Monday, September 19, 2011

Elk River in B.C. Canada

2011 Elk River, British Columbia Trip
By: Harry Blessing


Harry Blessing is a retired telephone switching system designer.
Steve Culen is a retired union president.
Tom Zurfluh is a Senior Metallurgist.
Bill Schmidt is a retired real estate management executive.

Steve, Bill and Tom are members of the downtown TU Chapter and have fished together on several Western trips. Steve and I are members of DRIFT and have fished together for Smallmouth on several Midwestern trips and an Ontario pike/smallmouth trip.

Fly fishing the Elk River in Southeast British Columbia for Cutthroat and Bull Trout, an endangered species. .

We flew out July 9, and were scheduled to fish the next six days then fly home. Fate delayed our trip three days. A minor traffic accident delayed us and we missed our flight home. The Calgary Stampede Rodeo had just ended and we couldn’t get another flight for 3 days.

The Elk River is a large freestone river near the town of Fernie, British Columbia, 190 miles from Calgary. We rented a jumbo SUV in Calgary and drove about three and a half hours to our destination.

We stayed at the Island Lake ski and spa resort. The resort is a twenty minute ride from Fernie, on the side of a mountain on a winding gravel road through Mount Fernie Provincial Park.

While we were staying there the resort warned hikers that a cougar, a black bear with cubs and a moose were sighted nearby. We saw the moose just off the road one day.

Our goal was to catch large Cutthroat trout on flies and, if we were lucky, a Bull trout.
We each caught up to a dozen beautiful Cutthroat trout per day, ranging from 12” to 20”. Each of us also caught a good size Bull trout, two of which were quite large. Bill and I caught 20” fish, Steve got a 23” beauty and Tom got a 25”. Tom’s Bull trout must have weighed 5 or 6 pounds.

The Elk River was still running very high and fast and was several weeks late in coming down to normal summer level. Island Lake lodge ski resort normally has twenty eight feet of snow in the winter. Last winter they had about fifty feet of snow. The double amount of snow caused the spring runoff to last well into July.

The high fast water did not afford us the top water dry fly fishing we hoped for. We had to fish weighted streamer and nymph flies. Most fish were caught on nymphs. Our top producers were Golden Stone flies. There were occasional may flies, caddis flies, and beetles on a couple of days, but the major hatch was Golden Stone flies. Streamside boulders were covered with stonefly exoskeletons.

We expected to do a lot of dry fly fishing at this time of year. We also expected to walk and wade on a number of smaller rivers. But due to high water we only fished the Elk River from Drift Boats. This had the benefit of avoiding any grizzly bears.

We didn’t catch many fish in fast water. The drill was for the guide to spot “soft” water and row backward, drifting slowly by, or to anchor. We found a lot of soft water behind islands, log jams, and gravel bars. The fish were also in “Eddies” where there were slow backward flowing currents behind obstructions.

In some spots there was a deep pool of soft water and this is where we caught a lot of fish. One pool had a drop off on the upper end. We cast over the top of the drop off so our weighted flies would sink into the front edge of the deep pool. We must have hooked thirty fish in that one spot before they got wise. Unfortunately we didn’t land all thirty fish.

The Elk is a special regulation river. All fish must be released and only one single, barbless fly is allowed. The barbless fly makes it easy for the fish to get off if there is any slack in the line. Often the fish would swim toward us, after being hooked, so fast we couldn’t strip in line fast enough to keep a tight line so the fish couldn’t throw the hook.

Our guides worked for Dave Brown Outfitters guide team in the summer and guided in Chili in the winter.

I thought the fishing was very good because the fish were of a good size and more challenging to catch than expected. The scenery was stunning. We were continuously fishing next to magnificent snow capped mountains whose lower elevations were covered with pines and cedars. The banks were often lined with tall pines and cedars. One day we saw a herd of deer cross the river. They stopped on the far side to wait for a young deer to get the courage to swim across.

We chose the last stretch which was shorter so we could get done a little early. This allowed us more time to pack for our trip back the next day. The next day turned out to be three days but you’ve already heard that story.
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