After 27 years, my annual angling torture test with son John is easing up for me and getting tougher for him. Since I can no longer wade rivers and streams, the options and stops are fewer, the road trips shorter and more direct.
These annual road trips started when I gave John an Orvis graphite rod, Battenkill reel and line to match when he turned 13. Of course we just had to fish all the way down to fish the storied streams around and about West Yellowstone, Montana, so he could try out his new rig.
This year John decided he was taking me on a float fishing trip. He consulted my old friend, Vic Bergman, of Crowsnest Angler (www.crowsnestangler.com) in Bellevue and they decided that water levels were too low for floating rivers on the Alberta side of the Crowsnest Pass, but the Elk River near Sparwood and Fernie should be in prime shape.
After we checked in and had dinner in Coleman, John decided to run down and fish our favorite stretch of water on the Crowsnest River. He returned near dark, figuratively reeking of the worst kind of skunking there is, where big “banker” rainbow trout are feeding heavily on the surface, eating “something,” but you just can’t catch them.
We recalled one of our torture tests in early August a few years ago, when I fished exclusively for the same big, regularly rising rainbow in the Crow, and finally caught him near dark the second evening on a miniscule #20 Grittiths Gnat. Next time down there, John vowed, I am going too, so he can position me to study the water with my 10-powers and suggest fly patterns to him by cell phone.
First priority the morning of our Elk float was finding breakfast, that most important of meals being basically unavailable commercially in Coleman.
Fortunately, Stone’s Throw Cafe, in the former premises of old favorite Bistro on Main in Blairmore, and praised in Where to Eat in Canada for its lunches, now offers excellent breakfasts. We had the “Old Skool,” bacon and eggs with savoury little potato cakes. Next time I’m trying their Eggs Benedict on waffle, instead of English muffin.
At Crowsnest angler we met our guide, Clint Coldwell of Lethbridge, then grinned and bore the first torture of any B.C. fishing trip for a non-resident in recent years: the $20 three-day licence, plus the $20 classified waters tab for one day on the Elk.
It was a cutthroat morning, sunny, with fluffy clouds in an azure sky, when we launched Clint’s inflatable raft near Sparwood and the cutts came hard and fast for a drifting #12 Rusty Stimulator floated over likely spots near the banks as we drifted along.
Over the years I have floated and fished the Elk from beginning to end, and it remains the most consistent of all the rivers I have drift-fished.
The fishing is the same every time: shortly after lunch when the overcast periods and winds set in, the cutts turn off, then, when the sun comes out and the wind quits, the small to medium and a very few large cutts turn on.
In a dull period, for variety, I tied on a Black Wooly Booger at a deep pool beside one of the Elk’s riverside cement eyesores that Clint said was a good bull trout lair, and was quickly rewarded with our only bull of the trip, again smallish to medium-sized.
I have always said its tributaries are better than the Elk, several I won’t name and Michel Creek, for faster action and bigger cutts, and the wonderful Wigwam River that once gave me the bull trout of my dreams, as long as my leg, and great dry fly fishing for big cutthroats as soon as the big bulls had finished breakfasting on cutthroats.
You can fish its tributaries on the Elk day licence, but they are all tough wading, and thus now out for me.
Our last trip on the Michel, John shut that Orvis in the tailgate of my rig, fortunately mere months before the expiry of the 25 – year replacement warranty. Strangely, on this, a B.C. trip again, the new replacement rod shattered while John was reeling in a smallish cutthroat.
When John delivered me to Herself near Dickson Dam, she had brought my rod case, from which I outfitted John with a replacement #6 outfit for the continuation of his road trip with spouse, Darlene, and daughter Sarah, possibly to get in some fly fishing at Dinosaur Park (!)
On the Pincher Creek stop on the long way home, John and my nephew Kurt, both of whom I took and taught fly fishing there, took their kids.
All hands caught lots of rainbows going to 36 cm., including one of 30 cm. to grand nephew Riley, 12, “all by myself” and a much smaller first solo for granddaughter Sarah, five. A happy end to a torture test, even if I was absent.
Bob Scammell is an award-winning outdoors writer living in Red Deer.