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Looking Back

 

The year’s end seems to be a natural catalyst for reflection, and as I look back at my time on the water in 2016, I’m struck by the fact that very little of what comes to mind first has much to do with actually catching fish. My season opened with a trip to Stauffer Creek.


I don’t know what the heck I was thinking as this spring creek invariably kicks my butt and 2016 was no exception to the rule. I did manage to land a couple small brown trout, but by day’s end I was once again asking myself why I repeatedly torture myself on this stream. What I do remember most from that day, however, is finding a spotted sandpiper nest along the grassy stream bank. These iconic birds are recognizable to anyone who frequents Alberta’s rivers and streams, with their tell-tale bobbing tails and stuttering wingbeats as they fly low over the water. Spotted sandpipers, though our most common sandpiper, are unusual birds in that the roles of males and females are reversed - the females will often mate with more than one male, then leave the males to tend to the nest and young once they’ve laid their eggs. Finding one of their nests is always a treat.

A spotted sandpiper nest found along Stauffer Creek Alberta

A spotted sandpiper nest found along Stauffer Creek

In early July I headed to Manitoba to hook up with a lifelong pal to fish Cross Bay out of Hobbs Resort near Grand Rapids. Our objective was to catch Master Angler-qualifying pike on fly-fishing gear. A couple years ago we accomplished the feat for smallmouth bass and decided then to work our way through the common fish species of Manitoba. In truth, it’s really just an excuse to get away together, but it does help to have an objective.


In three full days at camp we experienced a total of eight hours on the water, at best. It started to rain late on the first day and seldom let up. On those occasions when it did, the howling winds turned the water to a frothy mess, with waves that were simply too much for our little boat. Not that it would have mattered much if we had more boat, though, as casting streamer flies in those conditions was like trying to hold the wind up with a sail.


So we spent the best part of three days holed up in our little cabin, playing euchre, eating and drinking well, and staring wistfully out the window in hopes that that the weather would abate. It never did and eventually we had no option but to drive the many hours back to Winnipeg. We’d managed to catch a few fish when the weather would break, but nothing remotely close to the standards of the Master Angler program. A bust of a trip? Nope, in fact by most accounts it was great in the way that only spending time with old buddies can be, irrespective of what you’re doing together.

Throwing pike flies on Manitoba’s Cross Bay

Throwing pike flies on Manitoba’s Cross Bay whenever the weather allowed

In July I made my annual pilgrimage to the Bow River to fish with Perry McCormick. It was Perry who first introduced me to fly-fishing some 35 years ago, and we’ve fished the Bow together for a day or two nearly every year since. Perry must me my good luck charm as I’ve not been shut out a single time on this river that can be as finicky as it is famous.


I managed to keep my streak alive again this year, picking up a couple rainbow trout on my woolly bugger despite the less than favourable water conditions. What made the trip memorable, however, was being there to see Perry’s son, Carson, catch several decent fish, including a real pretty brown trout, The passage of time is a funny thing and I can still recall fishing the Bow with Perry shortly before Carson was born. Today he’s a good-natured young man who has developed a passion for fly-fishing on his own. The torch is quickly being passed and undoubtedly it won’t be long before Perry and I will be relying on Carson to take us out on the water rather than the other way around.

Bow River Alberta brown trout

A beautiful Bow River brown taken by "the next generation"

My wife, Jane, and I make time every summer to take three or four days to fish together, just the two of us. She’s become a proficient fly-angler over the years and has learned to love Alberta’s trout streams as much as I do. This year we made Longview our home base and visited a number of nearby rivers, including the Highwood and the Livingstone. Unfortunately, too many years in her youth playing volleyball has left her with arthritic hips that have gotten progressively worse with time. The extent of her pain became apparent this year when she found it near impossible to walk for any length along the uneven, cobbled stream beds. Rather than lamenting what she couldn’t do, she chose instead to set up her easel and paint river scenes while I fished. She’s an excellent artist and, while we weren’t able to fish shoulder to shoulder for a few days as we normally would, we now have some beautiful artwork as a remembrance of this year’s excursion.

Searching for cutthroat trout Livingstone River

Jane paints along the Livingstone River while I search for cutthroats below

With Jane’s limited mobility this summer (she’s since had the first of two hip replacements) we opted to spend some of our time exploring, seeking new streams and new access points where we might fish together in the years ahead. Under the heading "You never know what you might find when you turn the corner", we rounded one bend to discover a beautiful mature grizzly bear feeding in a roadside berry patch. Grizzlies are synonymous with Alberta’s backcountry wilderness and it’s always a thrill to see one going about its business. You simply don’t get that experience if you’re not willing to explore the road less-travelled when fishing.

Mature

A beautiful mature sow grizzly bear sharing Alberta’s foothills fishing country

I caught my fair share of fish this past year, perhaps more than my share, though I have to think hard to remember any one of them. Yet I think of 2016 as one of my more memorable fishing years. In my estimation, our fishing success should always be measured in experiences, not numbers or size of fish. I suppose that only serves to underscore the notion that, for many, when we go fishing, it’s not really the fish that we’re after.

When we go fishing, it’s the experience, not really the fish that we’re after

When we go fishing, it’s the experience, not really the fish that we’re after


Previous Fishing Articles

(1) Small stream BT fishing

(2) Fly fishing beyond Trout: getting started

(3) In The Walleye Zone

(4) Zoo Trout

(5) Fly Selection for Beginners

(6) Fly Fisher's Christmas

(7) New Waters

(8) Big Bad Burbot

(9) Looking Back

(10) Out of Africa

(11) Finding Success on Crowded Trout Streams

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

(13) The Browns of Autumn

(14) Fly-Fishing Pike Through The Seasons

(15) Walleye Town

(16) River Fun - One Bite At A Time

(17) Fly Fishing Larger Rivers

(18) Going With The Flow

(19) Becoming A Better Fly Fisherman

(20) Swinging The Fences

(21) A View From The Aerie

(22) Dixieland Delight

(23) Atlantic Salmon - The Fish of 1000 Casts

(24) Do It Yourself Pink Salmon

(25) Montana's Cool Missouri

(26) Pretty Is As Pretty Does

(27) Toothy Critters

(28) Hard Water Lakers at Cold Lake

(29) Top Ten Flies

(30) Northern Exposure

(31) Home Water Lessons

(32) Chicken Of The Sea

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

(34) Deep In The Heart Of Texas

(35) Keep It Up!

(36) River Fishing for Fall Walleye

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

(38) Reindeer Lake - A Diversity of Opportunity

(39) Hawg Holes

(40) Saltwater Salmon

(41) Early Season Dry Fly Fishing

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

(43) The Fly Fishing Season Ahead

(44) IN SEARCH OF SPECKLED FOOTBALLS

(45) FISHING CANADA'S PRAIRIE CITIES

(46) Bright Fish from the Land of Silver

(47) Canada's "Other" Salmon

(48) Fall Walleye

(49) Wet Flies

(50) Versatility the Key to Success

(51) Grayling of the Boreal

(52) Teaching Kids To Fly Fish

(53) Size Matters

(54) Fly Fishing Small Streams

(55) Chasing Winter Whites One Lake At A Time

(56) Manitoba's Fishing Jewel

(57) The Twelve Gifts Of Christmas

(58) The Point Of It All

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

(60) Fall Fly Fishing

(61) Personal Pontoon Boats 101

(62) Big River, Big Fish

(63) Bottom Bonanza

(64) Fishing Small Flies

(65) So Many Choices, So Little Time

(66) Four Seasons of the Bow

(67) Favourite Lakes - Some Like it Hot

(68) GEARING UP FOR SMALL STREAM TROUT

(69) Trout Hunting - New Zealand-style

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

(71) Edge Walleye

(72) FLY FISHING STRATEGIES FOR HIGH WATER

(73) Smallmouth Bass – An Oft Overlooked Challenge

(74) Four Corners – Four Waters

(75) Chasing Pothole Trout

(76) Springtime Stoneflies

(77) The Torrents of Spring

(78) Drift Boat Fly Fishing

(79) Bust Them With Bait

(80) Cure the Winter Blues with a Good Book

(81) Hot Strategies for the Cold Months

(82) Cutthroat: The Angler's Trout

(83) Terrestrials

(84) Fly In For Fishing Fun

(85) Rocky Mountain High

(86) Reading the clues

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

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

(89) Fly Fishing 101

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

(91) The Bountiful Bones of Ascension Bay

(92) Grayling in the Eye of the Beholder

(93) Fly Fishing for South Fork Clearwater Steelhead

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

(95) Eliminating the Spook Factor

(96) Trust Your Electronics

(97) The Most Important Hatch of the Year

(98) Early Season Nymph Fishing for Trout

(99) Finding Success for Ice Trout

(100) Walleye can be Humbling

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

(102) Winter Flyfishing

(103) North Saskatchewan River - An Underutilized Gem

(104) Hot Fall Pike Action

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

(106) Reading Trout Stream Waters

(107) Frequently Asked Questions

(108) Streamer Fishing for Larger Trout

(109) The Lure of Big Walleye at Last Ice

(110) Deep Water Perch

(111) Post Spawn Brookies

(112) A Fisher's Life

(113) The River's Last Stand

(114) The Big Ones Come out at Night

(115) Coho on the Coast

(116) Chasing and Catching Halibut

(117) Summer in the Mountains

(118) Peak Walleye Season

(119) Slow and Steady Wins the Race

(120) Last Ice Rainbows

(121) The Burbot Event

(122) Tackle Matching

(123) Ice Fishing Strategy #2 - Going Light

(124) Ice Fishing Strategy #1 - Location

(125) The Lure of Brook Trout

(126) The Shallow Water Hunt is On

(127) Hot Backswimmer Action Happening Right Now

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

(129) Adventure at Davin Lake Lodge, Northern Saskatchewan

(130) The Vesatile Plug

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

(132) Planning your Upcoming Angling Adventures

(133) Good Fishing at Last Ice

(134) Maximize the Odds - Use Multiple Presentations

(135) Daily Fish Migrations

(136) Fish Migrations - Following the Spawn

(137) Lake Whitefish - An Ice Fishing All Star

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

(139) A Look Ahead to Great Trout Fishing

(140) Wrestling White Sturgeon on the Fraser

(141) The Fun in Ultra Light

(142) Flyfishing and Leadcore Lines

(143) Embrace the Spirit of Adventure

(144) Never Stop Learning

(145) Ice Fishing is Getting Hot

(146) Jigging through the Ice

(147) An Ice Fishing Unsung Hero – The Setline

(148) Rainbows on Ice

(149) The Season of Ice Begins

(150) Red Hot Fall Pike Action

(151) Hitting it Right with Water Boatman

(152) Facts On Cats

(153) West Coast Adventure

(154) June Walleye Frenzy

(155) Aerated Lakes are Big Trout Factories

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

(157) "Northern Exposure"

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

(159) Early Season Pike On The Fly

(160) Man Overboard