A youngish friend is trying to become more accomplished at fly fishing by getting to know one of Alberta’s better trout streams really well.
Recently he found some “new” water on this stream by travelling an obscure district road to a bridge over the stream.
Did I know it, and what did I think of the place? The water looked good to him, he said, “but fishing pressure seems to be higher there as I found more garbage and boot prints along the bank.”
I know the spot well and avoid it because the vehicle access and parking space guarantee heavy angling pressure and skittish brown trout that know how to deal with it by disappearing.
That said, a talented friend took a 26 – inch brown there on a hopper pattern in late July three years ago.
Somewhat upstream of that spot, an undeveloped portion of a road allowance ends at the stream’s littered bank.
One day years ago, I fished the water fruitlessly, upstream and down, then, back at my rig, I made one last cast to a backwater at the far bank and got into a monumental battle with a 28 – inch brown, the third of that size of my fly fishing life.
Anything can happen with fishing, but, generally you find the best, the most undisturbed water on any good trout stream by remembering and following my alphabet rule: that on any good trout stream from beginning to end, alpha to omega in Greek (or A to Z in English) there will be prime shorter portions, E to G, or Q to T, for example, that nobody ever gets to, so everyone forgets they even exist.
The reasons are varied: lack of vehicle access, reluctance to ask permission to enter and cross private land, long, hard slogs through tough country, even just the failure to realize that a portion of the good stream has to be back in there, somewhere.
The most isolated water on the creek my friend wants to know better is several miles that flow through a vast wilderness of road — less public land, surrounded by private land.
You can get there legally by long hikes and wades from bridges 15 miles apart at the top and bottom ends, or get closer with shortcuts over private land, with the permission of owners.
The long, isolated stretch flowing slowly through public land doesn’t see half a dozen anglers a year because nobody seems to realize it is there.
I have floated it half a dozen times, particularly during the brown drake hatch.
But you not only have to know where to put the boat in, you also have to know how to get access to it. If you try to float it between bridges, best plan to stay overnight, because it is a long, slow way.
This water comes in to its own in late summer, through fall as the big spawner browns are on their way up to their spawning gravels.
It became my favourite fishing on this stream, often wading up the middle, watching both banks, hunting for the sneaky little rises of huge brown trout eating ants, grasshoppers, or beetles, and the occasional riot of one grounding itself trying to catch dragonflies.
On cool, dull days, the fish will rise to good hatches of blue-winged olives and in some falls up there I have caught late afternoon hatches of a very large, orange-bodied, fall, or October caddis species.
On most of these isolated stretches on many streams the fish hold exceptionally close to the banks and rise to feed quietly and furtively.
Most of what I consider to be the top nine trout streams in Alberta have unknown, seldom-fished stretches like this, the lone exception being the lower Bow River, which is fished almost entirely from drift boats, from which you see and fish it all. But even the Bow features back channels that are seldom fished.
The North and South Ram Rivers feature much “unknown” prime water accessible only by hard hiking down and climbing back out, helicopters, or illegal in -stream ATV travel.
Even Alberta’s top trout stream, the tiny, 18-mile North Raven River .features several virtually inaccessible stretches except by the most intrepid bushwhackers after really big brown trout.
One of my favorites involved a quarter mile wade knee-deep in mosquito-infested muskeg.
But there was the nine pound brown trout we had electro-fished and released in there in aid of the stream study for the North Raven Bucks for Wildlife project ….
The Crowsnest River, almost as accessible as the North Raven, features Alberta’s only open invitation to a prime and otherwise difficult to reach stretch of a river:
Al and Shirl’s famous sign out by Hwy. 3 inviting you in, requesting you close the gate, and wishing you Happy Fishing. Strangely, relatively few anglers accept the invitation to exceptional fishing, probably because of the hike in, and particularly out.
Bob Scammell is an award-winning columnist who lives in Red Deer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.