Sept 23 – 25 Alberta Trout Update

It’s always an interesting world. We get about 4 – 4 1/2 months of growth each year in Alberta and this year is no different. “It’s such an early fall” many are saying. Well, up until about 5 years back the leaves almost always dropped about Sept 25 – 27. The last couple of years they stayed longer, and last year they didn’t drop until about Oct 17, 3 1/2 weeks later than they used to. Our planet loves averages so it’s no surprise that this year we’ve lost most of our leaves here in Alberta by the equinox. It’s only about a week earlier than it used to be but because of the past coupe of years it feels so early. And, back to 4 1/2 months of growth any given year, our leaves came out a month earlier this year as we didn’t have frost in April. Add it up and we’re bang on about 4 1/2 months of growth and 2 weeks to drop.

And speaking of Equinox, it was wonderful to see the return of the equinox storm. For years when we guided trout anglers, we’d save the week of Sept 21 for our favorite guests that loved small flies and large, rising trout in shallow spots. Again, up until 4 or 5 years ago you could set your calendar by the storm that would roll in for 3 or 4 days over the Sept 21 equinox. This was a wonderful return to that this year. The trout fishing has been just excellent.

Our walleye content will continue next week, to set you up for October tactics, but with so much change and diversity in our trout this week it’s best to share. If you spin or fly fish, this is a great week to head out.

0bowBow River
We’ve spent a considerable amount of time on the Bow this summer, 1 to 3 days a week to be honest. If you love fat, hard fighting trout, this has been the year – it has simply been incredible fishing with big minnow imitations (raps, spoons, spinners on the spin side, double streamers with trailing smaller on the fly side). Nymphing has been incredible as well and spin fishers would do themselves a huge favour and learn to fish nymphs with a slip-bobber set up. An open drift bale with a slip-bobber will clean house compared to almost any other method.

Now, our float two days ago was simply excellent. Cool and cloudy, the streamer fishing through almost all water was consistent. There was a hit or fish on every cast for nearly 3 hours late afternoon through dusk. While not every fish was a 25″ fatty, when you move that many 10 to 25″ rainbows and browns, how can you not be a giddy school girl? The best fishing was in the riffled pockets and waist-depth water, but shallow riffles and deep runs produced exceptionally also. We dead drift streamers as well as did faster retrieves at depth – neither really out-performed.

The hilight of that day came as we drift past the tailouts of the long glides. You know those spots: after the Bow spills through the riffles and into the dancing runs and flattens out to the deep troughs and glides, the river shallows and is almost glass-like before it spills into another riffle. There, especially on the inside flats, are usually a bunch of tiddler rainbows and browns rising. If you pull over below the mass of risers, however, you’ll see the odd big tail lingering at the surface as 18 – 22″ trout sip tricos and blue-winged olives in 6 to 12″ of water. It’s a wonderful location to really get lost and immersed into for a few hours. 🙂

With the present weather forecast, Friday & early Sat are your best bets for shallow risers. The bright sun of the remainder of the weekend will keep you fishing waist deep or greater with various streamers and nymphs. Pay attention to the hatches but also know that the water boatmen event is about to roll. Tie a dropper boatman pattern 15″ behind your streamer.

Trout Streams
Our cutthroat waters have reached their annual state of predictability. Go small in the pools and glass glides, use a dropper through the faster troughs. Dry fly activity will occur daily after noon to about 5pm. Hard & fast rule? Almost. With the change in weather we should see a few more fish react to hoppers and terrestrials but nymphing is your best friend.

Generally, our rivers and streams are in prime shape. Warm fall air and a few great hatches. It’s truly hopper season south. Fish are dropping to their wintering locations and generally easily found in waist depth or deeper. The days are typical now: start deep and slow and gradually move up through the water column. It’s not a rocket science this time of the year as fish are again locked into those pockets. If you aren’t getting fish, slow down your presentation, get deeper, or go smaller. You will catch more fish, consistently, with a #18 pheasant tail dead drift 9 feet deep in a 10 foot deep pool than ripping streamers. For my $, as fall goes on, the same will be true for those big bull trout as well. They get a little gun-shy on the big stuff but man are they simpletons for the small stuff if you take the time.

Hatches: hoppers; fall caddis; slate-winged olives; tan caddis; a few golden stones still linger; mahogany dun mayflies; a few tricos; blue-winged olives; water boatmen; midges; flying ants on sunny days are hitting the air in droves.

0spwan

0spwan2Spawning Brown Trout
If you read the above, you already know that it’s early. The browns are getting dark under their bellies and while you can’t control what you catch on the Bow, Waterton, Oldman (below the dam), the prime brown trout streams are about to tick into spawning mode this next week. It’s time we gave brown trout their due and just because we want what we want, when we want it, Oct 1 through May 1 is a time that we need to start considering our browns before our wants.

If you see redds, at right, do not enter the water within 5m up or downstream.

The following has to be said: the Alberta government continues to ignore brown trout. They tend to be at the peak of their spawn about Oct 5 to 15. These spent trout then live in a desolate state under the ice, spent from the spawn in a negative energy habitat until early May. Spring anglers every year catch trout that simply aren’t recovered from the spawn, showing dark skin with lesions. The Alberta winter climate is unusually harsh on our browns. Yes, we have wonderful trout angling but it is an extremely tedious balance of keeping that. From Oct 1 through May 1 they are simply too aggressive or living in too much a negative energy state. While our regulations allow angling to the end of October and beginning April 1, ask yourself if you think it’s ethical to fish for trout in this condition.

Even the most ardent Catch & Release angler has to understand that allowing anglers to pound both spawning or extremely stressed and spent post-spawn trout living in a negative energy state through early May isn’t good. It will allow a slow decline in our fisheries over time. The compounding of time and small % decreases is something that destroys populations. It’s that approach to management that has seen our grayling, Athabasca rainbows, pike, walleye, cutthroat trout and others decline. Why allow that with our brown trout – the last of the truly positive fish stories in the province. So, give that a thought before you head out to fish after Oct 1 on the Dogpound, Fallentimber, Little Red Deer, Prairie, Stauffer, Raven, Clearwater, Shunda, the Red Deer (upper & lower), Waterton, Oldman, etc.

Last winter to spring the head of Fisheries Mgt in Alberta asked all regional biologists “if the water is C&R already, is there a need for seasonal closures?” brown trout in particular are a beast unto their own that simply show that they need to be left alone when they are at their  susceptible & weakest from Oct 1 to May 1. 

Trout Lakes
We’ll share Nick’s info from last week because it’s so spot on for this weekend once more!

This weekend also seems to be shaping up nicely. 20C with a high probability of showers on Saturday, high teens and sun on Sunday means hit the water. Boatmen, leeches, mayflies (of which we saw plenty on the weekend!), scuds, and baitfish will be on this weekend.
  • In the bright sun, boatmen should be firing. The thing with boatmen is to remember that they don’t entice strikes all day, but should see some fantastic action for 2-4 hours a day, with some sporadic action all day. It also may not happen to produce in all parts of the lake. You may find one or two bays that produce with a lot of dead water. Look for boatmen hitting the surface (the look like rain drops), or for surface action from trout.
  • Leeches do well when nothing else is, but try not to go too large. A #10-12 is a good bet, but don’t overlook a #14. Black, olive, or brown is good, but maroon/blood-brown has been best for me and my friends the last couple weeks. The best part is that we’ve done well in less than 10ft of water.
  • Scuds will work during the worst weather, which we won’t see this weekend. Regardless, a #12 Stillwater Nymph is always a god bet. I like to fish this fly in less than 8ft of water with a slow intermediate or hover line. Don’t fish this fly too quickly, scuds aren’t fast critters.
  • Baitfish… fall is the best time of year for them, as they are the largest and most numerous they’ll be all season. A Woolly Bugger is a good bet, as is a Seal Bugger, small Clouser, Muddler, or just a generic brown/olive streamer. Fish them in tight to the shoreline, reeds, or woody debris. Again, even though we think minnows are fast, it’s a mistake to go too fast. The easiest targets for greedy trout are wounded or dumb, and aren’t moving very quickly. Often, a slow hand twist is the best retrieve.
  • Lastly, daphnia needs a mention. This zooplankton can be gobbled up by the mouthful, with trout exerting next to nil effort to get that mouthful.

nick2If nothing obvious is happening, a Tequila Booby or a leech (olive or olive/orange) is a great bet. Try dead slow or really fast, and try to find a pattern. All of these food stuffs will now be found in less than 12ft of water, and in as little as 4ft. That being said, a fair amount of action can be found suspended in depths up to 21ft.

The last couple weeks have also shown another trend. I feel it important to mention not to fish within 40 or 50m of another angler unless invited to do so. Trolling right past someone is a no-no. The highlight last weekend was watching three float tubes (different parties) troll within a couple of yards each of an anchored canoe within 5 minutes. Nothing like having 4/5 boats on a 40ac lake in one small 20m2 bit of water. Common courtesy says to give folks space, there is plenty of it. It isn’t like someone is getting fish on the only hot spot. Our lakes are very heavily stocked, incredibly uniform in structure, and trout are found all over. If you like to anchor, don’t cut off a troller or anchor near someone already set in position. If you troll, give a wide berth (twice what the anglers are casting) around their boat, in all direction.

Have fun out there, wash off your boat, help others, and enjoy the beautiful weather we have coming this weekend.

Nick Sliwkanich

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