Time to get Lost again in the East Kootenay’s of British Columbia.
Prior to our last trip to the Elk River valley, we were sweating out the effects of the June 2013 record flood on fish and flows. Now we ticked away the days before our early September departure watching rivers throughout Alberta and southern British Columbia close due to low flows and high summer temperatures. I guess medians and means are made up of extremes. Screw statistics, let’s go fishing.
We left southeast PA in a summer swelter and arrived to a stiff wind, rain and 6 degrees C in Calgary. You can do the conversion – makes me want to fly off to the fallout shelter. It was snowing in the mountains by the time we arrived in Fernie BC.
Heavy overcast, drizzle, and flurries in the Rockies in September can mean only one thing – blue wing olives. Actually two things – BWO’s and streamers. And maybe hypothermia.
Despite tying enough foam and rubber legged terrestrial and GFA patterns to outfit a decent sized fly shop, it was immediately apparent that I was not going to force my will on the normally unselective westslope cutthroats of the Elk River. Juicy beetle and outsized ant patterns that were so effective in bringing cutts up from the depths two years ago were largely ignored in the gloaming. Water temps had plummeted (my thermometer read only Fahrenheit and thus wouldn’t work in Canada, but it was cold), yet the baetis appeared every day at 1:30 PM. Did you ever notice how baetis don’t really emerge, but suddenly just appear riding the currents? So much for an emerger pattern. I’ll have to work on a baetis “appearer” this winter.
The cutts immediately took notice. No wonder they ignored the floating junk earlier; they were conditioned to a chow line appearing overhead in the early afternoon. You just have to meet them on their terms, not yours. A size 18 or 20 parachute or sparkle dun pattern connected with many westslopes.
A slightly larger and darker flavor of BWO joined in later in the afternoon. Not sure what it was, but the real favorite seemed to the flav’s that appeared around 4:00.
Curiously, there were good numbers of timpanoga hecuba emerging in the silty margins of certain pools, but unlike in the streams of the Lamar River drainage where the Yellowstone cutthroats cherish them, they were largely ignored by the westslopes. Who says cutthroats aren’t selective – I saw several turn away from the natural hecubas, a full size 12 or 10 meal.
The BWO parade generally tapered off by 6:00 PM, as did much of the rising activity. Nothing wrong with that, as the fireplace and happy hour back at the cabin beckoned.
After a few days on various stretches of the Elk, the sparkling Bull River was next in line.
While the cold drizzle and low cloud lifted somewhat, the Bull is an exceptionally cold stream to begin with - its cutthroat trout stayed low and deep, sporadically darting from their holds under LWD piles to jab at streamers swinging by.
Eventually a mixed BWO hatch brought on a nice rise of fish later in the afternoon for a blast of surface activity. There’s that Warmth of the Sun effect again.
Moment of meditation on the Bull River - still picking up Good Vibrations from Shambhala just to the west:
Sleep deprived, rum addled exhaustion deep in cutthroat trout country is my path to enlightenment.
Wigwam on the Bull, but no Bulls on the Wigwam – Galbraith Creek Junction Pool
We had planned to hit the Wigwam at some point during the week even though the stretch we fished in 2013 was above the spawning bull trout closure zone. However, we were denied our chance when the BC Ministry of Environment adopted a classified waters license lottery the day before we attempted to buy our Wigwam license at the fly shop. No advance notice, no nothing. Basically, unless you’re a BC resident, you’ve got to plan your entire trip around your ability to draw a license. Pretty common for big game hunters, and I think the underlying cause is noble (managing pressure on sensitive fisheries), but their execution really bit us in the ass. We would generally buy our licenses 2 days at a time to account for weather conditions (no sense locking in a license for a blown out river).
We briefly wigged out over not getting on the Wigwam. Michel Creek, which seems to have become the Soda Butte Creek of the Elk River valley – manageable size, easy access, an excellent population of outsized cutthroats, but generally being loved to death – is now also subject to the lottery. Michel was already closed to due to thermal stress until September 15, so it was less of an impact than losing the Wiggie.
We were left with only like a 100 miles of the Elk River to fish. So we got down to business, one pool at a time. Including this gem that housed those sharks of the Kootenay’s, the bull trout:
That’s all I have to say about that.
By mid-week, the sun had emerged, returning the fishing to a more familiar pattern of terrestrials and attractors with moderate late afternoon/evening mayfly hatches and spinner falls. But the bulls continued to ravage many a hooked cutthroat, whitefish, or chunk of bunny fur.
Just like Slough Creek. But with the prospect of a 12 lb. river shark eating your 12” cutthroat.
If my penance for not being able to fish the Wigwam or Michel is being forced to fish a different stretch of the Elk River for the better part of a week, then bless me father for I have sinned, and let’s get on with my acts of contrition.
The Charlie Brown Christmas Tree Pool
Thanks for looking.
Editors Note: The editors here at WRWT would like to genuinely thank Greg Glitzer for contributing the above story and photos about his recent trip to the Elk River Valley in British Columbia, Canada. Greg is a consummate angler, a gifted and superb and fly tyer and above all a good friend. He also lives right here in Doylestown, PA.