Monthly Archives: August 2014

Arctic Grayling, Big Hole River

Fluvial Arctic Grayling, Big Hole River

We caught (and released) this very special Fluvial Arctic Grayling in the Big Hole River on a #16 bead head pheasant tail nymph.

Grayling from the Big Hole River! We caught this little gem (on a #16 bead head pheasant tail nymph) between Jerry Creek and George Grant Memorial on the Big Hole River. This is just the second Arctic Grayling I’ve had the pleasure to catch and release.

At this time, the last viable native populations of these Fluvial (river-dwelling) Arctic Grayling are found only in the Upper Big Hole River, so they are extremely special trout. Their outstanding characteristics are the large sail-like dorsal fin and black spots on the body.

For the past many years, they’ve been considered for the Endangered Species List, but through cooperative efforts their numbers have been sufficiently restored, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Water Wednesday, Blackfoot River

Blackfoot River Boulders – This river of the Rockies has an added aura of spectacular due to its wildly strewn boulders that range in size from a Yeti cooler to a Volkswagen to the size of our house foundation! Some of them protrude boldly and make a challenging obstacle course for the oarsman. Other smooth pieces lie in wait under the cool flow of the Blackfoot. It’s a wondrous feeling to float over the older-than-time slabs that peer up from just below the water’s surface. A magical place, the Blackfoot River.

Blackfoot River

The Blackfoot River has it all – boulders, mountains, forests and the Big Montana Sky.

Trout Tuesday, Blackfoot River Cutthroat

Blackfoot River Westslope Cutthroat – Ron and I hit the Blackfoot late Sunday morning and had a rather slow day of it. We landed a few nice cutthroat like this one, several juvenile rainbows, and the usual handful of white fish. We were hoping for a landmark hopper day, but alas, the fish liked our nymph dropper more than anything on top.

 Blackfoot River Westslope Cutthroat

This Blackfoot River Westslope Cutthroat was caught in a riffle between Roundup and Corrick’s River Bend.

Throwback Thursday, Bull Trout on the Elk River

Since Fernie, B.C. is this week’s theme, here’s a shot of Ron back in March of 2006. This was our first trip to the Elk River.

We took the kids to go Spring skiing. Ron and I wandered into the Kootenay Fly Shop, ran into the owner, Gord, and he agreed to take us fishing on the spur of the moment. Snow was still thick on the ground and the boat ramps were not accessible, so we helped Gord slide his raft down a bank beside a bridge and commenced to have a magical winter-wonderland kind of day.

When Ron and I went into the Fly Shop last weekend to get our licenses, Ron was wandering around the shop, then suddenly exclaimed, “Hey, there I am!” Gord had posted a picture of Ron with another Elk River Bully on his “Wall of Fame.” The next words out of Ron’s mouth were, “That sweater is terrible!”

Ron Watt, Elk River, Bull Trout

Ron with an Elk River Bull Trout, March 23, 2006.

Fly Fishing in Fernie

Elk River, Westslope Cutthroat

Elk River Westslope Cutthroat.

Fernie, B.C. is a beautiful, quaint little town. A ski bum, ho humm, laid back, trout bum kind of town. And a river runs through it. The Elk – colored cobblestones of the Rockies shimmering beneath cool blue water. She gave up a number of Her cutthroat beauties to us. We caught and released them on our guided trip last Friday with Dave Brown Outfitters (purchased at this year’s Westslope Chapter TU banquet). Using imitation flies of beetles, ants and hoppers, we lured them to rise and splash beneath the surrounding great slate-colored Canadian Rockies.

Elk River, Canadian Rockies

The blue ribbon waters of the Elk River, surrounded by the Canadian Rockies.

Saturday Ron and I fished on our own at Island Lake. We rented a canoe for several hours and paddled through hatches of callibaetis, bright-blue damselflies, dragonflies, and a couple of traveling sedge. We could not get a fish to take our imitations, which allowed us time to marvel at the magnificence of the surrounding old-cedar forest and jagged mountain peaks.

Island Lake

Island Lake sits seven miles up a dirt road surrounded by a thick old-cedar forest. The lake itself reflects pine forests and rocky mountains. And we’re told it holds some big cutthroat, but all we saw were lots of bugs!

From Island Lake, we went in search of Lodgepole Creek and the Wigwam River – supposedly some 40 minutes away over rough dirt roads. We veered right in our sporty car, a Nissan Maxima, when we should have gone straight. And we travelled a gnarly rough road – one used, or punched in, barely, by the Power Company. Thankfully, after a couple of miles, it dumped us onto a good dirt road. After a few different approaches and attempts to find the right bridges and landmarks (two lakes and a cabin) on the maze of logging roads, we came upon the yellow gate!

Lodgepole Creek bridge

The bridge at Lodgepole Creek.

We went left, crossed the Lodgepole Creek bridge, and parked the dust-covered Nissan. Ron and I scuttled down the steep, rocky, brush-strewn bank, stood upon some boulders, and commenced to fly fish. On my second cast, I landed a nice fat cutty on a hopper. Ron caught a couple more on his red-ant pattern as the sun began to wane. Hungry, tired, and not wanting to end up in some bear’s belly, we headed back to town.

Sunday morning found us back at the yellow gate. This time, we hiked in 2.25 miles to access the deep blue bull trout habitat at the confluence of the Elk and Wigwam Rivers. Up and down the rocky banks we fished, because two guys were already fishing “the” hole. After they were done, we moved in. Ron was throwing streamers and wooly buggers, trying to get one of the Canadian bullies to take. I dinked around on shore, taking pictures of the magnificent mountain ranges, old-growth pine forests, the rocks and the rivers. We landed no bull trout – turns out this time of year they’re doing the dance of love and aren’t too interested in feeding. We did land a couple of nice cutties and a sucker.

Confluence of the Elk and Wigwam Rivers

Ron fishing for bull trout at the confluence of the Elk and Wigwam Rivers.

Of course, there was that one big, long tail that flounced out of the water after smacking Ron’s dry fly … and the one bull trout that tugged so hard on the far side of the river … before the line went slack …

They seem to get more grandiose with each remembering. The ones that get away are indelibly inscribed in our memories. They are the ones that keep mystery and hope alive. Oh rivers of the Rocky Mountains, we’ll be back – we’ll be back.

Wigwam River

The Wigwam River as the sun begins to slide behind the Canadian Rockies.

Water Wednesday, Elk River, Fernie, BC

The Elk River, Fernie, British Columbia – The splendor of the Canadian Rockies accentuate the beauty of this glittering jewel as it flows through the small town of Fernie. We enjoyed a guided fly fishing trip on the Elk River from Hosmer to this take out spot, in Fernie.

Healthy forests, friendly folks with sophisticated accents, access to high mountain and back roads fisheries, and wild Westslope cutthroat trout rising to dry flies make this beaconing waterway all the more appealing!

Elk River, Fernie, BC

The Elk River in Fernie, BC.

Trout Tuesday, Elk River Westslope Cutthroat

Elk River Westslope Cutthroat – This was one of the many wild, native beauties Ron and I caught on dry flies during our trip last weekend to Fernie, BC. This cutthroat was caught on the Elk River during a seven-mile float from Hosmer to Fernie.

We purchased a guided trip through Dave Brown Outfitters at this year’s Westslope Chapter, Trout Unlimited banquet in Missoula, and decided to make a five-day weekend out of it.

Fun fishing trip through breathtaking country.

Elk River Westslope Cutthroat

Elk River Westslope Cutthroat

Trout Tuesday, Big Hole River Brown Trout

German Brown Trout, Big Hole River

Spots of a German Brown Trout.

There are two types of brown trout in Montana – the German Brown and Scotland’s Loch Leven. Ron says German Browns have black spots as well as red or orange spots, often encircled by pale halos. Loch Leven do not have colored spots.

The territories of these two strains are also different. Again according to Ron, both can be found East of the Continental Divide, but only the German Brown can be found West of the Divide.

When I asked Ron how he knows all this he just said, “Well, I was born and raised in Montana!”

German Brown Trout, Big Hole River

German Brown Trout caught and released on the Big Hole River.

Trout Bums on the Big Hole River

Big Hole River

Big Hole River in July.

We had a couple of weekends in July when we fished the Big Hole River hard on Friday, caught our breath on Saturday, then hit it again on Sunday.

We “endured” heat, cold, wind, mosquitos, and even some periods of slow fishing.

We saw a gaggle of geese riding out low water rapids like buoyant little boats holding their heads high.

We traveled with three fly rods loaded with streamers, nymphs, and a dry/dropper combo.

We hit a spot one day, 50 yards from put in, where we landed over ten fish – boom, boom, boom.

There was the one cast I’ll never forget. Ron was on the oars through a string of rapids. I was up front, looking, casting, holding on. I threw behind a large bounder, and the fly landed perfectly. Oh it was like an impeccable 300 yard drive on the golf course. But this one was smacked by a mighty brown trout, and the fun was only beginning! The hope, then pride, then excitement. The appreciation of beauty and ultimate understanding that we were simply at the right place, at the right time, with the right everything …

We go to the river to feed something intrinsic within us. The fact that fly fishing offers eternal hope and a thrilling challenge only makes the water that much more alluring. It is a miracle everyone in the world is not a trout bum!

Big Hole River Brown Trout

A handsome Big Hole River brown trout caught on the cast of 1,000 dreams!