Tag Archives: Canada

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Canadian High Mountain Lakes (Gorgeous views guaranteed! Epic fishing a possibility…)

I am not a dedicated fisher of alpine stillwaters.  I have never planned a fishing trip where these destinations were the main focus.  On the other hand, I am an enthusiastic hiker who is always on the lookout for spectacular scenery. Not surprisingly, some of the most scenic trails wind up on the shore of a high mountain lake. And I am dedicated enough to tote along my fly rod

I have to admit that the fishing on these expeditions has been largely hit and miss, with much more emphasis on the “miss” portion.  Many mountain lakes –  because of short growing seasons, limited forage, winterkill, and a lack of spawning habitat – do not support large trout populations.  Other mountain lakes have a decent trout population, but while I’m fishing, which is usually close to noon in the middle of summer, the trout are hunkered down and uninterested.

Nevertheless, if there is a lake at the end of the trail, I am going to toss a few casts.  Occasionally, it pays off, like this past summer…

My girlfriend Deb and I were in Waterton Lakes National Park in southern Alberta.  We decided to hike the Alderson-Carthew Lakes trail; the word from the Visitor Info Center was that the views were stunning and the fishing was off the charts.  We set off at 9 AM, carrying day packs loaded with rain jackets, lunch, and fishing gear.

1For the first six miles of trail, the only scenery was the forest pushing in on either side of us. It was an uphill trudge through swarms of horse flies.  When the sign for Alderson Lake came into view, we were ready to stop.  About the same time, a hiker from the opposite direction told us that the trout in Carthew Lake –3 more miles up the trail – were going crazy.  So we decided to keep going.

At this point the trail started to climb into a truly amazing alpine environment. We were soon looking down at Alderson Lake and up toward the peaks that hid Carthew Lake:

2In another hour, we were at Carthew Lake.  It was how you would hope all mountain lakes would look, especially after hiking 9 miles to get there.  Better yet, there were trout rising sporadically.  The sun was high in the sky but the lake was cold enough that the trout – and whatever they were eating – welcomed the warmth.  I threw a small Adams beyond the sun-drenched shallows to the darker, deeper water.  It was engulfed immediately.

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And so it went.  Every cast to the edge of the deep water brought an instant fish.  They were native, colorful cutthroats.  Most of them were eight  to ten inches long and a couple stretched out to twelve.  I was pleasantly surprised by the size; to be honest I was expecting hordes of stunted six inchers.

Casts that fell on the shallow, clear water were even more entertaining. Although a fly that landed on the shoreline shoal was never gobbled instantly, a cruising trout would notice it within a minute.  Then I would have the pleasure of watching the entire take.

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The trout were just as active subsurface. Deb was using a spinning rod and a tiny spoon.  At any given time, she had a fish on and two or three others chasing it.

The fishing certainly wasn’t challenging, but it sure was fun.  After about an hour, we started to make our way back down the trail.   The scenery was just as gorgeous on the way back.

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Post-Script….

A couple weeks later, we were further north in Alberta, on the road between Banff and Jasper National Parks.  We hiked into Helen Lake, a tiny tarn sitting amongst the usual array of peaks and meadows.  We left the fishing gear in the car, figuring that the lake was so tiny and so high that its fish population would be zero.  Wrong!

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From the shoreline we could see dozens of cutthroat finning through the shallows and rising with semi-regularity.  It would have been a sight-fishing dream.  The moral of the story:  Always hike with fishing gear!

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Loading Up The Float Tube

I used to head out on my float tube with a single outfit and one or two spare spools.  It was great in theory but I think I actually changed spools twice in about ten years.  It just seemed like way too much effort on a float tube in the middle of a lake.

These days I head out with two or three complete outfits instead. I realize that the minimalists are now groaning, but maybe the gear junkies are intrigued?  The rods get rigged on shore and whatever isn’t in my hand is lashed to the tube with a couple of Velcro ties.  Swapping one for another takes about a minute and I have no qualms about changing things up whenever the need arises.  The last trip I took for bluegills is a great example…

011It was a July evening and I launched my tube at about 6 PM.  I had a moderate action 3 weight in my hand; a clear intermediate line ran through the guides.  This is my “go to” rod for sunfish. I can’t keep piles of running line from tangling on my stripping apron, so most casts are short and the moderate action rod lends a good feel to this.   The intermediate line is effective because the sunfish are often quite shallow.

I also had a 2 weight with a floating line on board.  If the ‘gills started rising later in the evening, this stick could lay out small dries for them. My last rod was another 3 weight set up to pick off suspended fish in deep water.

That last statement might strike some people as being a bit of a contradiction.  Generally speaking, 3 weights and deep water aren’t mentioned in the same breath.  Neverthess, you can use a fast action 3 weight to deliver a home-made shooting head capable of dropping flies to depths of 10 or 12 feet. To make a shooting head like this, cut off the first 30 feet of a 5 weight sinking line (Type 3) and then attach it to 60 or 70 feet of 20 pound Amnesia with an Albright knot.  The Amnesia, naturally, is the running line and gets attached to your backing.

IMG_0494I found some fish after only about 10 minutes of prospecting.  They were in scattered submerged weeds between a couple docks.  The water was only about 4 feet deep and the intermediate line – with a scud pattern attached – worked like magic.   Jeepers, can a 9 or 10 inch bluegill pull!  They don’t run or jump, but they put an amazing bend in a light rod.  After about half a dozen tussles like that, I decided to try another spot.

I paddled up to a line of reeds growing right beside some thick, sunken cabbage.  The intermediate line had no Mojo in this location; it didn’t seem to be getting the fly deep enough into the weeds, so I pulled out the shooting head, and did my best imitation of a Bassmaster flipping a heavy jig to penetrate cover.

I had about ten feet of the sinking line outside the rod tip.   I paddled along the reeds, lobbing a micro-leech into reedy, weedy pockets.   I wouldn’t strip the fly in but simply dance it around with the rod tip before picking up and lobbing it into the next pocket.   The bluegill seemed to like this approach and several sucked in the leech.  Although usually reserved for deeper water, the shooting head proved it had a place in the shallow jungle.

IMG_0514Eventually, darkness crept in; I kept an eye open for rising fish, hoping to pull the 2 weight off the bench. Although this didn’t materialize, it was still an incredibly fun and satisfying evening….

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Here’s the outfits I carry when I’m not going after sunfish:

Perch LakeSmallmouth or largemouth bass…  I carry a Sage bass rod and a couple of 8 weights – one with a type 2 sinking line and one with a shooting head.   The bass rod, naturally, gets used for poppers around shallow cover.  The type 2 line helps me hit deeper weed beds and the shooting head – either a type 3 or type 6 – is handy for dredging.

Stillwater trout…  A 6 weight with a floating line lets me throw dries to rising fish or dangle chironomids under an indicator.  For the bulk of my stillwater trouting, I wield a  different 6 weight with an intermediate line.  Lastly, I carry the same shooting head system that I would for smallies and LMB’s.

IMG_0484Crappies… I use the same outfits that I do for bluegill.  However, I swap the 2 weight for a specialized 4 weight that delivers small poppers and gurlers.  More details about this rod are in my Pisciaphilia article called, “Canadian Fall Fishing:  Topwater Crappie Action.”

Pike…  I am often throwing BIG flies for pike.  The outfits I use are like the bass selection above but I trade a couple of 10 weights for the 8 weights.

One final note!  Be careful if you’re paddling your tube around with a couple rods hanging off the side and extending behind you.  Don’t back into anything!

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Canadian Fall Fishing: Topwater Crappie Action

I’ve come to realize that crappie take top-water flies with incredible enthusiasm. Although not a “classic” fly rod target, their surface-slurping tendencies – especially in the fall – deserve your attention…

13 inch Minnewasta CrappieAlthough the spring crappie bite can be awesome, late summer and early fall can be even better.  At my latitude in southern Manitoba – just north of the U.S. border – this time period typically runs from the last week in August through the first two weeks of September.

When the weather is pleasant and settled, crappie at that time of year turn on like crazy.  I usually fish small, shallow, flatland reservoirs and the fish swarm into the same weedy bays they frequented in the spring.  They are also drawn toward turns and points on rocky shorelines.  The rip-rap along a dam is another magnet.

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The magic really starts to happen an hour or two before sunset.  The crappies often give themselves away as they swirl after baitfish and other critters.  Better yet, they eagerly suck in #8 to #12 streamers attached to a intermediate line and a 3 to 5 weight rod.  A type II line also works well, especially if the water is 5 or 6 feet deep.  Some of my “go-to” patterns are shown in the accompanying photos.

IMG_1369Occasionally, if there are sunfish around, I will use a #12 or #14 nymph.  Both crappie and sunfish will hit a small nymph but I really believe that crappie prefer something a little bit larger.

Wait a second… Didn’t the title of this article say something about top water?  Don’t worry, it’s coming…

As dusk moves in, put away the streamers and tie on a panfish-sized popper or gurgler.  Short, rhythmic strips – and the resulting surface commotion – draw the fish in.

My favorite outfit for presenting poppers and gurglers was inspired by a Sage Bluegill.  A Sage Bluegill is probably a bit heavy for most of the panfish in my area so I’ve taken a crisp action 4 weight that is 7 ½  feet long and matched it up with a 6 weight line and a light reel.  The resulting combo loads great with a short line; it is amazing at hitting little pockets in rip-rap or any other target.  Plus, an 11 inch crappie puts a good bend in it!

IMG_0639A boat or a float tube are great for working fall hot spots but walking along the rip-rap face of a dam is also effective.  Actually, as dusk turns to night – but the fishing is still lit up – walking on shore with a minimum of equipment is perhaps preferable to being in a boat or a tube.

Crappie are a great way to say good-bye to the dog days of summer and say hello to fall!

Caribou Antler

I’ll Trade You This Lund for That ClackaCraft

(And a Canadian beer for one pike Deceiver and three grayling dries…)

My dad was an adventurer – not the adrenaline junkie type – but the type who yearned to see what was around the next bend of the river.  I think that might be a pretty common characteristic of fly fishermen.  Although Dad preferred his casting rod to a fly rod, he certainly had a bad case of “next bend” syndrome  – a condition that forces you out of your car and into your boat and even out of your boat onto your feet.

I don’t think it got worse as he got he got older, just more obvious.   When he maybe should have been out with the local mall-walking group, he was trekking through all kinds of wilderness, fishing rod in hand.

He didn’t care much if he caught a fish; he was mostly interested in seeing a new piece of the planet.  The beauty of it was that I could talk him into going to all kinds of places.  (Peer pressure isn’t necessarily a bad thing.)

Caribou AntlerOne August, we flew into Munroe Lake Lodge, just a bit south of the tree line in northern Manitoba.  It was August and the pike were out of the shallow back bays and into the deeper cabbage beds.  If we found some cabbage, we found pike –  solid fish from 6 to 8 pounds. With enough bigger ones to ones to keep the anticipation levels high.

However, lakes at that latitude are not incredibly fertile.  Being unguided, we roamed all over Munroe Lake’s 12 mile length to find cabbage beds.   We saw a lot of beautiful things– sand eskers, shed caribou antlers, stunted black spruce, and cabbage beds, too!  The cabbage bed residents loved to slam our offerings.  But not always…  As pike are prone to do, they would often merely follow.  And then watch, and maybe even grin, as we figure-eighted and frothed the water.

Surprisingly, the most effective flies were on the smaller side.  Bunny leeches, tan Whistlers, and white Deceivers from 4 to 5 inches long were deadly.  An intermediate line seemed to get just the right amount of depth.

As a change of pace, we fished for grayling at the mouths of inlet streams.  None were bigger than 10 inches but they were great fun on dry flies and a 3 weight.

One evening, the lodge owner mentioned that trophy grayling could be found down the outlet at the far end of the lake.  “Just float down through the riffles until you get to the first good pool,” he said.  He had me convinced as soon as he mentioned trophy grayling.  And it didn’t take much to get my Dad on board.  (Remember what I said earlier about peer pressure.)

The next morning, after a long boat ride down the lake, we eased our 16 foot Lund and 20 horsepower motor into the current of Munroe Lake’s riffled outlet. That particular boat and motor combo is typical issue at northern lodges.  A lot of people use boats like that for chasing walleye in Minnesota.  They are not exactly drift boats.

Push!After about ten feet, the prop dug in.  So up went the motor.  After ten more feet, the boat’s hull was stuck on the bottom.  So out we jumped.

We had on chest waders and it was kind of fun – hanging on to the gunwhales, half-walking and half-riding the boat down the river.  We went about 100 yards and then I looked at my Dad, who was 71 years old at the time, and said, “We’re gonna have to DRAG the boat on the way back.  Are you sure we should do this?”

He muttered something about him riding and me dragging and off we went.  We probably covered a half mile of river before we found the spot the lodge owner was talking about.  It was a beautiful deep glide with large boulders on the bottom.  We fished it hard but only managed one sixteen inch grayling.

Our exit from the outlet didn’t involve the same exhilaration as our arrival.  It was hard, exhausting work.  Instead of riding on the gunwhale, I grabbed it and pulled.  Dad was at the back of the boat and, despite his earlier threats, pushing like crazy.

It took us over an hour to get back up the outlet and onto the lake.  We were panting and sweating and beat.  Our excursion had netted us only fish.  Was it worth it?

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Totally!!!