Monday, September 14, 2015

Columbia River walleye on the fly

Fly fishing for walleye is not my first choice when it comes to casting flies on the Columbia River but when leaves begin to turn, and the temperatures cool, September can be the best time to target this tasty table-fare fish.
I remember the first time I caught a walleye; I had just moved to the Kootenays some 15 years ago and was fishing a sinking line with a woolly bugger hoping to catch one of the large rainbows that inhabit this stretch of the Columbia near Trail, B.C.
I initially thought I had snagged a log, but when the log began to move I realized that something rather large had just taken my fly. It wasn't a rainbow, I knew that for certain, and when I finally reeled it in, I looked in disbelief at what was about a 30-inch walleye, a species I was totally unfamiliar with. I gingerly released my fly from its toothy maw and lightly kicked it back into the river not realizing that I just landed what was the largest of its kind I would ever catch.
Walleye are an alien species, so BC fisheries allow a generous 16-fish-per-diem limit. I've never had the desire or intention of retaining that many in one day's angling but recently I've started keeping a few for the table. And to be honest, once one breeches the armour-like scales, avoids being impaled by its razor-sharp fins, and slices off the filets, the walleye is one of the best fish I've had the pleasure of eating.
It's white flesh is similar to cod, firm and perfect for fish and chips or simply pan frying it with herbs and spices and lemon wedges.
I use a 6-weight rod with full sink line and a short four-foot leader and usually a streamer pattern, stonefly, or woolly bugger in brown or black and green. Walleye are bottom feeders so you have to get the fly down. I like to cast into a run and then let it settle in the seam or pool, then use a dead-slow retrieve.
One huge bonus is that I'll usually hook into one or two large rainbows as well. The other night, a big bow peeled my fly line in seconds and took me into my backing as it ran into the middle of the river before I was able to gain control and coax it to hand, before releasing it.
The week before I landed about a four pound smallmouth bass. I fully expect to hook and land one of the more recent invasive species, the northern pike, which have been caught in some regularity in the calmer sections of the Columbia.
I question the excessive limit quota, I mean really why not just make it no limit, as fisheries did with the pike. Anglers will never fully rid the system of its now numerous alien species that include bass, walleye, and pike not to mention some 20 other species like brown trout, brook trout, lake trout, perch, carp, bullhead, pumpkinseed, goldfish, catfish, and bullhead.
Few are as good eating as the walleye, so with the generous limit and a fish that will eat almost anything and is relatively easy to catch, why not enjoy an autumn day fishing on the Columbia for the delectable walleye.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Shadowy St. Joe

Fly fishing the Shadowy St. Joe
The St. Joe River is one of Idaho's prime westslope cutthroat trout fisheries. Located near the Montana border in the northern Bitterroot Mountains of Shoshone County in the Idaho panhandle; a bit off the beaten path, its pristine and uncrowded waters make the freestone stream a fly-angler's paradise.
Check out my recent article in The New Fly Fisher Magazine by clicking on the photo above.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Whiteswan: The prettiest place on earth

Few places match the incredible beauty and magnificence of the western Rockies and Whiteswan Lake. I'd traveled to Whiteswan before to camp and hike, or passed it on my way to fly fish the Middle Fork of the White River, but almost always during the hot summer months, when I believed casting over Whiteswan's expansive marl shoals would be futile. I always vowed to return during the cooler months of May or June.

Well I finally made it.

I enticed my Alberta friends, Gerald and Tony, to the mountain lake in early June. It had rained most of the week leading up to the trip and my first night camping it rained. Fortunately, the following day the weather broke and unseasonably 30-degree weather beat down on us for the remaining of the trip. Which was both good and bad. The fishing was decent the first couple days, and I managed to land a few beautiful trout on chironomids. A size 12 bead head black and red was most productive, but as the week progressed smaller chronies like a 16 chromie seemed to do better, 

Fly-fishing Whiteswan can be a little frustrating, as you can see the trout cruising over the bright shoals, often making an abrupt turn to check out your offering, but after intensive study, invariably rejecting it. The times it did take were incredibly exciting, but those were getting fewer and fewer as the hot weather persisted.

The very first trout I caught, however, was one such time. I spotted two trout cruising over the shoal and sent my cast about a dozen feet in front of their path. As the chironomid sank, the larger of the two fish bolted for it, the indicator dropped - fish on. I eventually, played it to the net, and quickly measured it at just over 22-inches before releasing it back into the pellucid waters.
Whiteswan rainbows are incredibly strong fighters and beautiful chrome bullets. The best fight I had was on my fourth or fifth rainbow that took me into my backing and turned out to be a mere 18-inches.

However, we also caught a few post-spawners, which I suppose is normal for that time of year, but you could certainly tell which trout just came off a spawning bed and the ones that weren't. The spawners were skinny, dark, and slimy, suffering the effects of a month or so of not eating, immersed in the delicate dance of procreation in nearby streams.

The heat made the fishing difficult after a few days, and the winds that kicked up in the afternoon made fishing impractical if not near impossible. The trout weren't biting or even looking as often, although we could see them still cruising the expansive shoals. Perhaps I should have gone deeper, up to 20 feet I suspect, but the presence of trout feeding at 8-12 feet made it seem unnecessary.

So we kept asking ourselves, "Is it better to see the fish, or not?"

Which, begs a more philosophical question regarding reality and perception but I'll leave that for another day.

Sometimes fishing in lakes where you cannot see the trout will cause you to be more diligent and patient. You concentrate on the finer points of technique, depth, and pattern, rather than getting distracted and interrupting your slow retrieve to cast the chironomid at yet another passing rainbow.
But on the other hand, it's just plain cool to see the trout, especially when it does take your fly. And when you actually take time to look up and around, the sight of the majestic Rockies almost takes your breath away.
The fishing could have been better, and Tony, while he had a few hits, he was unable to land a Whiteswan rainbow. But thanks to Tony, the silver bullets were cold and plentiful, the company incomparable, and the scenery spectacular.
I suppose you can't ask for much more than that.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Roche Lake's incomparable rainbows

It had been about 15 years since my friend Colin, his son Taylor, and I last visited Roche Lake, an eminently productive rainbow trout fishery nestled in the hills of the Thompson Plateau just south of Kamloops, B.C.
I was just getting into chironomid fishing at the time and had spotty success over the three days, but remember picking up one or two three-pound rainbows on a leech pattern.
This time, we headed up to Roche the third week in May and enjoyed sunny skies for most of the week. Apparently, the lake was undergoing a second turnover marked by the algae and debris floating on the water. The turnover affected visibility early on in the week, but as the skies cleared and weather warmed the water also settled and brought improved visibility.
The biomass on Roche is dense. Scuds, chironomids, chaoborus, beetles, flying ants, and giant leeches some up to eight inches long, can all be seen with a quick glance into the water.
I expected to fish chironomids primarily, but on the first trip out we trolled searching patterns like leeches and nymphs to identify quality spots. Colin landed a decent 14 inch rainbow on a orange beadhead bugger almost right away, then caught another on the trip back that evening.
I didn't even get a hit the first evening out, but things would change the next day.
Taylor was about four-years-old on our first visit to Roche, and his only memory is of the obstinate black bear that visited our camp and would not be deterred by banging pots and honking horns, but eventually carried on into the woods after sufficiently nosing out the campsite.
This time, on the cusp of his 20th birthday, Taylor, over the course of five days, went from a frustrated neophyte water-flogger to a seasoned fly caster. Following many tangles, bird nests, and errant casts, by the third day Taylor was throwing a strike indicator, split shot, and chironomid pattern with grace and ease. Not surprisingly his results improved and on the fourth day he caught and released numerous trout (about eight I think), including the largest rainbow of the trip.
The magic all happened on chironomid patterns and surprisingly the most effective turned out to be a size 10, black and red pattern. We hit our first bit of luck in Monster Bay, a significant shoal on northeast end of the lake. Anchored in about eight feet of water, success came on the aforementioned pattern at the end of about six feet of leader almost immediately.
After landing a couple in the first half hour, the action slowed, so we moved to another spot and I landed two almost immediately. That would prove the pattern for the rest of the week, anchor, fish, move.
We'd fish from about 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. then head in for a nap, and return to the water at about 5:30 p.m. until dusk. It was an amazing trip. I lost count on how many fish we caught and released, but aside from the black and red chironomid, chromies and micro leeches also worked well. We saw deer, numerous species of water fowl, as well as eagles, osprey, turkey vultures, great blue herons, and pileated woodpeckers, not to mention the loon that circled our boat in anticipation of an easy meal.
The most satisfying aspect of the trip was watching Taylor improve his technique and his appreciation grow for chironomid fishing, a challenging and often frustrating method. The highlight was when he hooked into about a four-pound rainbow and played the girthsome triploid trout patiently and effectively, until it came to hand, and after a quick photo, eased it back into the water.
It was a great trip, with incredible weather, and excellent fishing, but mostly an excuse to spend some quality time with old friends.
Thanks Guys.

Fast Facts: Roche suffered from a partial winter kill in 2014 but it was believed to be confined to the southwest end of the lake. Still, fisheries releases 24,000 rainbow trout throughout each season, as a result, many of the trout were of the cookie cutter variety, about 12-14 inches, fat and healthy.
 Roches Lakes Park offers vehicle accessible campsites on a first-come, first-served basis – campsite reservations are not accepted. There are three rustic campgrounds; Roche Lake North (8 sites), Roche Lake West (21 sites) and Horseshoe Lake (4 sites). Roche Lake North is quite open and is suitable for group camping. A pay telephone is available at Roche Lake Resort, which is located on the same gravel road that is used to access the park, just follow the signs. Vehicle Accessible Camping Fee: $13 per party / night