Time: 10:00AM – 3:30PM
Location: Olsen Rest Area
I visited the Elk River in British Columbia on 8/8/2015 and 8/9/2015. That trip was my introduction to the beautiful blue tinged crystal clear river in the southeastern corner of the western province, and when Jane and I discussed a road trip to Banff and Jasper, I made sure to include a day for fly fishing on the Elk River in our itinerary. In August of 2015 I was a guest of Montana Fly Company, and this translated to floating the river in a drift boat both days. Friday August 18, 2017 was scheduled to be a self guided wade fishing experience. How would the two experiences compare?
Jane and I arrived in Fernie, BC on Thursday August 17, and we checked into our hotel and enjoyed a delightful dinner at the Curry Bowl a few blocks down the street. Knowing that the Canadian trip was in my future prompted me to exchange direct mail comments and emails with an Instagram acquaintance, Cliff Razzo, who lives in Fernie. He recommended lodging and most importantly suggested a wade fishing section for me to explore. His kind advice was utilized, and I was grateful for his assistance. Cliff also urged me to carry bear spray several times in his informative email, so I purchased a canister at Bass Pro Shop prior to departing on the trip.
On Friday morning Jane and I walked from our lodging to the Elk River Fly Shop, and I purchased the requisite license and permit for one day of fishing on the Elk River. After the transaction was completed, I asked the young lady behind the counter about the turn off from the highway into the Olsen Rest Stop, since Cliff was very explicit in directing me not to make a left turn from the northbound lane. She suggested turning right into the toilet area and then crossing both lanes of the highway to avoid making a left across traffic. Once she explained the traffic nuance, she offered some unsolicited advice. “Be alert because that is where they dump roadkill.” Whoa! This caught my attention. Apparently bears were attracted to the area I chose to fish by deer, elk, and a variety of carcasses. I was instantly on high alert, and when I returned to the hotel, I immediately opened our recent purchase of bear spray in preparation for my day on the water.
I departed the hotel at 9AM, and by the time I drove past the Olsen Rest Area to Sparwood and returned south, it was 9:30 as I pulled into the parking lot. As it turned out, the toilets described by the Elk River salesperson were across from the Olsen Pit Road, and I was searching for the Olsen Rest Area. Much to my relief I was a mile or two below the Olsen Pit, the apparent repository of roadkill carcasses.
I assembled my gear as usual and elected to use my Sage One five weight with the expectation of some larger fish. The temperature was in the mid-fifties, but I wore no extra layers, as the high for the day was predicted to reach the mid-eighties. I dutifully slid the holster over my wader belt and inserted a can of bear spray, and then I followed the five hundred meter path to the river. The riverbed displayed a significant amount of exposed round rock, and initially I assumed that flows were low, and they may have been, but the strong current remained fast enough to dissuade me from any attempt to cross.
In 2015 a Jake’s gulp beetle was magical, so I began my 2017 adventure with the same fly. Unfortunately fly selection was not that easy, as the foam beetle was not desired by the west slope cutthroats on August 18, at least not in the morning time period. Following the small orange indicator on the back of the beetle was difficult in the morning shade created by the high bank, so I converted to a yellow fat Albert with a beadhead hares ear and a copper john. The fat Albert attracted two refusals, but after covering an hours worth of water, I switched to a Chernobyl ant, and this provoked no response from the fish. At least the fat Albert generated a few looks.
I opted for another change and knotted a tan pool toy to my line, and this foam terrestrial once again produced a pair of tentative looks. I also briefly tested a parachute green drake, since Cliff mentioned it as a productive fly. The looks and refusals described might suggest that I was having a fair amount of activity, but it transpired over a 3.5 hour period, and by 1:30PM my net failed to feel the weight of a fish. I was rather frustrated and snapped a series of landscape photos to make sure I had some remembrance of the day.
Although the fish count was locked on zero, the 3.5 hours did provide some clues. All the refusals occurred in deep slow moving areas within ten feet of the bank. I invested a significant amount of time casting to moderate riffles, long glides and deep pools with no discernible benefit from my effort. I pondered this observation and vowed to cover more of the river and focus on the slow bank side spots. Unfortunately these locations tended to exist next to high dirt banks. In fact they were so high, that it was impossible to lower oneself from the top to the water. I adopted the tactic of entering the river where the drop off was mild, and then I carefully waded along the base of the steep bank to access the band of slow water. For the most part this worked, but several times the water bordering the bank was too deep or too fast, and this circumstance forced me to retreat.
By 1:30 I approached a nice area that met my productive water criteria. I flicked a backhand cast below a log and above a smaller branch that extended from the high bank. I reverted to a Jake’s gulp beetle with a peacock dubbed body, and suddenly after the beetle crept only six inches, a shadowy form emerged from the depths and moved a couple feet to chomp on the foam bug. I could not believe my eyes. I instinctively reacted with a hook set, and once I felt resistance, I realized I was attached to a decent cutthroat trout. This was the action I sought, and I carefully maintained pressure, until I scooped the fifteen inch prize into my net. I was finally on the scoreboard, and the native cutthroat was a very pretty fish to behold.
The ten foot ribbon of water continued, but in order to fish it, I was required to climb the bank and circle around a large log. I complied and carefully lowered myself back to the river. Once I was positioned, I gazed upstream, and I noticed a deep depression where the river displayed a brilliant aqua color, as it flowed over a white bottom. As a result of the extreme clarity I was skeptical that a fish was present, but I flicked an obligatory backhand cast to the top of the trough. I retain a vivid image of what happened next. A large cutthroat materialized from the aqua depression, and it actually launched out of the water and descended on the beetle from above. In a state of shock I lifted the rod and set the hook. This Elk River inhabitant displayed its power and endurance, as a prolonged tussle ensued, but eventually I scooped the seventeen inch wild fish into my net. The stunning cutthroat was very wide and possessed a light tan body with vivid fine speckles. I was shaking from the excitement for several minutes after this episode.
I continued upstream at a rapid clip for another 1.5 hours, and I managed to land a small eight inch cutty along with two momentary connections with likely substantial fish. By 3:30 I was quite weary, and I knew a decent hike was in my future, and I could see the highway, so I reeled up the beetle and made my exit. Friday was a challenging day on the Elk River, and I gained an appreciation for the advantages of a drift boat. Traveling on foot limits the number of prime cutthroat holding spots that can be accessed in a day of fishing. Despite this handicap I managed five refusals, three temporary hook ups, and three landed fish. Two of the netted trout were absolutely stunning wild westslope cutthroat trout of fifteen and seventeen inches. The landscape was spectacular, and I never encountered an angry bear. It was a success in my book, and that is all that matters.
Fish Landed: 3