Category Archives: Westslope Cutthroat

Early Autumn on the Blackfoot River

There was an early October crispness to the air, but the mid-morning sun and light breeze quickly melted it away. We stuffed our polar fleece hats and gloves into the dry bag with our rain gear – just in case. Another day on the Blackfoot River – from Scotty Brown’s bridge to County Line, a short four mile float that we would milk all afternoon.

Scotty Brown's Bridge, Blackfoot River

Scotty Brown’s Bridge on the Blackfoot River.

Shortly after we pushed off, a little dun horse came down through the burnt-red bushes and golden grasses along river’s edge to have a drink of cool water. Beauty and harmony, peace and quiet. The Blackfoot River is my Heaven on earth.

Blackfoot River Cutthroat

This autumn-colored Blackfoot River cutthroat put up an exhilarating fight!

Except for the evergreens, trees and brush were morphing into the brilliant colors of fall. The trout, too, seemed to be donning their autumn wardrobes. Several 12” to 16” rainbows of bright silver and pale pink, a 16” brown with deep golden fins and bright red spots, and a feisty 18” cutthroat with brilliant salmon-colored cheeks and belly. This fish took hard and swam deep, fighting to get behind boulders in the middle of the River. When I finally got him to the net, we were both exhausted. Absolutely thrilling!

The entire day was five-star from start to finish. A mile or so from our take out, we anchored downstream from a sharp bend in the River near a couple of VW-sized boulders. It was not long before I had a small cutthroat on the fly, when Ron shouted, “Look! A bull trout is trying to eat your fish!” Sure enough, this freight train – about 24” of bull trout – was attacking the poor little fish with my hook in its’ mouth. I reeled the cutty in to the safety of our net, and though his sides were scrapped, there were no mortal wounds.

Apparently, the bull trout are just finishing up spawning and are very aggressive this time of year. It is illegal to target this protected species on the Blackfoot, but what a privilege to see them in action.

Always an adventure on the Blackfoot River!

Blackfoot River

The Blackfoot River is Heaven on earth during any season.

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.

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

Water Wednesday, Blackfoot River

Another, more recent, photo of one of my favorite fishing stops on the Blackfoot River – exquisite blue-green water dropping deep off a colorful rock bench. We generally stop for about an hour here and land several fish. Last Sunday, however, it was a little different. Ron was messing around, showing Eric Kress something, as his line dragged in the water. As so often happens, as he began to real in, there was a nice fish on the line! And that’s the only one we caught out of that hole for the day.

Blackfoot River

Favorite fishing spot on the Blackfoot River

Trout Tuesday, Blackfoot River Westslope Cutthroat

Blackfoot River Westslope Cutthroat – The human hand-model in this picture needs some coaching (sorry Eric Kress!), as clearly does the photographer, but the beauty of this Westslope Cutthroat Trout is evident. We were thrilled to catch and release several of these strong colorful natives of the Blackfoot River last Sunday. This one has Ron’s latest sculpin pattern clutched in its jaws, but we were also successful with myriad other flies throughout our windy outing.

Blackfoot River Cutthroat Trout

Blackfoot River Cutthroat Trout

Best of Times on the Blackfoot River

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
English novelist (1812 – 1870)

How many fishing stories could start with, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”? That was the theme of our fishing trip on the Blackfoot this past weekend.

Yes, we were a bit late getting on the water – it was about 10:30 in the morning, and the boat launch at Corrick’s Riverbend was deserted. Surely the “serious” fishermen were miles down the river by now. Nonetheless, we were rested and happy to be there. Some mid-morning clouds threatened, but we were prepared for rain and a great day of fishing.

Within about fifty yards of our put in, I already had a fish on – a nice one, too. But it got away. So did the next one, in short succession.

Blackfoot River Westslope Cutthroat

Blackfoot River Westslope Cutthroat

As my husband Ron rowed me back upstream into the eddie to try again, I cast into some debris and lost my bottom tippet and fly – a red San Juan worm. We anchored, tied on some new line and another worm, and boom! Caught a nice fat cutthroat. In my vanity, I wanted a photograph, but this fish was having none of it. After flopping in the boat, we thought we’d better just get it back in the river – so overboard the cutt went. Through the splashing and commotion, Ron slipped in the raft, and snap! His hand came down none too softly on the graphite fly rod secured to the side of our boat. The mid-section was cleanly severed. A few expletives later we reached the momentous conclusion that “it is what it is,” hung our heads and resolutely rowed on down the river.

I was fishing a “trash rig” recommended by a local fly shop owner – a bling minnow and a San Juan worm. Surprisingly effective, I was able to land a couple of fish that took the minnow, and several more nice ones on the SJ worm.

About three hours into our trip, I was trying to get a fish on the reel, and snap! again. Not my rod, but the handle on my reel broke off and fell into the boat bottom. Ron snagged it up before it fell out of one of the self-bailer holes, and we thought we’d just screw it back on. But no. It was plastic and there was no screwing involved. I would have to rotate my reel with the palm of my hand if any more fish were to be landed.

Another back eddie and a small cutthroat landed. On down the river, a side cast under a tree – flash! A fish looked at my minnow, but the bling must have scared him. He retreated back into the shade and was the last fish of the day.

Honda 90 shuttle

Ron on our little Honda 90 shuttle.

Ron rode our shuttle bike, a little yellow Honda 90, back up to Riverbend to get our rig. I stayed with the boat. By this time the clouds had dissipated (without delivering the afore-mentioned, prepared-for rain), and it was a hot, blue bird Montana afternoon. I talked with a couple groups of floaters putting in at Whitaker Bridge for late afternoon excursions and took some group photos for them.

Ron returned with the trailer, some Missoula hippies helped us load the raft, and down the dirt road we went. Then … there was one more clink! as the inside rear view mirror fell off the front windshield and onto the truck seat. Seriously? Really?

It just rounded out the day!

Blackfoot River, Whitaker Bridge

Last cast at Whitaker Bridge on the Blackfoot River.

Tracy Watt, July 16, 2011

Trout Tuesday, Cutthroat on the Blackfoot

Cutthroat on the Blackfoot – This is my one of my happiest photos of a healthy Westslope Cutthroat I caught on the Blackfoot River with Ron several years back. I think it was the biggest fish I’d caught to date, and on my favorite river to boot! We’ve saved this picture on our camera’s “protected mode,” and every time I see it I’m thrilled all over again. Wonderful memories of great fish, beautiful rivers, and quality time together.

Westslope Cutthroat on the Blackfoot River

Westslope Cutthroat on the Blackfoot River

Water Wednesday

I’ll never tire of river rock photos. They always remind me of this quote:

Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of those rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.

― Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It and Other Stories

Rock Creek, river rocks

We were on Rock Creek a couple of weekends ago chasing native Westslope Cutthroat, and I couldn’t resist the opportunity for one more river rock photo!