Month: October 2014

Fishing for Gold in Coal Country: Day Three

If you’re still reading after Day One and Day Two, welcome to Day Three of our brief trip to Fernie, British Columbia (Canada).

On our third and final day in Fernie we fished on our own, thus avoiding the challenges brought on by the language barrier we struggled with the day before. We chose to follow the recommendation of a friend and pay a visit to one of the many Elk River tributaries, Michel Creek (sounds like ‘Michelle’ only its missing an extra  ‘l’ and ‘e’). Using sign language and rudimentary hand-drawn maps, the good folks at the Elk River Guiding Company were forthcoming with such information as where to go and how to get there. Despite that it was a 45 minute drive from Fernie into fairly remote country, I’d been told that we should not expect to be fishing alone because it’s quite a popular little river stream creek.

I’ve actually never been sure what criteria determines the difference between a river and a stream, or a creek, or even a brook. But in my opinion a creek is a small trickle of water that one can hop across in a single bound; maybe two.  In that regard Michel Creek is more of a river, albeit not a very big one—at least not this time of year (late Spetember).  Perhaps it’s more of a stream. Michel was skinny and creek-like in places, and in those places it could be easily forded without getting wet above the top our wading boots. In other spots it was more streamlike: knee deep and fairly wide. And in other areas there were pools that were downright deep, making it more like a bonafide river.  We fished the deeper runs and pools, of which there were plenty. Oh, and I was also told to expect wildlife sightings. My friend who had recommended Michel Creek told me he’d seen elk, bear, deer and coyotes all on the same trip in about a 2 mile stretch on the river creek. I didn’t expect to see elk, given that it was elk hunting season and the last thing you typically see during a hunting season is the animal which is being hunted.

Looks fishy, and grizzly.

What we did not see were other fishermen. In fact the only other people we saw were elk hunters, one of whom cautioned us to be watchful of Grizzlies.  The entire Elk Valley is known for its high concentration of bears, and because of that I’d purchased a can of Counter Assault before embarking on our trip. Unfortunately I’d left the can of spray at home. Marck and Jimmy had bear spray, so I reckoned that I’d be relatively safe in the event of an encounter as long as I stuck close to them, though not close enough that they could turn the spray on me. That said,  for the first hour of the day I headed upstream while they headed down. To say that I was a wee bit paranoid of a bear encounter would be accurate, and for the first hour I whistled as I worked the water, looking up repeatedly in hopes of not seeing a large bear emerging from the thick brush that lined the river creek. I didn’t, and as the day wore on I became slightly less concerned about bears and more concerned with catching fish.

One needn’t look far for signs of coal mining in trout country.

A two lane road follows the course of Michel Creek so it was easy to see why this river creek gets plenty of attention from anglers. It’s certainly a wild place, though a pristine wilderness it is not as there is ample sign of the mining industry throughout the area. I reckon I shouldn’t have been too surprised as there are very few places, shy of actual dedicated wilderness areas, where one can go and truly be in the wilderness. But after gearing up and walking a short distance to the river I had to admit that I was a bit disappointed. The Michel didn’t look like much, and didn’t produce any fish right off the bat. Upon further exploration upstream, around a bend, things changed for the better. Once out of sight of the road the river creek soon revealed its better self; its surroundings taking on a much more pleasing appearance. Plenty of structure in and along the riverbed, suggestive of big Spring flows, had created some tasty looking trout water. But the Michel didn’t prove to be the welcoming neighbor to the north that I had hoped for. At least not immediately.

Fish the foam.

After fruitless attempts at rising a couple of fish I saw in some large pools, I worked my way downstream, hoping to catch up with someone carrying a can of bear spray, and catch more fish. As I descended I happened upon a spot where a skinny riffle encountered an unyielding rocky bank, forcing the river creek, which looked indeed like a creek in this spot, to make a 90 degree turn.  At this bend was a small but dense patch of foam. It didn’t look like much but a voice in my head said, “Fish the foam. Always fish the foam.” For once I was glad I listened to the voice in my head because the foam produced my first Michel Creek fish. Despite the smallness of the water, the fish in Michel Creek proved to be disproportionately large and the fat 16″ cutthroat was a beauty, and a lot of fun on my new Sage ACCEL 4 weight. For a few minutes I even forgot to glance over my shoulder.

Always fish the foam.

Now that I was no longer facing a skunk, and less concerned with encountering a bear, I began to fish with greater confidence. That doesn’t mean I began catching fish, however:  as I worked through plenty of nice looking water I began to think that I might be little more than a one-fish wonder. I finally caught up with Morris, who was fishing a very deep pool where the river creek met a vertical embankment which dramatically changed its course (the kind of big, deep, swirling pool where you can’t see the bottom). He’d been catching some fish, and in fact had pulled a couple nice trout out of this very pool. Here the creek looked more like a river and there was plenty of room for two so I rigged up a beadhead soft hackle nymph and swung it through the depths. On my second attempt I hooked an agreeable 12 inch whitefish before moving on. Despite that Morris did not have bear spray either, we fished close together for the next hour or so before finally catching up with Marck and Jimmy, and their canisters of security. Undaunted by the possibility of a bear sighting, they were able to relax and focus solely on fishing. And because of that they’d been slaying fish—nice fish—for the better part of the day. Of course they had also been fishing untouched water. Morris and I were fishing their leftovers, and in a small stream with well-defined holes where the fish would be, one does not want to be 3rd or 4th in line.  We opted to break for lunch so we bushwhacked our way back to the road and then walked a mile or so back to the truck. It’s amazing how much distance one can cover while fishing without realizing it constantly looking over one’s shoulder for bears.

The long road ahead.

Following lunch we hopped in Marck’s 4Runner and drove downriver a find some new water.  After dropping Jimmy and me off at one spot, Marck and Morris drove further down. The plan was that Marck and Morris would fish down from where they parked while Jimmy and me I would fish down to where they’d parked. Then we (myself and Jimmy) would drive down and pick them up at the end of the day. And so we hit the river once again, rejuvenated from a beer and sandwich; eager to cover some unmolested water. It felt good to be fishing near someone who had bear spray, too.

The water we’d covered before lunch was far more varied and took us further from the road. It was better water at these low flows. The water we fished after lunch didn’t have as many deep pools and defined holes but we caught a few fish. In fact I caught more trout in the afternoon than I had all morning, but the water was less inviting overall, and the fish a bit smaller. At one point Jimmy and I came upon a run where large rocks broke up the flow of the river. There were no stretches of water that were very deep, and when a BWO hatch came off in the middle of the afternoon there were no fish rising. Not obviously, anyway. But we began to hook a few fish in small pockets behind rocks—in water that appeared on the surface to be too small to hold a respectable fish. They were not the 18 inch fish of the Elk which we’d caught 24 hours earlier, but they were beautifully colored and appeared very healthy—no Selenium-induced deformities.

Jimmy with a nice Michel Creek cutthroat.

After encountering a few welcoming fish we continued down the Michel, covering likely looking water that gave up no fish. The w#nd picked up and it threatened rain but did little more than spit a few drops on us which was a relief because there’s not much enjoyment to be had getting drenched while not catching fish. After a short while we came to a railroad bridge over the river. There had been recent maintenance work on the bridge and from the looks of things the construction crews would probably return soon to finish the work. There were drums of unknown fluids, tools and materials stacked along the side of the tracks. The smell of fresh railroad ties hung in the air—the smell of creosote. Beneath the bridge were chunks of discarded railroad ties, in the river creek. I’m sure the crews would be back to remove those. Marck and Morris were standing along the river a short distance upstream from the bridge, working a long deep run and we could see fish rising from our vantage point. We hadn’t expected to encounter them here as the 4Runner was parked just a short distance away alongside the road.  We expected to have to drive a mile or so downriver to pick them up, but as it turns out Marck and Morris had started heading downstream from the bridge but the water wasn’t very enticing. And they’d found several more chunks of creosote-soaked railroad ties scattered throughout the river below the bridge. The lack of regard for the river creek by the railroad crews was fairly disconcerting.

We called it a day on the Michel and headed back to the car. The collective opinion was that everyone had enjoyed their time on this small river and that we wouldn’t mind returning a little earlier in the year when there was a bit more water volume.  We also acknowledged that if we were to come back earlier in the year we’d encounter more fishermen and perhaps even some critters. In the end no wildlife was seen, and no bear spray was deployed. That said, if we do come back I won’t forget my bear spray next time: you never know when you might have to use it on a railroad worker who’s throwing scraps of toxin-coated wood into a river that’s already dealing with issues from coal mining pollution. 

If you plan to fish Michel Creek, this article will be of much more use to you than the article you’re currently reading. Read the article—it’s a good one, and points out why a dandy little stream like Michel Creek should not be kept a secret—it needs friends.

And thus concludes our trip to Fernie, BC. It was everything I had expected, and more.  Canada is indeed a welcoming place, but the currency issue, language barrier and their unwillingness to drop the metric system are discouraging. And not that you would, but don’t eat the fish. Instead take a multi-vitamin supplement if you want safe doses of Selenium.

Fishing for Gold in Coal Country: Day Two


After our brief introduction to the river on Day One, we were eager to see more of the Elk and keen on meeting even more of its hospitable inhabitants. I was particularly interested in hooking up with some of bull trout that the river is known for as well, although I fully acknowledged that our timing may have been a bit late for prime char time.

Not our guides, Bob and Doug.

Our guides, Kevin and Tyler.

We arrived at the Elk River Guiding Company and met our guides, Kevin Green and Tyler Carson.  Jimmy and I were paired with Kevin while Marck and Morris joined forces with Tyler. We’re not competitive or anything like that, but the night before we each tossed $10 (American) into a hat and it was declared that there would be a friendly inter-boat contest for the most fish, and the biggest fish. With less than $40 Canadian 40 Loonies at stake, it’s not like we were vying for huge sums of money—mainly bragging rights (and the losers would buy beer that evening). The first thing we did was inform Kevin that we must win, and whatever it took to declare victory must be done. Kevin was undaunted by the additional pressure, though he likely assumed that his tip was dependent on our winning the contest. He informed us that he’d been on the Elk nearly every day this season. He was the man for the job. If we could just get past the language barrier we’d be all set. Speaking of that, as a public service to my 12 readers (13 Canadian) here is a cheat sheet that may enhance your next visit to Canada. 

The biggest truck in the world.

We set off upriver about aboot 18 miles 30 kilometers from Fernie toward our launch point at Sparwood, a town that boasts the biggest truck in the world. We didn’t stop to see the truck up close, but to give you an idea as to how big this truck is, it is easily capable of hauling the largest ball of twine in the world. Sparwood’s livelihood appears to rely solely on the coal industry and, as was mentioned in my previous post, the Elk River flows through coal mining country. While mining began in 1897 the river was there long before then. There are 5 such mines in the greater Elk River valley and as with any extraction process coal mining is not without it’s detrimental impact on the surrounding natural resources. Elevated levels of phosphates, nitrates and Selenium, byproducts of coal mining, are found in the waters of the Elk River and some of its tributaries.

Vitamin S

I’d heard of Selenium before, and in fact it’s an ingredient in the multivitamins I take daily. However, the levels of Selenium in the Elk are far above what is needed for cellular regeneration/life sustenance. Too much is highly toxic, and levels in the Elk River are too much. Curious, and slightly concerned, I asked Kevin what some of the visible effects of the Selenium levels in fish are. He noted that shortened upper jaws and missing gill plates are seen from time to time, but the fish survive with these deformities.  He also mentioned that they don’t encounter fish bearing the signs of Selenium poisoning all the time, and while the morbid curiosity that lurks within would have liked to have seen and photographed such a deformed fish, I am pleased to report that no such specimens were seen or caught.  That doesn’t mean that this isn’t a huge issue facing the Elk watershed—it is—but I’m not here to go into detail about it. My buddy Derek Young fished the Elk in 2012 and did see evidence of Selenium poisoning in at least one fish (photo below).

What’s missing in this photo?

Mining is bad for rivers and ecosystems no matter what country you’re in, period. And Canada has had its share of bad press with regard to mining pollution this year (read up on the Mount Polley disaster here). I hope the Canadian government gets on top of things and makes damn sure that the mining companies do their part to clean up their acts. Here’s an article on CBC News British Columbia that talks in greater depth about the issues, and an even more recent article sheds more disturbing light on the matter here. The Elk River is a world class fly fishing destination and the cutthroat in the Elk River are known for their size. Could it be that the fish owe their girth to the mega doses of “supplements” they receive? The fish in the Elk seem to be doing fine for now but too much of anything is a bad thing. Let’s hope that things improve before the entire fish populations are pushed over the brink there, and in the states.  You see, the Elk flows into the Kootenai Kootenay River, which flows into Montana where it’s known as the Kootenay Kootenai River. Therefore the coal mining pollution has become an international boundary water dispute.  

First fish: gill plates in tact.

Enough aboot mining pollution; let’s go fishing, shall we eh?

As we prepared to set off down the river we strung up our 6 weight rods with sink tips and our 4 weights with floating lines. We’d be throwing streamers early in the day and switching to dries as the day warmed up and the fish began (hopefully) feeding on top. We would also do a bit of nymphing but we don’t want to talk about that openly—one does not go to the Elk River to nymph. However, if one does one will be fishing with just one fly—no dropper, per fishing regulations. I’m not sure if this one-fly limitation is in place to protect the resource or to discourage nymphing. Either way I had no problem with it because I nearly always catch fish on a dropper. Since we only used one nymph, that was the dropper in my estimation.

It didn’t take us long before we enticed the first fish on a streamer, and while it wasn’t a particularly large specimen it got the skunk off the boat early. We were officially on the board and as we proceeded in the direction of the river’s current we would stay plenty busy fishing this method. The cutts slammed the streamers with enthusiasm—the beauty of streamer fishing—and we caught some decent sized fish up to about aboot 17 inches. Each time that we floated over a big, deep hole that looked like it might hold a bull trout or two, I got a wee bit excited. But no bulls were seen in the big pools. Many if not most were already up in the tribs getting their spawn on. No worries, we were catching fish—nice fish: beautiful orange and gold cutthroats that seemed more brightly colored than other westslopes I’d seen before in the states. In the back of my mind I was still hoping for a shot at a bull (fish, to be sure—not an elk, although it was elk hunting season in the Elk Valley). A side note aboot bull trout: those who’ve fished for them know their propensity for attacking a trout that has become hooked.  I’ve seen it first hand, but nothing quite like what we would eventually experience on the Elk. Yes, we would see some bull trout, up close and personal. Keep reading.

At one point Jimmy was playing a smallish cutt when it was attacked by a very large predator that grabbed the trout in its mouth right at the boat.  The trout escaped mostly unscathed and we did not see the big predatory char again. Downstream a short while later as Jimmy was playing a 12 inch whitefish in a fairly shallow, broad riffle, the whitey was bull-rushed by not one, but three big char. Holy cow Jesus Murphy! The whitey darted madly as one of the bulls snapped at its tail, again right at the boat in shallow water. Kevin was clearly as excited as were we—he’d never seen anything quite like this. Whether that was the truth or he was just building up the event to ensure a generous tip we will never know. It didn’t matter. It was cool. I slapped the 3 inch streamer down into the foray hoping one of the bulls would lash out in anger and take the fly in a fit of confused rage.  That didn’t happen, and the whitefish was saved from the jaws of death and counted toward our fish total. The 3 bulls moved a short distance from the boat and continued to lay in the shallows for a period of time. They were each in the upper mid-twenties in length. I wanted one, badly, and put the streamer in front of their noses on several occasions. It was just like sight-casting delicate dries to rising trout, only the streamer was anything but delicate and the char weren’t trout, and they weren’t rising. In fact they weren’t having anything to do with my streamer whatsoever. Eventually they moved off into the depths of the river. We’d had our load of bull for the day, and it was quite a memorable experience.  I tossed another American quarter into the tip jar and we proceeded on.

Lunch break.

We met up with Marck and Morris for a lunch that, despite having not included back bacon, cheese or poutine, was quite palatable. Tyler’s boat had not been streamer fishing all morning so they’d fallen behind in the ‘most fish’ competition. They’d caught some decent fish, as had we, but with the competition only halfway over the biggest fish was yet to be caught. What Marck and Morris had that we did not was beer—an oversight on our part. That, perhaps, became our advantage. By lunch time the day was quite pleasant despite that the clouds were stubborn and refused to burn off. I was really hoping for some bright sun rays to show off the Elk River in all its Fall splendor, but that was not to be. Still, as the day warmed we hoped the fish would be looking up.  They would be.

The other boat had beer.

We learned the this would be Kevin’s last day guiding the Elk for the season. In two days he would be loading up his truck and camper and girlfriend and embarking on a 15 hour drive to chase steelhead for 2 weeks in the mecca of Canadian steelhead waters. Had we known all this prior to the float we may have requested another guide. After all the season was nearing its end. Kevin had fished long and hard, putting in over 60 days on the river with nary a day off. And now he was aboot to embark on vacation. Surely his head wouldn’t be in the game. Very likely he would not be mentally capable of saving his best for last.  That proved not to be the case as he worked hard for us all day long, putting us on many a good fish, all the while doing so with enthusiasm and a great sense of humor. The language barrier would ultimately prove minimal.

After breaking for lunch we broke out the 4 weights and began throwing dries. My brand new Sage ACCEL caught Kevin’s attention so we talked a bit aboot that. When I mentioned that I got the rod because it reminded me of my beloved Z-Axis Zed-Axis, it turned into somewhat of a Sage lovefest. As it turned oot Kevin is also a fan of Sage rods and has a fondness for the Zed-Axis as well. But I digress. Our lunch was barely digested when Kevin slowed the boat and dropped anchor in a fairly nondescript little run. Sure, it looked fishy, but then again so had many other spots we’d floated past withoot spotting any fish rising. Kevin wanted to give this particular spot a closer look, and we were glad he did: fish were soon rising in great abundance. Anchored a mere 30 feet 9.144 meters from the bank, we observed fish feeding in current seams every few feet, sipping on mayflies. The bugs were small; the fish were not. We got a good look at each individual cutt as they rose and picked off bugs: some were larger than others, but it would be not untruthful to say that the smallest fish were 15 inches. Some rose delicately, sticking just their noses above the film while others porpoised completely out of the water. We targeted the fish nearest the boat first, working our way gradually toward the bank. We caught fish in every seam.

Kevin offers up the international sign for “accomplishment”.

As we worked closer to the bank, it became increasingly more difficult top present our flies (or at least it did for me). Casting toward overhanging branches was not without its challenges and at one point I tested Kevin’s patience by hanging up in the same tree no fewer than three times. On three consecutive casts.  While Kevin re-rigged my tippet and flies, Jimmy was afforded the opportunity for a power play (that’s a hockey term; Canadians do like their hockey and Fernie is no exception—it has its own hockey team), of which he took full advantage. He would land our team’s big fish of the day while I remained in the penalty box (another hockey term). Noteworthy in particular was one fish that took Jimmy’s fly and instantly acted like no other trout I’d seen before. Without the slightest hesitation it ran, at warp speed, toward the boat, then upstream, downstream, and finally toward the bank and into a snarl of partially submerged branches before snapping off.  All Jimmy could do was hold on and laugh. We were amazed at how fast and strong this particular cutthroat was, and how differently it had reacted when compared to the scores of other fish we’d hooked in the same locale. They were all strong fish, but this one had a particularly nasty, un-Canadian-like disposition. It must’ve had a particularly large dose of vitamin S that morning. Perhaps it was even missing a gill plate…

Jimmy hits paydirt with a nice fat cutt on a dry.

Jimmy’s strikes gold with his big fish of the day, on a dry.

The trouts rising in this fairly nondescript run left their welcome mat out for well over an hour and a half as Jimmy and I took turns landing several and losing several more. There was one last fish; a big, darkly-colored coloured fish rising tight to the bank under the same overhanging branches that had put me into a timeout a few casts earlier. I wanted that fish as much as Kevin did not want me to lose another fly so I adjusted my angle and made one last hope shot toward the bank. Kevin breathed a sigh of relief as my fly cleared the shrubbery and drifted right over the nose of the fish. Because I was fairly certain I couldn’t duplicate that cast, I breathed a sign of relief when the fish sipped my fly and the hook was set. I breathed another sigh of relief when that fish was brought to the net. It was the last fish we’d catch from that nondescript little run, and as it turned oot it would be the last fish caught that day. Time-wise we’d fallen way behind and had some water to cover to catch up with the other boat so that we could humbly announce to them that we had already won the “most fish” competition, and likely the “biggest fish” as well thanks to Jimmy’s 18+ inch bruiser.

The last fish.

We pushed through a couple miles of river, fishing streamers occasionally when things looked right to do so, but mainly cutting the distance between our boat and the takeout. As we proceeded quickly downriver we had time to sit back and reflect on the beauty of the area. Aspen and cottonwoods were turning shades of yellow and gold, further enhancing the natural glory of the area. But a coal train served as a reminder that beauty is sometimes skin deep.


…and the beast.

The day threatened rain but never made good on that threat, thankfully. The w#nd had begun to rear its ugly head and the temperature was dropping as we encountered the other boat above the takeoot at Olson. A brief exchange indicated that Marck and Morris had not encountered the same pod of rising fish in the nondescript run that we had. But again, they did have beer. It was clear that the 30-some odd fish we’d landed would best their total, and while it was likely an act of welfare Jimmy and I conceded the biggest fish to their boat. We split the pot with them and that night we would share in the cost of beer—probably a good thing since it cost $38 (Canadian) for 2 pitchers jugs of beer. And Canadian jugs are no bigger than American jugs.

The next day we would head into the bear-infested hills past Sparwood to chase fish a small trib of the Elk River, so tune in next week, unpleasant persons hosers.

Everybody was a winner on the Elk River.

Fishing for Gold in Coal Country: Day One


It was a suggestion by Morris several months ago that we pay a visit to our friendly neighbors to the north and fish the Elk River near Fernie, British Columbia (that’s in Canada, FYI). While Morris may not generally be known for good decisions I must admit he was right-on this time.  In advance of our trip we read up on the area in general and the Elk in particular. What stood out was that the Elk is known for its big, wild, native westlope cutts on dries and a chance at even bigger bull trout. That’s all we needed to hear. Canadians are known for their welcoming hospitality—we expected that their fish would be equally as friendly and inviting. I also learned that the area is coal mining country and that the Elk and it’s tributaries face certain issues from mining pollution. We’d learn more about that the next day.

Oh, Canada!

After a 9 hour drive that found us traveling mostly at speeds ranging from 75 mph to 80 kph, a border crossing at Kingsgate (that did not result in detainment or any unsavory searches) and a stop at the Moyie General Store (for the best jerky we’d ever had) we pulled into Fernie, a small ski town nestled along the western slopes of the Canadian Rockies. The weather was overcast with intermittent drizzle so we couldn’t see the peaks that surrounded us, but we could see enough to get a good sense that on a clear day the scenery would be amazing.  The first thing we did was check in to the Red Tree Lodge, which would be our home base for the next 3 nights. Accommodations were quite respectable. In fact, the digs were a few notches nicer than where we typically stay on fishing trips.

Morris, Jimmy and Marck at the Elk River Guiding Company.

Immediately afterwards we drove right to the Elk River Guiding Company and inquired about fishing licenses licences and fees. We would be floating with a couple of their guides the next day, but wanted to ply the waters of the Elk for a few hours that afternoon to see just how welcoming these Canadian fish would be. Behind the counter at the shop was a very pleasant and helpful young lady named Leah. She wasn’t just a pretty face working the desk: as an angler herself she was very knowledgable with regard to fishing the Elk. Leah was forthcoming with information on where to go and not only generous with suggestions for several patterns that would produce fish, but more than willing to sell us several of each pattern! The shop is very well outfitted and Leah made us feel welcome—she even accepted our American currency straight across, despite that the exchange rate favored favoured Canada by 11 cents at the time of  our visit. We purchased our non-tidal fishing licenses licences and paid our $20 daily Classified Waters License Licence fees, thanked Leah for her help and bade farewell until our return the next morning. 

Beauty, eh?

After driving downstream from Fernie a few short miles kilometers we found a pullout and geared up. The Elk follows the highway, or rather vice versa, so access is readily available. This can obviously be a double-edged sword; thus our expectations were limited—if a river can be easily accessed from a road it typically means heavy fishing pressure and very educated or nonexistent fish.

I picked a likely looking spot where one might expect a fish to live and cast a #16 parachute Hare’s Ear into the vicinity. This was not a pattern that was recommended at the shop, but it was a pattern that produced many westslope cutts on the St. Joe earlier in the summer—a confidence fly, as it were. On the first pass a very respectable fish rose to and promptly rejected my fly. Well, THAT wasn’t very welcoming. Turns out I had misjudged the fish on the first pass, and on the next drift the same fish showed its true Canadian colors by being quite hospitable as it decided to indulge me—and in doing so revealed that it was, indeed, a good fish. A little too good, actually, as it slipped my poorly set hook after engaging me in a few exciting seconds of sport. I should point out oot that the Welcoming Canadian Fish was generous enough to return the fly. I moved on to another spot and pretended to appear interested in finding another fish. Actually, I was merely hoping to give Welcoming Canadian Fish a little time to cool down and forget aboot its sore lip. After 20 minutes I would go back to taunt him a second time. Meanwhile I had no luck rising other fish. Marck and Morris had crossed to the opposite bank, and Jimmy had moved upstream a ways. They’d all caught a few modest sized cutts but I wasn’t concerned with their well-being: I was targeting a fish that was more than modest-sized.

Moving back downstream a few paces, and armed this time with a size 18 BWO, I was delighted when the Welcoming Canadian Fish welcomed me a second time by taking my fly on the first pass.  The fish ran toward the middle of the river, put its head down, pulled hard, ran toward the bank, thrashed madly and once again, in a gesture of international generosity, returned the fly to me. I got a good look at the fish this time and can confirm that it was a solid 17 meters inches long (fortunately Canadians use inches when speaking of fish length). It was bright gold with a vibrant orange underbelly—more brilliantly colored coloured than any westslope cutthroat I’d ever seen before. I tied on another fly and angled my way upstream toward Jimmy to see how he’d been making out. Turns oot he’d caught several 10-12 inch fish but nothing for the past hour or so. I tried an October Caddis dry, a white Sculpzilla streamer, and a small Purple Haze dry, all to no avail.  I decided that the third time might be the charm and worked my way slowly back downstream, encountering no willing participants along the way, toward the previously Welcoming Canadian Fish.  As I once-again approached the lair of the fish I heard Jimmy voice his enthusiasm as he played a good fish that he’d just hooked in water I had just angled not 5 minutes previously.  He proceeded to land a beautiful 18 inch fish. What an ass Good for Jimmy!

The third time proved not to be a charm as I could not get the Welcoming Canadian Fish to rise again. As our first day drew to a close, Morris and Marck returned from their cross-river jaunt and reported that they’d kept themselves rather busy catching multiple fish, including some very respectable fish in the 18 inch range. Whatever Good for them! It was encouraging to see that the fish of Canada were living up to the friendly billing of their countrymen, for at least 3 out of the 4 of us.

Not to worry, we’d only fished for about 4 hours and tomorrow would be another day. The fish would have plenty more time to show us me some of their generous hospitality, and with that in mind we headed back to Fernie for some food and libations. Beer is expensive in Canada. So is food. But that didn’t deter us from enjoying pizza and a couple pitchers jugs of pilsner as we enthusiastically pondered what lie in store for us the next day.

Stay tuned, won’t you eh?








Unaccomplished on the river with Project Healing Waters

I recently had the distinct privilege of spending a weekend with a gathering of amazing folks for the Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing (Northwest Region) 5th Annual 2 Fly event in Ellensburg, WA.

The weather was spectacular, if not a bit warm for the last Saturday of summer, as the Yakima River beckoned 24 teams to come hither in an attempt to take home honors in two categories: the biggest fish; and the most fish. Team 8 consisted of myself as the rower/judge, a volunteer from PHWFF, and a veteran. As it turns out both gentlemen in my boat were veterans.

I mounted my own recon mission the day prior to the 2 Fly event, hoping to get things dialed in so that I could display my superior knowledge of the river and put my team on many and large fish. It’s undoubtedly a good thing that they didn’t know anything about me—most notably my fishing prowess on the Yakima River—or they’d have likely requested another boat. My Friday mission revealed that the Yakima was typically finicky: only two small fish were caught all day, using a wide variety of flies in an attempt to crack the code. The next day would prove to be even more challenging as anglers are limited to just 2 flies.

Team Unaccomplished.

On point in my boat was Jeffrey Brown, US Army Lt. Colonel, Infantry, and Deputy Director of Personnel for the Oregon Army National Guard. Stationed at the stern was Jesse Scott, US Air Force Colonel (retired). We put in at around 1030 hours and would fish until the tournament closed at 1500. No pressure—we had plenty of water between Red’s and Big Pines in which to catch many and large fish. And in a less imperfect world we would have done just that.

Both Jeff and Jesse were armed with an October Caddis pupae and a size 20 Lightning Bug dropper. The rules of the game are such that if an angler loses a fly, they must fish the remainder of the day with their one remaining fly. If they lose both flies, they’re SOL. There are more intricate details which allow an angler to continue fishing, but it involves trading fish caught for additional flies. Despite some precarious tangles with stream-side brush, Jesse retained both his flies for the duration of the event. He may not have caught a single fish, but he did keep his flies so there is some victory in that.  Jeff lost his dropper during the first half of the day so he fished a solo fly until there were 20 minutes left. With only one small fish on his score card, I suggested to Jeff that he trade his fish for another dropper and fish confidently for the remaining few minutes. Since a single, 9-inch fish was likely to earn him neither the biggest nor the most fish, Jeff agreed. His score card now read “zero”, but he once again had a full set of flies and got down to business. Within 10 minutes he indicator went down and his line drew taught. “I’m snagged on a rock,” he announced.  There was no sign of life whatsoever at the far end of Jeff’s line—every indication that he was, indeed, snagged—and snagged good—on a rock. Damn. We were not going to lose both flies after all this so I pulled into the slow water near the bank, and rowed upstream to relieve the tension on the snagged fly. As soon as we came around above the “rock”, a very respectable fish jumped within just a few feet of the boat. Nearly simultaneously, Jeff’s line went slack and his flies came free. It was one of those “HUH?!” moments. The likely scenario was that he’d hooked the fish, which immediately swam under a rock. The less likely scenario is that Jeff had snagged a rock and as we drew neear, the fish jumped so it could give us a flying fin gesture.

In the end, the score card for Team 8 registered “0” for the number of fish caught, and had the guys in my boat thought that I was a guide, they would have also thought that I wasn’t a very good guide. It was a tough day, but both Jeff and Jesse have done a fair amount of fishing so they understand that there’s more to fishing than catching fish.  And that’s what Project Healing Waters is all about: getting out on the water, engaged in comradery and enjoying, as Jeff put it, some “hydrotherapy”.

US Army Lt. Colonel Jeff Brown searching for trout on the Yakima River.

About Jeff Brown:

Jeff’s military career began in 1990 as a traditional National Guard Soldier. In 1995 he came on active duty in the Oregon National Guard. Jeff attended Officer Candidate School in 1998 before being commissioned as a Second Lieutenant of Infantry. While at Fort Benning, GA, he attended Infantry Officer Basic Course and Ranger School. In 2002 Jeff was deployed on a Multinational Forces & Observers mission, where he spent 6 months on the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt. While there his jobs included that of battalion assistant training officer and company executive officer. In 2003 he was promoted to Captain and in 2004 he attended Infantry Captains Career Course, once again at Fort Benning. Two years later Jeff took command of 234 Engineer Company at Camp Rilea in Warrenton, OR. In 2007 he was promoted to Major and was deployed to Iraq as commander of 234 Engineer Company for a convoy security mission where his outfit provided support to logistical convoys traveling throughout central Iraq. In 2008 Jeff returned to Oregon, working until 2010 as the executive officer for the University of Portland Army ROTC battalion. From 2010-2011 he worked as Operations and Training Officer (S3) for 2-162 Infantry Battalion in Springfield, OR, and during 2012-2013 he was Program Director for Active Guard and Reserve (AGR) Program for the Oregon Army National Guard (ORARNG). In this capacity Jeff oversaw 500+ active duty Soldiers and Officers in the ORARNG whose duty it is to maintain the readiness and the traditional force and prepare everything so that drill periods are conducted smoothly and efficiently when the traditional Guardsmen report for duty. Since then Jeff has been the Deputy Director of Personnel for the ORARNG. He is second in charge of maintaining personnel readiness of 6100+ Oregon National Guard Soldiers.

Jeff’s favorite species of fish are rainbow trout, both the anadromous version as well as resident fish. He enjoys chasing lake-dwelling rainbows in British Columbia. He lives close to the Santiam River in the Willamette Valley and enjoys fishing some of the small streams in the valley for resident rainbows and cutthroat trout. He also enjoys the Deschutes River in central Oregon, although he admits that he doesn’t fish it near as much as he’d like. Having previously lived in southern Oregon, Jeff has a special place in his heart for the Rogue River and the Fall “half pounder” steelhead.

US Air Force Colonel (ret) Jesse Scott working the waters.

About Jesse Scott:

A 30 year veteran of the United States Air Force, Jesse began his military career as a jet fighter mechanic and then progressed through a career as a pilot, staff officer, and Commander. Most of his career as an officer was spent in Special Operations which involved travel to over 35 foreign countries including several years in combat zones. After retiring from the Air Force Jesse spent 10 years with Boeing as a customer training instructor. His final working years were spent as an Associate Instructor at Everett Community College.

Jesse co-founded the wounded veterans fly tying group at Madigan Army Medical Center and is the inventor and developer of the Evergreen Hand. The Evergreen Hand is a device that allows a tier who is missing a hand or arm to use fly tying equipment—it can also be used by persons who are partially paralyzed. Jesse won the 2009 Letcher Lambuth Angling Craftsmanship Award in recognition of his contribution to handicapped tiers. Please see this article in the Everett Herald about Jesse’s amazing invention. 

He is the past president of the Evergreen Fly Fishing Club, a Stillaguamish Watershed Council member, and Youth Education Docent at the Museum of Flight. Jesse has a keen interest in tying classic Atlantic Salmon Flies and is a member of the Northwest Atlantic Salmon Fly Guild.

I had a great time spending the day on the water with guys. Thanks to Jeff and Jesse for their long service to our country, and to Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing for their support for our military men and women.