The older I get the more I appreciate my time on the water. I started full time in the industry in 1982 and since that time I have seen my share of this great country of ours. It’s funny but during that time it’s been a rare occasion when I have spent more than one week fishing a certain area of the country. I am one of these types that likes new challenges, new water and moving along! So when the opportunity came up to spend 10 days fly fishing mountain streams, I was a bit apprehensive. Friend Phil Brake convinced me that there would be all of that and a bit more on this journey. So away we went, across the prairies, arriving fifteen hours later at the Castle Falls Campground located on the shores of the Castle River, a glacial feed stream that holds cutthroat trout, whitefish and a few rainbow thrown in for good measure.
I was no stranger to this part of the world, having fished the Crowsnest River and the Oldman with guide and fly fishing guru Vic Bergman 15 years ago while filming two shows for The Complete Angler television series. These are probably the two most famous rivers in the region but not the only ones that hold large numbers of fish. There are a myriad of lesser known water to fish as I was too soon find out. Alberta has some incredibly scenic campgrounds, the one at Castle Falls Provincial Recreation Area no exception. Our site was a stone’s throw away from the river bank, a bonus when falling asleep after a long day on the river. Just upstream were a series of spectacular rapids that held big bull trout. We spent four days visiting a number of different rivers and streams within a 30 kilometre radius. On our first full day we tried the Carbondale with limited success. For the next three days we fished various sections of the Castle River, including the west arm. It was on the evening of our third day that I hooked and land my biggest fish of the trip, a beautiful cutthroat that came out of an undercut bank to take my small Prince nymph fly fished on a dropper rig below a Terranasty (big stone fly imitation.) Stone fly hatch in May and early June but still show up in July. These fish switch over to mayfly hatches during July.
Most of the rivers we fish are small to medium size on this part of the trip and almost all are total catch and release.
On day four we pack up camp and head up Highway 507, once again crossing the Castle as the river widens out in the lower stretch. We also crossover the Crowsnest River, just south of the town of Bellevue. Here we turn on to Highway #3 and head west to stop and visit the two great fly shops that our along our way. At the Crowsnest Angler, friend Vic Bergman has a day off, so we head up to visit Susan Douglas-Murray at the Crowsnest Café & Fly Shop. It’s here that we get the latest information on the rivers and streams we are about to fish, Susan hand picking the flies we need. This chosen selection would dramatically increase our success ratio the rest of the way.
Then we head north to the Racehorse Creek campground which is to be our home for the next five days. This well treed and spacious campground is centrally located to where we want to fish. From here we have access to a multitude of different small rivers, creeks and larger rivers including the Oldman River. After setting up camp we walk from the campsite to Racehorse Creek, which is only a stone’s throw away. While small in stature this creek provides us with some great evening angling over the next two days. On the second evening, I landed four cutthroat in two different pools, all on Pale Morning Dun fly, commonly called among fly fishers, a PMD.
Fishing a stream – One important thing I learned over the course of 10 days is making sure your fly matches the speed of the water it’s drifting on. Sometimes you have fish a pool almost straight upstream. Sometimes you have to make short casts and sometimes you have to hold your fly in place at the end of the drift. One thing I do know, is that if you present your fly properly you will get bit. The other thing I found out is that you need a decent length of tippet, at least six feet. I discovered by accident that one of the guys on the trip was using a tippet material made in England for carp fishing. Called “Stealth” this multi-coloured monofilament was supple, invisible to fish and strong. I had borrowed some from one of the other guys on the trip and soon everyone was asking for it after I tripled my catch rate one evening after first tying it on. Yes, sometimes it’s the small things that make all the difference.
The next three days are mostly spent fishing the Livingstone River, a very popular choice among fly fisherman. There are many roads that lead to the riverside, but finding a stretch (of river) to yourself is tough. The first two days we don’t have too much trouble finding peace and quiet, but come Friday things are crowded.
Since Saturday is our last full day, we decide to head down the foothills to the Oldman River in a section near Highway 22. I have my best day using two different presentations, a Terranasty dry fly along with a Prince nymph dropper was what I started with. Six fish later the action slows…then on the last pool of the day fish start to rise and I catch two beautiful trout on a Royal Coachman, a satisfying end to an awesome adventure.
Summary: There is much to do in this part of the world and you don’t have to be a fly fisher to enjoy the breathtaking scenery and crystal clear streams. Many people just camp wherever they want, usually in a meadow beside any of the rivers I have just mentioned. Some bring their horses, some their ATV’s but most all have a fairly large fifth wheel parked in groups of three or more. We did see wildlife including elk and quite a few deer. Luckily we didn’t bump into any bears on our stream adventurers, but that’s always a possibility. One thing to keep in mind though, if you do plan to fish, is to contact one of the fly shops I mentioned to plan your trip. Most of the streams and rivers don’t clear up until late June which makes the fishing that much better. Fall is also an excellent time to come, with fewer people and hungry fish!