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Crowsnest Pass Alberta 2007

Written by Alex Laurie

thumb John and I arrived in Calgary on 2nd August for our second trip to the Crowsnest Pass area on the SW Alberta border with British Columbia. The Crowsnest is the most southerly of Canada’s roads through the Rockies and is only about 30 miles or so north of Montana in the States.

We picked up our 4x4 hire car from Hertz at the airport and drove south to the Crowsnest. The journey takes around 2 ½ hours and we checked in at the Highwood Motel in Blairmore for 14 nights. wff-8-2-2012-9-54-37-AM-2007aug191187548285a nice fishJust the night before leaving, I had learned that the Albertan government had banned all public access to their forests due to a critical fire risk. This was to say the least, a bit of a blow and knocked on the head all our plans to fish the upper Oldman River system, which is where we had planned to do the bulk of our fishing. Still, there was still the middle Oldman, the lower Castle and the Crowsnest rivers to fish, as well as a couple of alternatives over in B.C.

 We checked the weather forecast, praying for rain, but there was no prospect of any. We therefore decided to get wet on the inside and went to the pub.

The Greenhills Hotel is one of the shabbiest places I’ve been in (and I’ve been in a few). The lobby has ancient carpeting on the walls and ceiling and the place is generally run down. It is however the best pub of the three in town and the natives were pretty friendly towards us, despite the fact that the place looks like the big house in Psycho. We drank in there most nights. wff-8-2-2012-9-54-37-AM-2007aug191187548317crownsnest

First day of the 12 that we were to fish on was on a stretch of the Oldman that we had fished before. There were a few gophers or prairie dogs darting about when we parked up. The river looked a lot lower and clearer than when we had last fished it and we could hardly wait to wet a line.

 We waded wet, as it was around 30c and I used my new Sage Z-Axis #4 which I got for $700 Canadian from the local tackle shop– about 300 quid less than the price in the UK. It is a nice rod, but a very different animal to the fast XP which John was using.

There were very few fish rising and we stuck with smallish parachute olives, elk hair caddis and Adams. We had 15 fish between us on the first day, a mixture of cutthroat trout and rainbows. Most fish were around the pound mark with the best a rainbow at 1lb 6oz. These wild river rainbows are absolutely electric and the cutthroats are no slouches either in the fighting stakes. The cutts love cover and you’ll find the bigger fish in deep holes alongside rocks or lying underneath tree roots etc. wff-8-2-2012-9-54-37-AM-2007aug191187548354hoppers

Next day was to be a treat for us….a float trip down the upper section of the Elk River in BC.

 We met our guide Gary at the local tackle shop, the Crowsnest Angler. Gary asked what flies we had and recommended a few big hopper patterns called Mojos that had been working well lately so we picked a few up, paid our licence fees etc. and set off in his car to the river about 11 miles or so upstream of Sparwood, to where we would drift back down for the “take-out’.

We set up with #6 lines loaded on #5 rods as it would be mainly short casting from the inflatable raft, which was kitted out with all sorts of compartments, anglers swivel seats etc. Leaders were kept short at around 10 feet and we started with big, visible flies. We hopped in and were off. John was up front in the boat, while I was in the back seat.

wff-8-2-2012-9-54-38-AM-2007aug191187548390john plays a good fish on the elkThe day started slowly, with few fish rising. We weren’t overly worried as cutthroats seem to be sun worshippers and really turn on as the sun strengthens in the sky. We soon had the first typically chunky Elk cutthroat in the net, followed by several others.

 During the course of the trip, we landed and fished “walk and wade” as the Canadians say. I did better during these periods than I did from the raft and it was during one of these that we each had our biggest fish of the rafting trip. Mine was around 2lb 4oz, while John’s fish was a monster at over 4lb. wff-8-2-2012-9-54-38-AM-2007aug191187548415john with a castle river rainbowUnfortunately I don’t have a photo of John’s fish as I was fishing downstream and thought it was “just” another of his 2 pounders, of which he caught lots.

During the morning period, we did well with my parachute olives with Krystalflash tails whilst there was a brief hatch of Western Green Drakes on. Gary was impressed that we were doing so well with these and cadged a few off me to copy.

wff-8-2-2012-9-54-38-AM-2007aug191187548450last fish of the trip and my biggest In the afternoon, sport slackened off for me, but John just kept on catching on Mojo hopper patterns. I tried the same patterns and would rise fish and miss them, or would lose the fish, whilst John seemed to land everything and many of these were fish of 2lb plus. John had his Mojo workin’.

Our wee log book shows that I ended up with 10 cutts, while John had around 25 fish, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a lot more. A great trip and we saw some bald eagles to cap it off.

 I won’t give a day by day account from here on, but suffice to say that we had lots of fish some days and not so many on others. Neither of us blanked, although we each had a good try at it. John’s cutthroat at 4lb plus was the biggest he had and my best was also my last fish on the last day at 2lb 12oz. Biggest rainbow was 1lb 14oz. wff-8-2-2012-9-54-38-AM-2007aug191187548481liphookedWe had some whitefish on nymphs as well as some cuttbows (hybrids). The log book says we had 444 fish in 13 days, if my mental addition is correct. One Elk tributary in particular gave us 242 mostly very good sized fish in just 4 days of fishing. All but half a dozen came to dry fly.

 The fish came to a variety of flies, but the big hopper patterns really worked well when the going was tough, bringing fish up as if by magic. No wonder, there were grasshoppers everywhere in some areas. Thousands and thousands of them. Added to that there were crickets several inches long too. It is easy to see why the fish are of such good quality, especially when you look at the shucks of the big golden stoneflies littering the rocks on the rivers. wff-8-2-2012-9-54-38-AM-2007aug191187548508oldman river rainbowThere are thousands of these, which dwarf our own big stonefly in the U.K..

 Only one drawback and that is that the rivers were busy. Montana had already restricted angling on most of their rivers due to the drought which was affecting the whole vast area, so there were more U.S. anglers in Alberta. This added to the fact that that the forestry remained closed throughout our trip (it never rained once in Alberta) meant that there was even more pressure on those parts of rivers which were readily accessible. It wasn’t crowded, it was just that it wasn’t empty, which is of course what everyone wants. wff-8-2-2012-9-54-37-AM-2007aug191187548535ranch country and rockies

Despite the forestry being closed, we saw deer everywhere on certain rivers. Mule deer and whitetails. We also saw garter snakes, chipmunks, gophers or prairie dogs, bald eagles, ospreys, owls. We saw some bear tracks, but no bears.

Alex Laurie , now into his 50th year, has been fishing since the tender age of 12. He used to do a lot of coarse fishing and, until last year, held the Scottish bream record with a 10lb 4oz fish. Alex has fished all over the world, including Alberta Canada and has cast a fly in New Zealand for 5 out of the last 6 years. He prefers rivers, but loves our wild highland lochs too.

Alex works in property management, says he is a frustrated blues guitarist and lives with his very understanding partner Linda in Cambuslang near Glasgow.


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