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Rocky Mountain High

 

In the orthodox and structured world of Alberta fly fishing, by mid-summer the days of wine and wildroses, should have been long past.
That cosmic interlude when big, reclusive brown trout leave their lairs on West Country trout streams and blatantly gorge on surface insects. Sometimes in the bright light of day.
What I’m describing is that mercurial time in May and June which is sometimes known as Fly Fishers’ Christmas because often you don’t know which present to open next.
The catalyst for this trout feeding frenzy – and the reason for increasing the fly fisher’s success rate exponentially – are the parades of large bugs that occur at this time of year.
And if you play your cards right and your horoscope planets align there’s a good chance you will be streamside when one of these super hatches materializes.
When the emergences of big Brown Drake, Green Drakes and Hexagenia mayflies come off or egg-depositing flights of burly stoneflies, like Salmon Flies or Golden Stones, grab the trouts’ attention.
But it was on one long August weekend, when the forestry was full to overflowing with campers, quaders and horseback riders, and the South Ram River had taken on the appearance of a suburban neighborhood.
Yet amongst all this hubbub a little cavalcade of olive bugs known as Green Drakes came bobbing down the icy chop of this famous Alberta mountain trout stream.
Or at least they did until they reached the tail-out of a deep pool where they were being picked off one by one by feisty cutthroat trout.
Elsewhere on the river a yellow-hued and aerodynamically-challenged insect landed sporadically on the riffles of the South Ram dipping its thorax in the flow.
It too met a similar fate when it appeared in any cutthroat trout’s cone of vision.


The upper falls of the South Ram River

The great, limestone mountains of the Alberta’s high country shone magnificently in the hot summer sun and the fishing wasn’t so bad either as the willing cutties fell to my Extended Body Green Drake and Yellow Stimulator dry flies all afternoon.
It was like June déjà vu and Christmas once more with feeling. Not only that, it wasn’t a fluke.


An extended body Green Drake dry fly

Alberta flyfishers – who make do on low elevation trout streams with sparse hatches of mid-summer flies – can extend their super season simply by heading for the hills. Here’s the reason why.
Anyone hiking into the alpine meadows in the middle of August in the province’s mountain national parks will be surprised and delighted to discover flowers blooming in profusion that had long since completed the show-off part of their life cycle many weeks earlier down on the flatland.
Mainly because the seasons are seriously delayed in the mountains. A combination of the extensive snow pack and the elevation means not only does spring come to the high country a lot later, the angling seasons are also significantly retarded.
The insects are only reacting accordingly.
So while anglers struggle on lower altitude trout rivers – or resort to night angling in hopes of finding a rise – the mountain rivers are at their prime from the middle of July on.
To the contrary early season can be an exercise in frustration because many up slope streams are still full to the brim with gray, cold, mountain run-off.
Unless of course, they draw their source from one of the large glaciers which straddle the Continental Divide. Angling in rivers like the Athabasca, Upper North Saskatchewan and to some extent the Bow doesn’t reach its prime until September when cooler temperatures calm the glaciers down.
It’s also in these higher elevation rivers where fly anglers will encounter Alberta’s precious wild native trout like Westslope Cutthroat in the south and the rare and threatened Athabasca Rainbow, which only occurs in niche habitats in the Athabasca River drainage.
Anglers will also come across Arctic grayling in many of the Athabasca and Peace River tributaries as well as the ubiquitous and plentiful mountain whitefish.
An added attraction to angling the larger waters of the high country is the presence of Alberta’s number one cold water predator and official fish, the bull trout.


A high country bull trout

Large bull trout can be found in some remarkably skinny streams as they run up their “home” waters each summer to spawn.
As part of the bull trout recovery program most of these creeks have been identified, protected and angling bans strictly enforced. So read the provincial fishing regulations carefully before venturing out on what appears to be a random, mountain brook. It may be closed to angling.
As well most mountain country angling is catch-and-release after the province’s progressive Fish and Wildlife Division stopped stocking flowing waters back in the 1950s and began managing them to be wild and self-sustaining.
Under the government’s new “creative sentencing” guidelines judges can impose hefty fines on poachers and target the penalties specifically towards population and habitat restoration projects.
Access is always an issue when angling in the mountains but generally there’s an Alberta Forestry Service fire trail heading up most of the larger drainages.
The iconic Alberta Forestry Trunk Road – also known as Alberta’s Trout Highway – runs parallel to the mountains from Grande Prairie in the north to Waterton in the south in its various forms and is an excellent conduit for getting to some fine upper elevation fishing.
High country anglers will encounter two distinct types of waters. The first are the brawling freestone rivers, spread-out and ever-evolving over large flood plains.
Or tiny-perfect spring creeks that meander through open meadows or shady lodgepole pine forests.


The McLeod River in west central Alberta’s Coal Branch district

Each has their own attractions and drawbacks.
The freestones sometime require significant hikes between pools and the currents can be swift and treacherous.
So wade with an abundance of caution.
But the fish, protected by a cloak of bubbly water, tend to be more willing to take your fly.
Fish in the spring creeks are more alert and leery.
So cautious wading for a different reason should be employed because the trout here are tucked away in the undercut banks where any heavy foot fall sends them scurrying for cover.
In Alberta’s paradoxical Rocky Mountain high country the bugs of spring become the insects of summer. And even if you don’t hit it just right, just sit back, relax and enjoy the view.

It doesn’t get much better than this.


Previous Fishing Articles

(1) Old Man River

(2) The Pink Salmon of the Squamish River

(3) Small stream BT fishing

(4) Fly fishing beyond Trout: getting started

(5) In The Walleye Zone

(6) Zoo Trout

(7) Fly Selection for Beginners

(8) Fly Fisher's Christmas

(9) New Waters

(10) Big Bad Burbot

(11) Looking Back

(12) Out of Africa

(13) Finding Success on Crowded Trout Streams

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

(15) The Browns of Autumn

(16) Fly-Fishing Pike Through The Seasons

(17) Walleye Town

(18) River Fun - One Bite At A Time

(19) Fly Fishing Larger Rivers

(20) Going With The Flow

(21) Becoming A Better Fly Fisherman

(22) Swinging The Fences

(23) A View From The Aerie

(24) Dixieland Delight

(25) Atlantic Salmon - The Fish of 1000 Casts

(26) Do It Yourself Pink Salmon

(27) Montana's Cool Missouri

(28) Pretty Is As Pretty Does

(29) Toothy Critters

(30) Hard Water Lakers at Cold Lake

(31) Top Ten Flies

(32) Northern Exposure

(33) Home Water Lessons

(34) Chicken Of The Sea

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

(36) Deep In The Heart Of Texas

(37) Keep It Up!

(38) River Fishing for Fall Walleye

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

(40) Reindeer Lake - A Diversity of Opportunity

(41) Hawg Holes

(42) Saltwater Salmon

(43) Early Season Dry Fly Fishing

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

(45) The Fly Fishing Season Ahead

(46) IN SEARCH OF SPECKLED FOOTBALLS

(47) FISHING CANADA'S PRAIRIE CITIES

(48) Bright Fish from the Land of Silver

(49) Canada's "Other" Salmon

(50) Fall Walleye

(51) Wet Flies

(52) Versatility the Key to Success

(53) Grayling of the Boreal

(54) Teaching Kids To Fly Fish

(55) Size Matters

(56) Fly Fishing Small Streams

(57) Chasing Winter Whites One Lake At A Time

(58) Manitoba's Fishing Jewel

(59) The Twelve Gifts Of Christmas

(60) The Point Of It All

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

(62) Fall Fly Fishing

(63) Personal Pontoon Boats 101

(64) Big River, Big Fish

(65) Bottom Bonanza

(66) Fishing Small Flies

(67) So Many Choices, So Little Time

(68) Four Seasons of the Bow

(69) Favourite Lakes - Some Like it Hot

(70) GEARING UP FOR SMALL STREAM TROUT

(71) Trout Hunting - New Zealand-style

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

(73) Edge Walleye

(74) FLY FISHING STRATEGIES FOR HIGH WATER

(75) Smallmouth Bass – An Oft Overlooked Challenge

(76) Four Corners – Four Waters

(77) Chasing Pothole Trout

(78) Springtime Stoneflies

(79) The Torrents of Spring

(80) Drift Boat Fly Fishing

(81) Bust Them With Bait

(82) Cure the Winter Blues with a Good Book

(83) Hot Strategies for the Cold Months

(84) Cutthroat: The Angler's Trout

(85) Terrestrials

(86) Fly In For Fishing Fun

(87) Rocky Mountain High

(88) Reading the clues

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

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

(91) Fly Fishing 101

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

(93) The Bountiful Bones of Ascension Bay

(94) Grayling in the Eye of the Beholder

(95) Fly Fishing for South Fork Clearwater Steelhead

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

(97) Eliminating the Spook Factor

(98) Trust Your Electronics

(99) The Most Important Hatch of the Year

(100) Early Season Nymph Fishing for Trout

(101) Finding Success for Ice Trout

(102) Walleye can be Humbling

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

(104) Winter Flyfishing

(105) North Saskatchewan River - An Underutilized Gem

(106) Hot Fall Pike Action

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

(108) Reading Trout Stream Waters

(109) Frequently Asked Questions

(110) Streamer Fishing for Larger Trout

(111) The Lure of Big Walleye at Last Ice

(112) Deep Water Perch

(113) Post Spawn Brookies

(114) A Fisher's Life

(115) The River's Last Stand

(116) The Big Ones Come out at Night

(117) Coho on the Coast

(118) Chasing and Catching Halibut

(119) Summer in the Mountains

(120) Peak Walleye Season

(121) Slow and Steady Wins the Race

(122) Last Ice Rainbows

(123) The Burbot Event

(124) Tackle Matching

(125) Ice Fishing Strategy #2 - Going Light

(126) Ice Fishing Strategy #1 - Location

(127) The Lure of Brook Trout

(128) The Shallow Water Hunt is On

(129) Hot Backswimmer Action Happening Right Now

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

(131) Adventure at Davin Lake Lodge, Northern Saskatchewan

(132) The Vesatile Plug

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

(134) Planning your Upcoming Angling Adventures

(135) Good Fishing at Last Ice

(136) Maximize the Odds - Use Multiple Presentations

(137) Daily Fish Migrations

(138) Fish Migrations - Following the Spawn

(139) Lake Whitefish - An Ice Fishing All Star

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

(141) A Look Ahead to Great Trout Fishing

(142) Wrestling White Sturgeon on the Fraser

(143) The Fun in Ultra Light

(144) Flyfishing and Leadcore Lines

(145) Embrace the Spirit of Adventure

(146) Never Stop Learning

(147) Ice Fishing is Getting Hot

(148) Jigging through the Ice

(149) An Ice Fishing Unsung Hero – The Setline

(150) Rainbows on Ice

(151) The Season of Ice Begins

(152) Red Hot Fall Pike Action

(153) Hitting it Right with Water Boatman

(154) Facts On Cats

(155) West Coast Adventure

(156) June Walleye Frenzy

(157) Aerated Lakes are Big Trout Factories

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

(159) "Northern Exposure"

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

(161) Early Season Pike On The Fly

(162) Man Overboard