Memories of Waterton fishing

Good news about Alberta sport fishing, the fishery or the waters they depend on has been scarce lately. Then, suddenly, some good news arrives at almost the right time and place for it about one of those rare and almost-accidental “new” fisheries created over time, ironically, from very little money and manpower.

Good news about Alberta sport fishing, the fishery or the waters they depend on has been scarce lately.

Then, suddenly, some good news arrives at almost the right time and place for it about one of those rare and almost-accidental “new” fisheries created over time, ironically, from very little money and manpower.

Recently my good friends Don Hayden and Wayne Norstrom ran into Chris Dawson of Slocan, B.C., in a Pincher Creek coffee shop.

Chris was at the Calgary Herald when I was its outdoors columnist and asked them to say hello to me.

Dawson, also the author of Due North of Montana, A Guide to Fly Fishing in Alberta, has obviously got the word and was here a tad early and in conditions too hot and bright for the great late summer and fall fishing in the Waterton River.

Not 10 days later, fishing friend, Myles Radford, of Edmonton was telling me about his recent adventures with very large brown trout on the Waterton, but more of that later.

Few Alberta anglers have ever heard of, let alone seen, the Waterton; in fact, there is just one mention of it in Dawson’s book.

Some of that obscurity lifted on July 22, 2010, when Lindsay Paterson of Pincher Creek caught the new Alberta record brown trout, 21 pounds 14 ounces, and 35 inches long, while fishing for pike with a Rapala plug in the Waterton.

Back in the days before there were even brown trout in the river, in the mid-to-late-1960s, the only other anglers my late brother-in-law Morgan Johnson and I ever saw on the Waterton were each other.

Our late mother-in-law Corrine Boyden would arrange permission with rancher friends for us to fish the river between where it flows out of Maskinonge Lake in Waterton Park, down to where it flows into the Waterton Dam reservoir.

In very late August when the water was starting to cool down, through September, especially on days with a “grasshopper wind,” we’d take large rainbows on grasshopper patterns and frequently get cleaned out by polaris monsters that launched high, just once, then cruised steadily downstream to the dam and the end of the line. Near dark, heading back to the rig, we’d find long runs with hundreds of rising rainbows heliographing rosy flashes to the setting sun as they ate something we never figured out.

As this was going on, in the late ’60’s, nearly half a million brown trout fingerlings were planted in the Crowsnest River below Lundbreck Falls to mitigate fisheries damage done by the Three Rivers Dam and, to quote myself in my first book, The Outside Story, “to establish the tough, tolerant brown in the Crowsnest-Castle-Oldman River system before pollution extirpates the resident bull, rainbow and cutthroat trout.”

At about the same time, leftover fingerlings were dribbled and drabbed into tiny tributaries in an attempt to introduce brown trout to the Waterton and Belly River systems.

As more of us are learning now, those modest plantings have become a great fishery success, while, ironically, the hundreds of thousands of brown trout fry dumped into the lower Crowsnest have largely disappeared, with only the occasional rumour of a huge brown taken as far down the Oldman as Monarch.

On one of our last torture tests together, son John asked me to show him the Waterton on our way back from a trip to Montana.

It was hotter than Hades along the river with smoke in the air from fires in Idaho and Wyoming. John, stripped to fishing vest, shorts and wading boots, surprised me by taking a half dozen brown trout to 14 inches.

From various high points along the river, including bridges, we spotted huge browns rolling lazily down deep in the middle of the river where a wading fly caster couldn’t reach them.

At that time I was still enjoying a lifelong passion for night fishing and it seemed to me the combination of too-hot and bright days, with brown trout in a big river cried out for night fishing.

I won’t night fish alone and tried without luck to find a buddy for a Waterton soiree.

Some vindication of my dark view has come from Myles Radford staying late recently on a blistering early August day on the Waterton. The river came to life as the light waned and, just before full dark, Myles landed a hook-jawed male brown of around 26 inches on a streamer fly.

Now Myles is expressing an interest in the “mystery wrapped in an enigma” of the Waterton tailwater from the dam down to where it joins the Belly 25 km south of Fort Macleod.

While he’s at it, he might try solving the many riddles of the nearby St. Mary River dam tailwater.

Bob Scammell is an award-winning columnist who lives in Red Deer. He can be reached at bscam@telusplanet.net.

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