Readers Write: “Fall Cutthroats on the Dry – in the Oldman River drainage”

Oldman River Alberta
Fall cutthroat trout in the Oldman River drainage

Jacob is a young fly fisher from Calgary, Alberta who approached us with the following story concept. He wants to encourage and help others get out on southern Alberta trout streams in the Oldman R drainage. These are waters he’s growing up on and loves to fish.

Jacob Krayzel
Calgary, Alberta

Oldman River cutthroat trout
Oldman River drainage cutthroat trout.

If you asked a group of trout anglers what their favourite fish is, many would answer, “cutthroat trout.” Southern Alberta’s cutthroat fisheries provide numbers of large, healthy fish. These waters are clean, pristine, and have ideal habitat for cutthroats. There is an outstanding amount of bug-life and great areas to fish. The Oldman River system holds good-sized cutthroats, as well as a variety of other species. Nearly all of the Oldman’s small tributaries are good for dry-fly action in late summer and fall. There are various ways to catch the fish here, but there are certain techniques that produce especially well.

Nobody can deny the excitement of dry-fly fishing. This is one of the most effective ways to catch cutts, hence the common reference to them as “ dry fly trout.” On some streams you can hit massive frenzies of feeding trout, all in one place. In the fall, the fish often feed heavily and take advantage of the insects that are prevalent in late season. When the fish are in the mood for hoppers, patterns like Dave’s, Chaos, and Chubby Chernobyl Hoppers will all do well. Other terrestrials like ants and beetles are also effective, and patterns like the Rubber-Legged Foam Beetle or Parachute Ant can fool many fish at this time of year. There are hatches of giant orange sedges (also called October caddisflies), and patterns imitating these insects are also effective. Blue-winged olive and trico mayflies hatch in late season, so there’s the added chance of hitting one of these hatches. As always, the fish feed on tiny midges and gnats when they are available. For imitating these insects, few patterns rival the effectiveness and reputation of the Griffith’s Gnat. It has produced some nice trout for me, and for some anglers is responsible for over half of all the trout they have caught.

Oldman River gnats
Gnat patterns are effective in fall in the Oldman drainage

As always, it is necessary to be extremely careful when wading up to where trout are rising, reducing noise by only shuffling your feet along the stream-bottom. Cast your fly far upstream, then strip and mend it into the right position for the drift. If the fly moves suddenly right in front of a trout, it looks unnatural and usually won’t be taken by the fish. Although considered some of the most eager trout to take your fly, cutthroats can be very selective and picky at times. This is why it is crucial to match the hatch and adapt to conditions. If trout are rising to terrestrials, use them. If you don’t see a major hatch or insects on the surface, but you still see active rising fish, the trout are probably feeding on gnats and midges.

It is quite easy to tie some of these patterns on your own, and you can adapt them for the waters you fish. The Griffith’s Gnat is one of these. Start your thread on a #16-22 dry-fly hook. Any dark-coloured 70-denier thread is good. Then tie in a suitably-sized grizzly saddle hackle. Tie in a single peacock herl and wrap it forward, creating the body. Next, palmer the hackle over the herl and tie it off. Whip finish, and the fly is done.

Another easy fly is the Foam Beetle. I usually tie them in size 10, but smaller versions also work. For this fly I like 140 to 210-denier thread in black or red. Start the thread on a wide-gap dry-fly hook. Bring the thread back to the bend and tie in the foam. Black foam in 2.5 to 3-mm thickness works best. Tie in four or five peacock herls and wrap them forward to a couple of eye lengths behind the eye. Then fold over the foam to create the shell, and tie it down. Tie in some dark rubber legs and a brightly-coloured foam sighter. Whip finish behind the eye and the fly is ready to fish.

Some of my greatest memories came from using these flies, like the day I landed my first cutthroat on a Griffith’s Gnat. I remember watching it drift over the pool, and then a brightly-coloured cutthroat rose and sucked it down. I stripped the fish in, and my Dad swooped in with the net and got it. It wasn’t a trophy, but that’s not what mattered to me. It was my first cutty, and the start to a never-ending pursuit.

Oldman River terrestrials
Terrestrials such as beetles and hoppers are fall staples

Hoppers and other terrestrials make fall one of my favourite times to target cutthroats with dry flies. The colder weather starts to reduce the crowds, making the days that much more enjoyable. There are a lot of great opportunities for fall dry-fly action in Alberta, and with the right techniques it can become one of the most rewarding times of year.

~ Jacob

If you are interested in submitting a short, feature article that focuses on the positive message and opportunity of angling in Alberta, please email us. It can be a (known) location, a tactic, a fly pattern, your favourite jig, species specific or seasonal tactic,exploration, etc. Your imagination and encouragement of others is important. All submissions must be 400 to 800 words and focus on one specific topic only. 

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