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Alberta’s Spring Creek Browns - Blessings and Curses

 

There’s no middle ground when it comes to fishing Alberta’s west-central spring creek brown trout streams - you either love them, or you hate them. Unlike most of our freestone streams, which begin life as meltwater high in the mountains, spring creeks are born in underground basins known as aquifers. Filtered through natural geological features beneath the surface, these springs emerge cold and clear, creating instant trout streams with stable volumes and temperatures through much of the year. So, what’s not to love about that? Spring creeks by their very nature tend to be relatively short, immune for the most part from local rain and/or snow runoff events.

Further, the constant flow of water prevents many of them from freezing through the winter. This is a roundabout way of saying that spring creeks are not subject to the violent streambed and bank erosion forces that shape and reshapes our freestone rivers and creeks. Free from significant erosion, the result is banks lush with grasses, willows and spruce trees, and high levels of silt deposited in the streambed. And therein lies the rub for anglers, particularly fly fishermen - the overgrown bankside vegetation that eats your flies with depressing regularity and the boot-sucking silt that can make every step laborious.

Slow water guarded by overhanging grasses and trees is the norm, and makes casting a challenge.

Slow water guarded by overhanging grasses and trees is the norm, and makes casting a challenge.

What these spring creeks do have, however, are healthy populations of brown trout, and in these nutrient-rich waters they grow surprisingly large. Browns in the 16- to 20-inch class are pretty common, and there are just enough that stretch the tape well beyond that to keep anglers interested. But fishing these streams comes at a price, including your patience, your temperament and your sanity. Commonly referred to as the PhD’s of Alberta’s trout waters, spring creeks are the classic embodiment of the saying that, "nothing worth having comes easy".

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16" to 20" brown trout are common in spring creeks.

I guess it’s only right that we should name names, and while there are other spring creeks in the province, the two that garner the most attention from anglers are the Raven River and her little sister, the North Raven River, commonly referred to as Stauffer Creek. Both are found west of Red Deer in the Caroline area, and each exhibits both the best and the worst of what spring creeks offer. The Raven, being considerably longer than Stauffer, will blow out after significant rains, but Stauffer is generally fishable at any time of year. And while the Raven is open from April 1 until October 31 annually, Stauffer is open to fishing all year long.

The brown trout in both these streams are a funny bunch. They’re notoriously easily spooked, and when you stumble along through waist-deep water, slipping and sliding in the silt, fish that were feeding with the reliability of a Swiss watch will go suddenly quiet. On the other hand, they’re not particularly leader-shy, so as long as you can get a drag-free drift over them they’ll most often come up to have a look. Of course, browns being browns, they can also get awfully finicky some days, becoming very selective about what they’re willing to eat. Unlike freestone stream trout, which generally will take any fly that even remotely resembles the naturals they’re feeding on, in the relatively slow, meandering water of these streams, there are days when you simply have to "match the hatch". In fact, knowing the timing of the major hatches on the Raven and North Raven is an integral component of effectively fishing them.

Casting accuracy is more important than casting distance here.

Casting accuracy is more important than casting distance here.

On the Raven, the most revered event is the salmonfly hatch of late May. Catch it just right and you can find browns feeding with an abandon seldom seen on any brown trout river. Large stonefly patterns in orange or pink are the ticket, with foam flies, Stimulators, Sofa Pillows and the like being most popular. Shortly thereafter, there can be a pretty significant golden stone hatch, but it doesn’t garner the attention of anglers, or the trout, like the salmonfly hatch does. Through the summer months, a series of mayfly and caddisfly hatches unfold and while it can pay to mimic them some days, seldom is it a necessity. The next really significant "hatch", when the trout can get really specific about their food preference, is the emergence of backswimmers in mid-September. Once again, if you hit it right, brown trout will practically throw themselves at your fly and you’ll wonder what all the PhD fuss is about.

Stauffer Creek is even more renowned for its insect hatches. The first that fly fisherman chase each year is the green drake mayfly hatch of the first two weeks of June, most significant on overcast afternoons. A few days later, but overlapping with the green drake hatch, is an equally significant brown drake hatch; these typically come off in the evening. Both are large mayflies, meaning flies in sizes #10 and #8.

Moving into June and into July, look for hatches of blue-winged olives (BWOs), pale morning duns (PMDs) and caddisflies that can carry through until August; be prepared to fish flies from #18s all the way up to #12s. In late summer, especially in dry years, hoppers can be plentiful on either river. On those days when the fish don’t seem interested in anything, consider a foam beetle pattern or, later in summer, an ant pattern.

It was nearly a fish a cast at this run

It was nearly a fish a cast at this run

Many of the longtime anglers on these spring creeks fish exclusively dry flies. They must be masochists, I figure, exhibiting a "what the hell, I’m here already, I might as well make this as challenging as possible" attitude. Those not into self-flagellation however, regularly fish nymphs, either under a strike indicator or beneath a large dry fly. Streamer fishing, while it can be effective, is difficult, as the standard "down and across" presentation is all but impossible in many of the best pools. If you’re forced to fish your streamer upstream, you’ll have to strip like mad to stay in contact with your fly.

When everything goes right, a chunky brown trout is your prize.

When everything goes right, a chunky brown trout is your prize.

If you haven’t fished Alberta’s renowned spring creek brown trout streams, you owe it to yourself to try. On the best days you’ll catch a handful of hefty browns, including the odd one that is trophy-sized by any standard. On the worst days, you’ll lose half a dozen flies on overhanging braches and go in over your waders trying to navigate a particularly deep and slippery section. Even those worst days are never a total write-off, however, as you’re guaranteed to end the day having improved your cursing skills.



Previous Fishing Articles
(1) Alberta’s Spring Creek Browns - Blessings and Curses
(2) A day on our foothill streams
(3) Fly Fishing Crowded Waters
(4) Fly Leaders
(5) In the Zone
(6) Learners Permit
(7) Flies of Summer
(8) Selecting the Right Boat
(9) The Italian Job
(10) Making a difference
(11) Pass the Salt
(12) Hopper Time - Fly-fishing’s Second Season
(13) Pike on the Fly - Fishing New Waters
(14) Fall brings the big walleye out
(15) Hoppertunity Time
(16) Becoming a Better Dry Fly Angler
(17) Make Your Own Fishing Adventure
(18) Early Season Fly Fishing
(19) Walleye Logic
(20) Fly Fishing in the Desert
(21) Grammy’s Fish
(22) Top 10 Trout Lures
(23) All I Want for Christmas – Neil Waugh's Yule Tide Fishing Gifts Wish List
(24) Muskies - The Ultimate Predator
(25) What to expect when fishing the West Coast
(26) Tips & Tricks for Fall Fly Fishing
(27) There’s No Place Like Home
(28) A Golden Opportunity
(29) The Observational Trout Fisherman
(30) Un-matching the Hatch
(31) Alberta Super Bugs
(32) Glass is Back
(33) The Bull Trout of the Athabasca
(34) Speed Kills
(35) Entering the Twilight Zone
(36) Old Man River
(37) The Pink Salmon of the Squamish River
(38) Small stream BT fishing
(39) Fly fishing beyond Trout: getting started
(40) In The Walleye Zone
(41) Zoo Trout
(42) Fly Selection for Beginners
(43) Fly Fisher's Christmas
(44) New Waters
(45) Big Bad Burbot
(46) Looking Back
(47) Out of Africa
(48) Finding Success on Crowded Trout Streams
(49) Mountain Peaks, Fast Streams, Fall Colours And Rocky Mountain Whitefish
(50) The Browns of Autumn
(51) Fly-Fishing Pike Through The Seasons
(52) Walleye Town
(53) River Fun - One Bite At A Time
(54) Fly Fishing Larger Rivers
(55) Going With The Flow
(56) Becoming A Better Fly Fisherman
(57) Swinging The Fences
(58) A View From The Aerie
(59) Dixieland Delight
(60) Atlantic Salmon - The Fish of 1000 Casts
(61) Do It Yourself Pink Salmon
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(63) Pretty Is As Pretty Does
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(65) Hard Water Lakers at Cold Lake
(66) Top Ten Flies
(67) Northern Exposure
(68) Home Water Lessons
(69) Chicken Of The Sea
(70) Sealing the Deal – How to Ensure You Land More Fish
(71) Deep In The Heart Of Texas
(72) Keep It Up!
(73) River Fishing for Fall Walleye
(74) After the Flood - A look at Southern Alberta rivers and streams one year after the 2013 flood
(75) Reindeer Lake - A Diversity of Opportunity
(76) Hawg Holes
(77) Saltwater Salmon
(78) Early Season Dry Fly Fishing
(79) Down a Lazy River - A Fly-rodding Adventure on the Lower North Saskatchewan
(80) The Fly Fishing Season Ahead
(81) IN SEARCH OF SPECKLED FOOTBALLS
(82) FISHING CANADA'S PRAIRIE CITIES
(83) Bright Fish from the Land of Silver
(84) Canada's "Other" Salmon
(85) Fall Walleye
(86) Wet Flies
(87) Versatility the Key to Success
(88) Grayling of the Boreal
(89) Teaching Kids To Fly Fish
(90) Size Matters
(91) Fly Fishing Small Streams
(92) Chasing Winter Whites One Lake At A Time
(93) Manitoba's Fishing Jewel
(94) The Twelve Gifts Of Christmas
(95) The Point Of It All
(96) Fishing With Friends-Big Weather Seizing The Day
(97) Fall Fly Fishing
(98) Personal Pontoon Boats 101
(99) Big River, Big Fish
(100) Bottom Bonanza
(101) Fishing Small Flies
(102) So Many Choices, So Little Time
(103) Four Seasons of the Bow
(104) Favourite Lakes - Some Like it Hot
(105) GEARING UP FOR SMALL STREAM TROUT
(106) Trout Hunting New Zealand style
(107) Don’t Leave Home Without Them – 10 Lures That Should Be In Everyone’s Tackle Box
(108) Edge Walleye
(109) FLY FISHING STRATEGIES FOR HIGH WATER
(110) Smallmouth Bass – An Oft Overlooked Challenge
(111) Four Corners – Four Waters
(112) Chasing Pothole Trout
(113) Springtime Stoneflies
(114) The Torrents of Spring
(115) Drift Boat Fly Fishing
(116) Bust Them With Bait
(117) Cure the Winter Blues with a Good Book
(118) Hot Strategies for the Cold Months
(119) Cutthroat: The Angler's Trout
(120) Terrestrials
(121) Fly In For Fishing Fun
(122) Rocky Mountain High
(123) Reading the clues
(124) Where the Trout Are The art of locating feeding trout in rivers and streams.
(125) K.I.S.S. and Tell Fly-fishin
(126) Fly Fishing 101
(127) To Catch a Big Halibut, or Ling Cod
(128) The Bountiful Bones of Ascension Bay
(129) Grayling in the Eye of the Beholder
(130) Fly Fishing for South Fork Clearwater Steelhead
(131) Manitoba's Red River - North America's Catfish Capital
(132) Eliminating the Spook Factor
(133) Trust Your Electronics
(134) The Most Important Hatch of the Year
(135) Early Season Nymph Fishing for Trout
(136) Finding Success for Ice Trout
(137) Walleye can be Humbling
(138) The Secret to Landing the Big One Finally Revealed
(139) Winter Flyfishing
(140) North Saskatchewan River - An Underutilized Fishing Gem
(141) Hot Fall Pike Action
(142) Tips and Tricks to Save the Summer Slow Down
(143) Reading Trout Stream Waters
(144) Frequently Asked Questions
(145) Streamer Fishing for Larger Trout
(146) The Lure of Big Walleye at Last Ice
(147) Deep Water Perch
(148) Post Spawn Brookies
(149) A Fisher's Life
(150) The River's Last Stand
(151) The Big Ones Come out at Night
(152) Coho on the Coast
(153) Chasing and Catching Halibut
(154) Summer in the Mountains
(155) Peak Walleye Season
(156) Slow and Steady Wins the Race
(157) Last Ice Rainbows
(158) The Burbot Event
(159) Tackle Matching
(160) Ice Fishing Strategy #2 - Going Light
(161) Ice Fishing Strategy #1 - Location
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(163) The Shallow Water Hunt is On
(164) Hot Backswimmer Action Happening Right Now
(165) Fishing Among Giants-Pursuing Lake Sturgeon on the Prairies
(166) Adventure at Davin Lake Lodge, Northern Saskatchewan
(167) The Vesatile Plug
(168) Bead Head Flies, Plugs and Shot and other Spring Favorites for Pothole Trout
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(170) Good Fishing at Last Ice
(171) Maximize the Odds - Use Multiple Presentations
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(173) Fish Migrations - Following the Spawn
(174) Lake Whitefish - An Ice Fishing All Star
(175) Pick Your Favorite Brook Trout Lake...and Go Fishing
(176) A Look Ahead to Great Trout Fishing
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