Thursday, July 28, 2016

A close encounter

 It was cool and dry in the mountains when we arrived on July 11th for our semi-annual fly fishing trip to the Crowsnest Pass region. Two years ago the streams and rivers in the region had been fairly high and fast. Totally different conditions greeted us this year and that was a good thing. Water conditions were relatively benign, with lower water levels and medium flow. In fact, when talking to Vic Bergman the first night, he said he was hoping for rain for the next couple of weeks in order to increase the flows a bit. Vic owns “The Crowsnest Angler” fly shop, a must stop in Bellevue. I have known Vic for years and he was to recommend us five key dry flies for our adventure. After spending some money, we headed back to the Highway #22 turnoff and away we went to the Livingston River. Here we would set up camp for the next few days of fishing in the region. Our first day of fishing saw us try “The Gap”, a very famous upper middle section of the Oldman River. Unfortunately angling pressure, along with rain and severe wind gusts limited our effort that first day.  Any attempt to get a dry fly into the wind was usually rebuffed in the section we were fishing. Our other team of anglers had picked a section in which they could cast down wind into the current. As a result, they caught more fish than us. Still, another lesson learned and adjustments made so we were ready for

Day Two.

Friend Phil Brake and I headed out to a different section of The Oldman, one in which we really hadn’t tried in previous years. Wow, did we make the right call. In our second pool, Phil hooked a real nice cutthroat in the 20 inch range, that gave him a battle right to the end.  He was using a Pale Morning Dun, with a black ant dropper off the back. After that fish, I switched over to a Purple Haze dry fly with a black ant dropper. Wow, did that ever work!  Now both Phil and I had pretty much non-stop action for the rest of the day.

Purple Haze
While we still caught some fish on a couple of the other dries, this one proved to be number one this week.

Unfortunately for me my trip was cut short. Thursday morning I suffered chest pains and had to make a trip to the hospital. One week and one stent later I made it back to Winnipeg. I should be back on the water shortly though. Fast action by my friends at the campsite helped limit the damage. It also helped that one of my friends on the trip is a medical doctor. He got me aspirin and on the road to the hospital in five minutes after recognizing the symptoms of a heart attack. Thanks Gerald and Phil for everything you did!

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Spring on the Mountain

Over the years, I have spent a fair amount of time on Last Mountain Lake north of Regina. This natural lake stretches more than 70 miles and is also known as Long Lake for this reason. It is the largest naturally occurring body of water in southern Saskatchewan, although Lake Diefenbaker (created by damming) is larger. The lake was named for a Plains Cree legend about the Great Spirit shovelling dirt from the valley the lake now occupies and forming Last Mountain Hills east of Duval. It was early June when I made the trek there this year, heading north from Regina past Craven on Highway 20 past Bulyea, Strasburg and finally Govan. 

Between these two communities is the highest point of land in the area for which the lake got its name. While I have fished the southern and central part of the lake this was my first visit to the far north end. For years friends of mine from Regina have been fishing this section for the first three weeks of the open water angling season. This year I was invited along for the ride and deluxe accommodation at Last Mountain Regional Park in a borrowed trailer.  Last Mountain Regional Park is a very functional park located on the shores of the north end. It has an outdoor swimming pool and plenty of spots to camp. It even has a nine hole golf course with sand greens. For us, there was no golf time because the walleye were biting.
 Boyds spinner rig box, Talk about organized!
 Boyd with Saskatchewan Gold!

 Purple blade got hot last day!

We started by checking out all the back of the bays, then worked our way out to find the larger schools of fish. By the end of the two and half days on the water, we had them fine tuned and our last evening produced non stop action along with some of the bigger fish of the trip. Presentation was  simple, just a spinner rig tipped with night crawlers and weighted with split shot. 

The deepest we caught fish was six feet so a couple of shots was all that was needed.
There was a bit of emerging weed growth but nothing to worry about

Spain on the fly

Recently, my wife and I had a chance to visit Spain. Unfortunately our schedule didn't allow us time to fish. A friend of mine, Ron Enns, had spent one day fishing in that country the year before and provided me this story.
 Ron with a Spanish brown trout
"In April 2015 I walked a large portion of the 780 km pilgrimage from the Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain.  I am an avid fly fisher and there were plenty of trout in most of the rivers I crossed so I arranged to spend a day fishing the Cea River near Leon with C & S Fly Fishing Guides based in Salamanca.  Jose provided outstanding service — first driving 200 km to pick me up, arrange the complicated fishing licensing — based on region, river and target species, borrowing waders from a stout member of his fishing club, and providing a professional guide.
 It was a blustery day but the hatch was active for a few hours in the afternoon.  After identifying the hatch using a bug net — there was steady dry fly action with many brown trout landed in the 12 to 16 inch range.  One 24 incher was landed.  Later in the afternoon with expert coaching I successfully honed my nymphing skills.  As is usual when fishing we had “lunch” at about 6 pm. Jose told me that the best fishing in Spain is on the Tormes near Salamanca and is home to the oldest fly fishing club in Spain.  It was an outstanding day, a real education, and a classy outfit.
Connect with C&S through their website

A worthy advisary

After spending the first part of May out of the country, I was anxious to get back out on the water. When friend Jim Price invited me out to fish on Lake Manitoba, I was glad to head out even if it meant getting up at four thirty in the morning. Weekends can be a busy time at our many lakes and rivers, but upon arrival at Sportsmen’s Park at 6:30 we had the boat launch to ourselves. A busy place on any weekend, we were early enough to avoid the crowds. After launching Jim’s boat in the Whitemud River, we decided to try our luck upriver for walleye and the ever present silver bass or drum as anglers prefer to call them. After about three hours of covering water we caught four small walleye and a few silver bass. Our real goal on this day thought was to head out to the big lake and try our luck along the many sandbars that extend out from the mouth of the river itself. A brisk west wind was blowing as we ventured out through the channel into the lake. We could see the sandbars out in front of us and Jim trimmed his motor as we slowly wended our way out to a bit deeper water. There are times on the lake when the water drops, and these sand bars make it difficult to get out of the river.  We didn’t have any trouble on this day and soon we were in two metres of water. Yes, shallow water still but more than deep enough to catch the walleye and drum that are feeding on small shiners on these sand bars. Trolling in two metres can be a bit of a challenge but by using ultra small crankbaits we were able to accomplish our two main goals, cover water and catch fish.
While the walleye we caught on this day were all smaller males, not so the freshwater drum. Many we landed were in the two kilogram range. Later in the day as we headed north on the lake we got into a extremely active school of these aggressive predators. Suddenly the size started to jump up considerably. Then I hooked into an express train, with line melting off my level wind reel. Jim immediately put the front troll motor in anchor mode so I could make some headway on whatever was on the end of my line. When trolling for walleye I like using a three metre rod with a line counter reel spooled with three kilogram test Crystal Fireline.  Onto this is attached a small cross lock snap which holds up even the pull of a monster like I currently had on the end of my line.  As the fish got closer, I guessed it was probably a massive drum given the wild rolls and surges in the fight. Finally we saw it in the water and my knees got a little weak. Since Jim only had a small rubber net for the walleye, I was not sure this fish would fit in. Friend Dan MacRae managed to get the fish in the boat somehow, and it was up to me to try and control this beast. Big drum are not the easiest fish to handle, with a tough small mouth and really hard gill plates. After a bit of a struggle and a pectoral fin in my finger, (much blood) I was able to hold it up for a quick picture.

Not wanting to get beat up anymore, I released it over the side before measuring or weighing. Still both Jim and Dan agreed it was a rather large specimen of the species. It was certainly by the far the largest freshwater drum I had ever landed and made the opening day of fishing season a memorable one for me. This species is a worthy sport fish and I plan on spending more time in the future trying to catch them.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Three Ways to Catch Fish

Finding springtime walleye can be somewhat of a challenge depending on the kind of weather conditions we get in this part of the world when the season opens. Moving water is always a great equalizer as it attracts fish for a variety of reasons. The size of the creek or river you are fishing will also dictate how you might want to present your bait to be the most effective. On larger rivers, with strong current flow, a three way rig is a very effective way to go. This is a simple setup and one that can be extremely productive. The first thing you do is attach your main line to one of the eyes of the three way swivel. On the bottom swivel eye you will tie a short piece of mono, about a foot in length. Onto this tie on a relatively heavy jig rigged with some kind of soft plastic, like a boot tail. On the top swivel eye tie a longer leader, say about 30 inches. Onto the end of this you can add a nice light jig, say 1/16 of an ounce. In heavier current this jig will ride up off the bottom. Dress this small jig with a lot smaller, lower profile plastic like a Berkley Finesse Minnow. 

They key is to get a heavy enough jig on the lower line to get it down bouncing along the bottom. In heavier current, this will be the bait that gets the fish. In a bit lighter current, it will be the top trailer that will be the most productive. 
What’s great about this setup is that you can cover water. In almost all cases you will troll up stream with this, working the current seams along the sides of the stream or river. Walleye like to hold on the seams, out of the heavier water flow. It takes a lot less energy to hold out of heavy flow and allows them to capture prey on the edges of the current stream. This style of presentation is also great in the fall time on the Red and Winnipeg rivers when you are dealing with heavier current flows. Some of the top anglers will keep the heavy jig on the bottom and switch over to a crankbait on the top line. In the fall I also like to use a bottom bouncer in combination with a floating crankbait to get down to the edges of the main river channel, again trolling into the current. 
When trolling upstream, slower is better than faster when the water is cold. I like to sweep my rod forward and then drop backward as we move forward. 
As mentioned earlier, heavier flows will keep the fish closer to bottom and with reduced flows and clearer water, most of your bites will come on the top hook.
It also helps to have good electronics so you can spot those fish hugging the bottom. I use a Humminbird 899 and it gets the job done for me.
The first time I saw this presentation in action was more than 20 years ago when I was fishing with Al Lindner on the Winnipeg River in Ontario. It was April and the previous day Al and I had jigged up a bunch of big walleye using heavy jigs and large live minnows. Al bet me that night at the hotel he would catch more walleye than I the next day using the three way swivel set up with a floating # 13 Rapala than I and a friend would, using jigs and minnows.
As it turns out not only did he win, he annihilated us, catching five walleye to our one, a valuable lesson that I have kept with me over the years. In this case he used a plain drop weight off the bottom line and the #13 Rapala on the top swivel with about a three foot lead. This allowed him to contour troll and cover a large area looking for active fish. Since that time I have used a three way swivel to catch a wide variety of fish including some huge lake trout from Selwyn Lake. It was summer time and we needed to get our lures down to 80 feet were the fish were holding. I added a three ounce weight to the drop line and put on a huge gold Canoe spoon off the back. The wide wobble of this huge spoon turned the trick on some monster fish.  Once again a three way allowed me to get down to the correct depth. Give this system a try this year and you won’t be disappointed.

Anglers Notes: The opening of the fishing season in southern Manitoba occurs on May 14th this year. With a return to more seasonal temperatures this week, we should be good to go on that date. Water flows are bit lower in many rivers and tributaries due a slower melt in the southern half of the province. One of the great options we have in this province are our stocked trout waters. Last spring I visited the Duck Mountains in west Central Manitoba to enjoy some excellent success for large brown trout. Laurie Lake in the central section of the park, is a beautiful spot with trophy splake to go with along with the brown trout with some bonus lake trout thrown in for good measure. On the first day we caught them long line trolling floating Rapala’s then on day two I fished with Ryan Suffron of Alpine Country Outfitters. This time we were fly fishing with equally good success. That’s the great thing about angling, there are so many ways to successfully catch your target species.

Sunday, March 27, 2016


 A deadly looking crew!


NOTE: I recently found out we would be going back to the mountains this year so I put together this chronological account of our ten day trip there two years ago in late July. It brings back some great memories.

It was five thirty in the morning when the moving house that was to be our home for the next ten days pulled up to the driveway. Soon we were on the road for our ten day fly fishing adventure to southern Alberta. Six of us were heading out to explore the rivers and streams that dot the landscape near the Crowsnest Pass region. Our first stop was the Castle Falls Campground located on the shores of the Castle River, a glacial feed stream that holds cutthroat trout, whitefish and a few rainbow thrown in for good measure. Friend Phil Brake had been fishing this part of Alberta since 2001, a semi-annual pilgrimage that went back to his childhood. Growing up in southern California, he learned to fly fish at an early age, hiking the mountains near his home in Fresno. When he invited me along I figured why not revisit this part of the world. During my days filming The Complete Angler television series, I had shot three different shows in this region. Two of them were with Vic Berman, the co-owner of the Crowsnest Pass fly fishing shop. Vic is also a top guide in the region and he agreed to be a guest on the show. Our first show was shot on the scenic Crowsnest River down east of the town of Bellevue. Then Vic loaded up his drift boat and headed south of the dam of the Oldman River near Lethbridge. Both trips proved productive and we put together two of my favourite shows in the Complete Anglers series.
 Castle Falls

Booking a camping spot in the back country can be a bit of an accomplishment since you need to do it online. That doesn’t help you if you have no cell service and you were unaware of this little twist before arrival. While we found the person who was responsible for maintenance of the campground, he was unable to take bookings. He did have a cell booster though and we were able to get a spot paid for after much trial and effort. So keep that in mind if you plan on booking a camp spot in remote areas.
With a beautiful site located right beside the river, we were ready to branch out to some different water over the course of the next three day. Len had brought a vehicle along behind the motorhome, which allowed us the mobility we needed to accomplish this.
While my stream fly fishing skills were a little rusty, friend Phil had me back in the saddle right away. One of the first things I learned how to do was to tie on a dropper rig, in this case an Emerger fly that floated with a nymph tied off as the dropper. Our first fish was caught right in front of the campground. Phil and I headed downstream while Bruce and Len went upstream towards the falls. As we were to find out later, there were some huge bull trout hanging in the deep pool below these spectacular falls.
Phil quickly caught a couple of small whitefish and a cutthroat while I was shut out. Switching over to a Prince nymph on the dropper rig, I caught my first cutthroat on a small side pool next to the fast water.  That was just the start of some great fishing the next nine days. We fished for another three hours before calling it a day. That evening we enjoyed the campfire as we listened to the water rushing past us just below.

On day two of our trip, we headed over a nearby mountain pass to fish the Carbondale River. Access to this steep sided smaller river was somewhat difficult. We ended up finding an old access bridge and walking down the bank near a busy campground. Phil and I stared fishing a deep pool but I quickly decided to work on taking both still pictures and videos with my new Nikon AW1. This rugged camera is shock proof and waterproof to 49 feet.
 Carbondale is a beautiful river, but access can be difficult
In other words, a camera that might be able survive the rough beating that crunched my last DLR. It’s a mid-priced make but still takes very good photos and did survive some drops and submerging in ice cold water. All the photos on this trip were taken with it, so you be the judge. As the day wore on, very few fish were caught, a major disappointment to Phil and the rest of the crew who had high expectations for this river. After four hours with a only a couple small whitefish to show for it we decided to pack it in and head back to the campground for supper.
While the Castle River is one of the more popular in the region, it can, like most rivers, be tough to fish. On our third day we headed southwest from Castle Falls on Road 774 past the Castle Mountain ski resort. This is rugged country and four wheel drive is recommended if you are going to access stretches of the river off road. Not only that, but you have to be prepared to do some work to get to different sections of the river. There is fallen timber everywhere, which means you can only access short stretches of the river before you have to go overland. This section was good to me, as I landed my biggest cutthroat of the trip out of an undercut bank. I saw the fish come out to my Prince nymph and engulf it, one of the coolest sites in the world. I had a hard fought battle on my hands in the relatively heavy current but I did manage to land this beautiful specimen.
 My biggest cutthroat of the trip on the Upper Castle, home to some large fish!

Friend Phil Brake was also able to wade over and get some shots before releasing this fish. On almost all sections of the rivers in this region, its catch and release fishing only, which has allowed the fishery to thrive. On the way out of the stream that evening we were crossing over a bridge by the ski resort when we saw a huge cutthroat rising to take mayflies off the surface. This was the first visible signs of a hatch and we went to take many more fish this trip on dry flies.
The next day we try and access the south Castle River but are stopped by some washed out sections of the access road. Instead we stay relatively close to home and fish the forks of the south and west Castle. Some beautiful pools make this short section attractive but Phil hooks the only rainbow of the trip on a big brown Wooly Bugger fished in a straight section of the river.
 The only rainbow of the trip

Meantime in the pool below I land two cutthroat back to back before we call it a day. That’s because it’s moving day, when we head up north through the Crowsnest. First though we have to stop and visit the two great fly shops that our on our way. 

At the Crowsnest Angler, friend Vic Bergman has a day off, so we head up to visit Susan Douglas-Murray at the Crowsnest Café & Fly Shop in Coleman. Here we get the latest information on the rivers and streams we are about to fish and Susan hand picks the flies we need. These would hold us in good stead and dramatically increase our success ratio the rest of the way.

Part Two of our Adventure to southern Alberta:
From Coleman we head north on Highway # 40 to the Racehorse Creek campground which is to be our home for the next five days. This beautiful campground is centrally located to where we want to fish. From here we have access to a multitude of different small rivers, creeks and larger rivers including the Oldman. 
 Roughing it
After setting up camp we decide to head out to the stream that the campground was named after, Racehorse Creek. This little stream, while small in stature provide us with some great evening angling over the next two days. On the second evening out by myself, I landed four nice cutthroat in two different pools, all on a Pale Morning Dun fly, commonly called among fly fishers, a PMD. Meantime Gerald Conrad, had the same fly on with similar results. Gerald and his partner Ron Enns have now been with us two days.

While we spent the evening fishing Racehorse Creek the next three days are spent fishing the Livingstone River during the day. There are many side roads that lead to the riverside, but this destination is very popular among fly fisherman. The first two days we don’t have too much trouble finding a stretch of river to fish, but come Friday things are crowded.
On our first day on the Livingstone, Len Penner has a great day, landing nearly 20 fish. Lime Sally was the fly of the day. Phil and I catch some fish but don't have near that kind of success. Next day we made sure to have on a variety of dry flies and things turn for the better.
 Len checking out the action on a section of the Livingstone

Thursday: our best day on the Livingstone in a middle section of the river. Phil lands nine fish out of one pool and sees big bull trout. He catches most of them on black ant that he tied the night before! I manage to land a number of nice fish as well, and see some huge cutthroat refuse my big stonefly presentation. Still, most of the fish I caught on my little yellow and white mayfly dry fly.

 Upper Livingstone was a beautiful section

After a great day of fishing we head into Bellevue to pick up more dry flies and have dinner. We also tune into the Bomber/Edmonton game (that didn’t turn out so well.)
Friday- we fish upper Livingstone and have a nice time with myself landing four fish.  Unfortunately we could only find one small stretch of river that did not other anglers on it. After looking over a number of different sections we decide to pack in early and get ready for a new river on Saturday.

 Catching some nice cutthroat on the upper Livingstone


On our last full day, we decide to head down the foothills to the Oldman River, on a section near Highway 22. Since there was six of us fishing, we decided to break up and head to different sections. Len and decided to head downstream and as luck would have it, I found small little pool that was holding a good number of fish. 

I could see some fish rising a long cast across the pool to a back eddy along the far shore. I started with some short casts to see if there any fish closer and as luck would have it, there was! I caught two cutthroats right away using a Terranasty along with a Prince Nymph dropper. After catching the closer fish, I wade into the river a bit deeper so I can get my fly to other shoreline. Sure enough, on the second drift another fish takes the big dry fly. Len comes back to my pool to see what all the commotion is about and takes a couple pictures of me with my fish. He then heads upstream about a thousand yards and lands a big fat cutthroat. After a couple of hours we both head up to our rendezvous point. It is a huge deep pool with multiple structures. Two of our group are working the other side of the pool and Len and I stay out of their way. With an hour to go I notice some fish starting to rise to a hatch. Quickly tying on a dry, I catch two beautiful trout on a Royal Coachman on what was the best fish catching day of the trip for me.
I had so much fun on this trip, I will be going back with Phil, Len and company this July.

Monday, February 22, 2016

March is Whitefish time!

Looking for a little different angling experience to end off the ice fishing season?  Then maybe you should consider trying your luck for Lake Whitefish. In Manitoba, we have a number of lakes that hold large populations of this great sportfish. Not to be overlooked, whitefish are also great table fare. I love my whitefish baked in an oven with just butter, salt and pepper. Cook at 425F for about 11 minutes, then get some fresh parsley and lemon zest on the top.
For shore lunch, dip in egg and flour and some corn flake crumbs. Cook quickly in some sunflower oil over a hot fire or cook stove. I sometimes like to add some Cajun spice to flavour it up a bit.
Cleaning these fish can be a bit tricky for the novice. First take off the anal fins, then slice up the middle from the anal cavity to the head. Cut down to start taking the fillets off, then work your sharp knife over the ribs bones as you take the fillets off. Whitefish have a Y bone like a pike, so make that diamond cut at the top of the fillet just like a pike. You also want to remove the red bloodline along their lateral line. This can give the fillets a bit of a fishy taste. Take your time and work this out and you will have some great firm white flesh that tastes great when cooked properly. Friend Jeff Gustafson shows how it’s done on one of his television shows. Check it out on YouTube

Lake Whitefish could be the most spectacular ice fishing quarry that we have access to in Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario. Preferring cool clear water lakes with water depths in the twenty to fifty metre range, the lakes of the Canadian Shield make for prime habitat. These aggressive winter predators, though, are also more adaptable than the lake trout, tolerant to warmer water temperatures. This expands their range to a wide variety of lakes in this part of the world. Hard to catch? Not in the least, as long as you keep a few certain rules in mind.
MANITOBA WHITEFISH LAKES: North Steeprock Lake in the Porcupine Hills is absolutely loaded with Lake Whitefish. Westhawk and Falcon lakes have abundant populations as does the entire Winnipeg River system, especially the Nutimik Lake section.
In the Duck Mountains many a master angler whitefish has come through an ice hole in March from Gull Lake. Cross Bay up at Grand Rapids, has huge lake whitefish which can grow to size of thirty inches or better, a challenge to any ice anglers equipment. Don’t forget Clear Lake in Riding Mountain National Park, a spectacular lake whitefish fishery. My first experience for this game fish occurred on this lake in a raging blizzard. While fishing conditions were tough, these fish were aggressive and the action was constant.

On this particular day we keyed in on two different areas. One was an extended point off a main lake island that dropped into deep water. Whitefish love transition spots between hard and soft bottom, preferring to feed off either insect larvae or small minnows in the winter. Mid lake shoals and extended soft bottom flats also provide forage opportunities for these fish.  
Since that time, a lot of my trips for whitefish have been to Shoal Lake, Ontario.  Unfortunately, a huge downturn in the smelt population on this lake has scattered the fish, making locating large schools of these fish extremely difficult.
 LURE SELECTION: Small silver spoons like the Williams Ice Jig, and the Northlands Eye-Dropper work well. Small jigs with Berkley one inch power tubes or two inch power grubs are also excellent producers.   A small jigging Rapala can also be deadly along with Cicada’s. An aggressive jigging action with artificial lures will call whitefish in from a distance, important considering that they can be scattered over a fairly large area.
If the fish do get finicky, rigging up a small hook below a couple of split shots with a dead shiner minnow can get you some jumbos as well.
The use of a hydrographic map, if available, will allow you to find in advance areas that are likely to hold whitefish. Since larger whitefish are usually very aggressive in the winter time, it won’t take long to determine if there are fish in the vicinity.
As the days get longer in March, whitefish tend to get into larger schools with fifty to hundred fish days a real possibility.