success.

The small city of Fernie rests close to the southeastern nook of British Columbia, roughly 4½ hours’ drive northeast of Spokane, Wash. (or 11 hours east of Vancouver, B.C.). Coal was discovered right here close to the flip of the final century, and mining fashioned the core of the city’s financial system. A number of mines are nonetheless in operation, although Fernie has additionally embraced outdoor-recreation-related tourism. Within the winter, it’s snow sports activities that draw guests, together with cat snowboarding (the place a snow-grooming machine carries skiers and snowboarders uphill to contemporary powder); in the summertime, it’s mountain biking, mountaineering, rafting and fly-fishing.

“Lots of our shoppers come from america,” mentioned Paul Samycia, proprietor and information at Elk River Guiding Co. “It’s much less crowded right here than most of the streams within the American West, the individuals are pleasant, and the alternate charge is usually favorable. The Elk is a comparatively undiscovered river, filled with native species — westslope cutthroat and bull trout. Floating down by the Canadian Rockies, casting dry flies, catching native fish — that ticks a number of containers for anglers.”

Catching trout with a dry fly is certainly one of fly-fishing’s nice satisfactions. Battling a fish on a light-weight rod is definitely enjoyable. However the visceral, visible thrill of watching a fish stand up by the water to inhale a little bit of feather and fur is extremely satisfying.

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Westslope cutthroat — one of many trout native to the area, identifiable by the sprint of pink beneath their jaws — have a fame for being very prepared to rise to a dry fly. However when my fellow angler Mark Harrison, information Brian Lees (from Fernie Wilderness Adventures) and I started fishing beneath a Canadian Pacific Railway trestle on Michel Creek, it appeared the fish had didn’t learn the memo. Clear and simple to wade, Michel Creek is famend for producing a number of the area’s greatest cutts, as much as 20 inches. However my casts, utilizing a flying ant imitation, went ignored by fish massive and small. Harrison, nevertheless, fishing subsurface with a nymph, quickly connected. The 16-inch trout he dropped at the online was sensible to behold — plump, with a physique of yellow and reddish orange, specked with high-quality black spots. “They’re like pumpkins,” Lees enthused.

When the solar hit the water and inexperienced drake mayflies started dancing on the floor, a fish decrease within the pool started feeding on high. I modified to a inexperienced drake sample, forged close to the place it had splashed and shortly landed my first cutt of the journey.

Cutthroat want very clear and chilly water to thrive and have vanished from a lot of their authentic vary as rivers have degraded. However populations in southeastern British Columbia are an exception. “Now we have very sustainable cutthroat and bull trout populations because of the pristine, intact watersheds within the higher Kootenay area,” mentioned Heather Lamson, a fisheries biologist with the British Columbia Ministry of Forests. “Most of our rivers are free-flowing [without dams] and ground-fed, so water temperatures keep nicely beneath the trout’s temperature tolerances. Angling administration plans, together with catch-and-release laws on many rivers and limits on the variety of anglers, have additionally contributed to fish densities.”

Because the day wore in, we drove from pool to pool in Lees’s pickup, discovering fish at each spot we stopped. If the inexperienced drake didn’t work, the ant did.

We returned to city with loads of time to get pleasure from a twilight cocktail on the veranda of our room at Park Place Lodge, overlooking the mountains. After a filling meal on the Fernie Taphouse (together with an compulsory appetizer of poutine — when in Canada!), we retired in preparation for a foray to the Bull River. (Each the Taphouse and the Brickhouse, the opposite eatery we visited, keep open late to accommodate anglers and different outside fans; within the coronary heart of summer time, twilight lingers nicely previous 9 o’clock.)

The Bull sits a bit west of Fernie. Flowing by steep canyons, it has a startling turquoise shade, extra harking back to the Caribbean than a mountain stream. We’d put aside at the present time to hunt bull trout, the apex predator in most rivers the place they’re discovered. Whereas cutthroat feed totally on bugs, bull trout dine on cutthroat and different fish and might develop to over 30 inches and 15 kilos. “A run of bull trout migrates up from Lake Koocanusa to spawn and feed on kokanee salmon,” mentioned Linden Mazzei, lead summer time information at Fernie Wilderness Adventures. “There are occasions when you may sight forged to fish. They’re aggressive and reply nicely to massive streamers.”

After dropping our rafts down a steep path, we floated downstream, casting into deep swimming pools and sometimes pulling over to wade and fish a promising run. Bull trout angling isn’t a dainty enterprise. The heavy flies needed to achieve the bulls close to the river’s backside are troublesome to forged, typically demanding a flinging movement — “chuck and duck,” in angler’s parlance. (It’s a victory to not plug your self or your companions within the head!) Few fish have been in sight; maybe the excessive water had delayed their arrival. However stripping an olive Dolly Llama in a pool above some rapids, Harrison hooked a wholesome specimen. After a jolting strike, it fought exhausting, clinging to the underside. However Harrison utilized constant stress, finally bringing it at hand — a fish estimated at seven or eight kilos.

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It needs to be talked about that we noticed no different boats on the Bull, a pointy distinction with the bumper-car-like conglomeration of drift boats typically encountered on celebrated western U.S. trout streams.

Heading again towards Spokane, the place we’d first assembled, our foursome stopped close to the city of Cranbrook to fish the St. Mary River, which runs chilly and filter out of the Purcell Mountains. We forged principally from the boat, returning to dry flies — a lot simpler to handle than the Dolly Llamas. “A majority of the trout listed here are ‘cutt-bows,’ a hybridization of rainbows which have migrated up from the Kootenay River and resident westslope cutthroat,” mentioned Gaby Hernandez, a information with St. Mary Angler. “Some, by their markings, are extra rainbow; others, extra cutthroat.” All proved extraordinarily prepared to take dry flies forged behind rocks or into seams on the fringe of riffles.

My angling companion Ken Matsumoto and I every raised not less than 40 fish, some gently slurping our choices, others taking the fly with a splash. Half got here to the online. It was the sort of day that the majority trout anglers dream about.

The type that may definitely convey me again throughout the border to Fernie.

Santella is a author based mostly in Portland, Ore. His web site is steelhead-communications.com.

742 Freeway 3, Fernie, B.C.

Spacious, clear rooms with verandas overlooking mountains, plus a pub and restaurant on the premises. Double rooms from about $146 per evening.

A number of burgers, sandwiches, salads and flatbreads, with a full bar, together with native spirits, beers and wines. Kitchen open every day 1 p.m. to 9 p.m.; bar till 11 p.m. Mains from about $14.

A sports activities bar in Fernie’s Previous City space that options sandwiches, burgers and poutine. Native spirits, beers and wines are additionally provided. Kitchen open midday to 9 p.m.; bar open Monday to Friday 11 a.m. to midnight and Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m. to midnight. Mains from about $15.

Fernie Wilderness Adventures

Positioned inside Park Place Lodge, this clothes shop leads guided fly-fishing journeys on the Elk, Wigwam, Bull and Flathead rivers and Michel Creek. Journeys from about $563 per day for one or two anglers.

401 Cranbrook St., Cranbrook

Guided fly-fishing journeys on the St. Mary, Elk, Bull and Skookumchuck rivers. Charges embrace eight hours of guided fly-fishing, transportation, gear and lunch; taxes and licenses not included. Guided float/jet journeys from about $544 per day for one or two anglers.

Potential vacationers ought to take native and nationwide public well being directives relating to the pandemic into consideration earlier than planning any journeys. Journey well being discover info could be discovered on the Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention’s interactive map displaying journey suggestions by destination and the CDC’s travel health notice webpage.

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