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K.I.S.S. and Tell Fly-fishin

 

There are many openings and closings of angling seasons these days as fisheries biologists micro-manage our lakes, rivers and streams and try to allocate and sustain an ever-diminishing resource base. So the travelling angler who wants to stay out of trouble with the fish cops is best advised to keep a copy of the provincial regs in his or her truck. And consult them on a regular basis. When it comes to angling laws, complicated is now the name of the game.

Still for the spiritual, ethereal and traditional angler, April 1 is generally regarded as the beginning of the new fishing season. A time of renewal, anticipation and rejuvenation when the warm weather fishing to come suddenly becomes as immediate as the stream bank pussywillows and the return of the geese and the crows.
Small waters like this Cypress Hills beauty are a great place to hone your fly-fishing skills.
Heck, there was a robin singing from the top of a big white spruce up my street the other day. Sure there is some structure to the April 1 opening because that’s when most jurisdictions begin their license year. But for the fly fisher, the change is more compelling than just the legal compartmentalization of a government bureaucrat. It generally heralds the return of the bugs. Because without insects, traditionally there would be no “fly” in fly-fishing. Although in reality, fly-fishing generally means casting an artificial lure using the weight of the line rather than the mass of the bait to propel it. The word “fly” as many other terms used in this often complex and confusing method of catching fish has been corrupted to mean many things and species not associated with flying insects. So a “fly” can also imitate any number of bait fish. It can also represent the larval and nymph stages of insects which don’t “fly” but crawl around on rocks and steam bottom trash. There are flies that imitate mice and voles. While in Mongolia they use gopher imitations to catch the monster trout-like taimen that swim in the rivers there. A fly can also imitate nothing. Particularly when angling for anadromous fish like salmon and steelhead which live a portion of their lives in the ocean and don’t feed when returning to their home rivers to spawn. Yet they will occasionally hit fancifully dressed flies or bizarre floating Bombers as long as your thumb, for reasons no one really knows for sure. So as you can imagine, getting started out in fly-fishing can present a pretty formidable learning curve if you let all the hocus pocus that we grizzled fly anglers love to revel in get to you. To ramp up your early season survival skills and generally demystify the casting of a fly for fish, the only way to go is to practice K.I.S.S. and tell fly angling. As in Keep It Simple, Stupid!
Arctic grayling are a fly fishing species that can be wonderfully forgiving.

Gear

Some fly anglers reckon they only have bragging rights if they have a dozen or more rods in the rack. Bull. You can have all the fun you need fly-fishing all year long for most species of fish with one simple outfit. A 5-weight rod, rigged with a floating line and a simple reel. A disc drag is optional but clearly not a pre-requisite. The same with an intermediate sink line. Useful, yes but not compulsory. Waders and wading boots can also add a level of comfort and safety to your day on the river.
Entry level anglers on one of the Swam Hills’ fine Arctic grayling creeks.

Gear
But don’t discount the pleasures of wading wet as I did during my fly-fishing formative years on west central Alberta’s legendary McLeod River. A leader tapered down to 4X and a spool of tippet material in the same diameter completes the set-up. A vest to store your tackle is a nice addition but pockets came along long before God invented fly-fishing vests.

Flies

One of the formidable barriers to getting into fly angling that most rookies experience is trying to get a handle on the entomology. The bugs will drive you bats if you let them. Especially when you encounter selectively feeding trout on heavily pressured streams with blue ribbon reputations. When you have to show a steadily rising brown trout a size #20 Blue Winged Olive Emerger before the big boy will have anything to do with you, then probably this is not the time or place to study for your learner’s permit. They don’t send kids out to learn how to drive in NASCAR cars. Fly-fishing should be no different. The most stress-free way to become an entry level fly angler is to ignore all that match-the-hatch malarkey. There’s plenty of time father down the learning river to complicate life. Stick with flies that fall into the category fly-fishers call “attractors.” Flies that look like everything and nothing that floats down a trout stream or swims under the surface of a trout pond. Some dry fly varieties include patterns like Humpies, Variants, Wulffs, Stimulators and the redoubtable Royal Coachman. The Coachman, with its red and peacock body and white wing represents no known insect. Yet it can be a remarkably effective fish getter as I discovered on a recent trip to the Alberta’s Berland River north of Hinton. The Berland was a dazzle of conflicting atmospheric conditions that late summer day and I reckoned I’d need all the help I could seeing a fly on the water under that set of circumstances. So I tied on a Royal Stimulator for no other reason than the bleached elk hair wing gave it great visibility. Not only for me but the Berland’s Arctic grayling could see it as well and hammered it whenever I got the fly over some holding water. Even when a hatch of “real” mayflies came on the water the grayling preferred my Stimmie to the closer imitation of the hatching insects that I knotted on for a spell. Flies like Woolly Buggers in black, olive and brown plus generic nymph imitations like the Hare’s Ear or Pheasant Tail can also go a long way to unravel the mysteries of still water angling where a different suite of angler’s insects can further complicate and frustrate the training wheels fly angler.

Waters

There are many waterbodies that come with bragging rights, where the fish are big but can also be very finicky, selective and generally hard to catch. As much as you’d like to carve a few blue ribbon notches on your gun, it’s probably best to avoid these rivers and creeks until you’re a better shot. Instead fish lesser known waters where the fly hatches may not be as prolific but at the same time, the lack of surface activity makes the trout and grayling less selective and more opportunistic. Where anything that floats over or through their feeding window is worth a bite. The chances are you will also have the place all to yourself. The big name waters tend to attract the crowds so if you mess up you won’t be doing it in front of a jury. There’s also something idyllic and honest about little foothills trout streams and northern boreal grayling creeks where you can jump start that other part of the fly angling experience that has nothing to do with how many fish you catch or how big they are.

Fish Species

Let’s face it, some fish are easier than others. Spring creek brown trout are usually acknowledged as some of the toughest fish to trick into taking a fly and the big boys who inhabit the undercuts and willow scours of Alberta’s iconic North Raven River are some of the wariest fish around. The willow-choked water meadows of the North Raven are not somewhere to cut your teeth on. But there are some species, while not totally stupid, that you can increase your success rate with. Cutthroat trout come willingly to the fly, particularly in summer when their high altitude rivers warm up. Arctic grayling are also forgiving and opportunistic feeders which will excuse a sloppy cast or a misplaced wading boot. Mountain white fish are not held in high regard by many fly anglers but they can also provide fine sport in almost all of Alberta’s mountain-born trout rivers. And don’t discount small pike – sometimes called “hammer handles” - as an excellent beginner’s fly-fishing species. Coated steel wire shock tippets and long streamer flies are required. But an afternoon of hammering hammer handles on a 5-weight sure can be a lot of fun. Brook trout, which were stocked extensively but are now considered an undesirable “invasive”, are also a target species for rookie flyrodders, as are the hundreds of thousands of rainbow trout stocked annually in our pothole lakes.

Techniques

Hooking and landing a large, selectively-feeding trout after a long and complex stalk is often considered the ultimate in fly angling. But it can become pretty overwhelming. Not to mention frustrating. So why go there? At least for now. Opportunistic trout are usually far now willing than those rising to a specific bug. If you see a riser, fish to it. But searching the “likely” looking water such as pool heads, along undercut banks, current “seams” and pockets or slacks behind boulders or deadfall with an attractor dry fly is also effective. Dry fly fishing requires the fly to be dressed with a floatant and it’s well worth bringing along a vial of “shake and bake” desiccant to restore your waterlogged flies which will no longer float. “High sticking” a nymph pattern under a strike indicator is probably not the best way to get into fly fishing either - even though fish take on far more groceries sub surface than they do from above. But the old “down and around” wet fly method is not only simple but very effective. Where one or more nymphs (check your provincial regs for what’s legal) are tied in tandem on your leader and cast across the stream. The force of the current swings the line downstream, drawing the flies through the lies and often inducing a strike from a waiting trout, grayling or rocky. Begin at the head of a run and work all the way down the fishy water taking a step or two each cast.


Angling with a flyrod is only as complicated as you want to make it. But for someone just getting started Keep It Simple, Stupid is the only way to go.
Small stream angling in Alberta’s Coal Branch.


Previous Fishing Articles

(1) Fly Selection for Beginners

(2) Fly Fisher's Christmas

(3) New Waters

(4) Big Bad Burbot

(5) Looking Back

(6) Out of Africa

(7) Finding Success on Crowded Trout Streams

(8) Mountain Peaks, Fast Streams, Fall Colours And Rocky Mountain Whitefish

(9) The Browns of Autumn

(10) Fly-Fishing Pike Through The Seasons

(11) Walleye Town

(12) River Fun - One Bite At A Time

(13) Fly Fishing Larger Rivers

(14) Going With The Flow

(15) Becoming A Better Fly Fisherman

(16) Swinging The Fences

(17) A View From The Aerie

(18) Dixieland Delight

(19) Atlantic Salmon - The Fish of 1000 Casts

(20) Do It Yourself Pink Salmon

(21) Montana's Cool Missouri

(22) Pretty Is As Pretty Does

(23) Toothy Critters

(24) Hard Water Lakers at Cold Lake

(25) Top Ten Flies

(26) Northern Exposure

(27) Home Water Lessons

(28) Chicken Of The Sea

(29) Sealing the Deal – How to Ensure You Land More Fish

(30) Deep In The Heart Of Texas

(31) Keep It Up!

(32) River Fishing for Fall Walleye

(33) After the Flood - A look at Southern Alberta rivers and streams one year after the flood

(34) Reindeer Lake - A Diversity of Opportunity

(35) Hawg Holes

(36) Saltwater Salmon

(37) Early Season Dry Fly Fishing

(38) Down a Lazy River –
A Fly-rodding Adventure on the Lower North Saskatchewan

(39) The Fly Fishing Season Ahead

(40) IN SEARCH OF SPECKLED FOOTBALLS

(41) FISHING CANADA'S PRAIRIE CITIES

(42) Bright Fish from the Land of Silver

(43) Canada's "Other" Salmon

(44) Fall Walleye

(45) Wet Flies

(46) Versatility the Key to Success

(47) Grayling of the Boreal

(48) Teaching Kids To Fly Fish

(49) Size Matters

(50) Fly Fishing Small Streams

(51) Chasing Winter Whites One Lake At A Time

(52) Manitoba's Fishing Jewel

(53) The Twelve Gifts Of Christmas

(54) The Point Of It All

(55) Fishing With Friends-Big Weather Seizing The Day

(56) Fall Fly Fishing

(57) Personal Pontoon Boats 101

(58) Big River, Big Fish

(59) Bottom Bonanza

(60) Fishing Small Flies

(61) So Many Choices, So Little Time

(62) Four Seasons of the Bow

(63) Favourite Lakes - Some Like it Hot

(64) GEARING UP FOR SMALL STREAM TROUT

(65) Trout Hunting - New Zealand-style

(66) Don’t Leave Home Without Them –
10 Lures That Should Be In Everyone’s Tackle Box

(67) Edge Walleye

(68) FLY FISHING STRATEGIES FOR HIGH WATER

(69) Smallmouth Bass – An Oft Overlooked Challenge

(70) Four Corners – Four Waters

(71) Chasing Pothole Trout

(72) Springtime Stoneflies

(73) The Torrents of Spring

(74) Drift Boat Fly Fishing

(75) Bust Them With Bait

(76) Cure the Winter Blues with a Good Book

(77) Hot Strategies for the Cold Months

(78) Cutthroat: The Angler's Trout

(79) Terrestrials

(80) Fly In For Fishing Fun

(81) Rocky Mountain High

(82) Reading the clues

(83) Where the Trout Are
The art of locating feeding trout
in rivers and streams.

(84) K.I.S.S. and Tell Fly-fishin

(85) Fly Fishing 101

(86) To Catch a Big Halibut, or Ling Cod

(87) The Bountiful Bones of Ascension Bay

(88) Grayling in the Eye of the Beholder

(89) Fly Fishing for South Fork Clearwater Steelhead

(90) Manitoba's Red River - North America's Catfish Capital

(91) Eliminating the Spook Factor

(92) Trust Your Electronics

(93) The Most Important Hatch of the Year

(94) Early Season Nymph Fishing for Trout

(95) Finding Success for Ice Trout

(96) Walleye can be Humbling

(97) The Secret to Landing the Big One Finally Revealed

(98) Winter Flyfishing

(99) North Saskatchewan River - An Underutilized Gem

(100) Hot Fall Pike Action

(101) Tips and Tricks to Save the Summer Slow Down

(102) Reading Trout Stream Waters

(103) Frequently Asked Questions

(104) Streamer Fishing for Larger Trout

(105) The Lure of Big Walleye at Last Ice

(106) Deep Water Perch

(107) Post Spawn Brookies

(108) A Fisher's Life

(109) The River's Last Stand

(110) The Big Ones Come out at Night

(111) Coho on the Coast

(112) Chasing and Catching Halibut

(113) Summer in the Mountains

(114) Peak Walleye Season

(115) Slow and Steady Wins the Race

(116) Last Ice Rainbows

(117) The Burbot Event

(118) Tackle Matching

(119) Ice Fishing Strategy #2 - Going Light

(120) Ice Fishing Strategy #1 - Location

(121) The Lure of Brook Trout

(122) The Shallow Water Hunt is On

(123) Hot Backswimmer Action Happening Right Now

(124) Fishing Among Giants-Pursuing Lake Sturgeon on the Prairies

(125) Adventure at Davin Lake Lodge, Northern Saskatchewan

(126) The Vesatile Plug

(127) Bead Head Flies, Plugs and Shot and other Spring Favorites for Pothole Trout

(128) Planning your Upcoming Angling Adventures

(129) Good Fishing at Last Ice

(130) Maximize the Odds - Use Multiple Presentations

(131) Daily Fish Migrations

(132) Fish Migrations - Following the Spawn

(133) Lake Whitefish - An Ice Fishing All Star

(134) Pick Your Favorite Brook Trout Lake...and Go Fishing

(135) A Look Ahead to Great Trout Fishing

(136) Wrestling White Sturgeon on the Fraser

(137) The Fun in Ultra Light

(138) Flyfishing and Leadcore Lines

(139) Embrace the Spirit of Adventure

(140) Never Stop Learning

(141) Ice Fishing is Getting Hot

(142) Jigging through the Ice

(143) An Ice Fishing Unsung Hero – The Setline

(144) Rainbows on Ice

(145) The Season of Ice Begins

(146) Red Hot Fall Pike Action

(147) Hitting it Right with Water Boatman

(148) Facts On Cats

(149) West Coast Adventure

(150) June Walleye Frenzy

(151) Aerated Lakes are Big Trout Factories

(152) "First Fish of the Year - Pothole Rainbows and Browns"

(153) "Northern Exposure"

(154) Sometimes There is More to Fishing Than Catching Fish

(155) Early Season Pike On The Fly

(156) Man Overboard