Almost everywhere in the East Kootenay region, bull trout are purposefully finning their way to the smallest of tributaries, sometimes within feet of the spot they emerged from a fertilized egg years earlier.
It is an annual act of procreation, the one time a year they stack up in deep pools, and wait for the perfect conditions and perfect time to have sex.
But unlike their ocean swimming salmon relatives or fresh water Kokanee, these denizens of large waters do not perish after the consummate act but rather return to their body of water to recover and train for next year's fun run.
A mid-size bull caught on a black
and red streamer and 6-wt. rod
This year I was joined by three friends and avid string tossers, as we headed out the first week in July with hopes of intercepting one or two of these monster bulls with a fly. Jake the younger had much to prove after disappointing results last year shut him out. His older cousin Derek was back and as confident as ever, and both Waterstreets were chomping eagerly at their Wintergreen Skoal to hit the river.
I invited an old friend of my own, Colin Munro, from the coast, a more diligent and cerebral fly-fisherman whom I could lag behind with and enjoy a days fishing and a cold beer, rather than try to keep up with the Waterstreet express.
Unfortunately spring conditions were brutal, delaying run-off and causing rivers to swell to the point they were almost unfishable - almost.
We hit the same river at the same time last year but this cool season had it at least six feet up and the colour of strong coffee with a drop of cream. Nevertheless, after an hour of worrisome casting I hooked into and landed a smallish bull trout.
It was a relief to myself and three companions. With the first one landed and released we could now more confidently spot holding areas or attractive lies. But it was tough going. With high water and no visibility, identifying areas such as large boulders or small impressions was all but impossible. We passed weighted bunny streamers through seams and slack water, close to shore, through riffles and pools until at last I stuck another.
Jake crossing the river
in a relatively easy spot.
But this bull trout was a full grown, no-nonsense behemoth that tore me into the current and was zip-lining my backing as I chased it down the bank, over trees and under branches, frantically looking for slow water I could guide its nose into. After about a 100-yard dash, it flew into the wild water and broke off. Great fun but the raging water coupled with the size of the bully was no match for my G-Loomis six-weight.
We investigated other waters on a flat stretch of valley that produced many trout for Derek and Jake, even Munro touched a couple on the flats but aside from one palpable hit, the flats proved futile ground for me.
On average the bulls on the flats seemed smaller than the upper river (probably because I didn't catch any) but nonetheless, the marathon fishers, Jake and Derek, seemed to land seven or eight each time they fished the plain while Colin and I managed only two or three a day on the upper section.
Perhaps our slight success was due to the leisurely pace of our endeavour; often distracted by a casual observation, a mayfly hatch, an eagle soaring overhead or a nice weathered log upon which we could rest our prodigious laurels.
But often excitement was just around the next bend.
Derek with one of the larger bulls of the trip
Crossing the river to explore more promising water was always an adventure. The murky conditions made the depths incalculable so at times we'd be swept away by a strong current and carried downstream until we'd find our footing, gagging for breath and spewing water, scary at times but safe and invigorating in the end.
A variety of streamer colours and sizes were effective from black and red to olive and grey, or black and purple. The weight was determined by the strength of the current. Lighter flies did better on slow water, while getting the fly down quick in rushing current was effective.
We knew water everywhere was high, and that the trip was a gamble but we were confident it would be one well worth taking.
Aside from a mosquito-infested tent trailer whose effects we neutralized by a good meal and a few cold ones before bedtime -the trip paid off in the end. I think we landed and released 25 bull trout, a few cutties and the odd sucker.
All in all, had a great time and look forward to next year.