Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Hooked on mountain fishing

Wade into an anglers' paradise in Southwestern Alberta

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For those of us who are used to fishing the flatlands, wading a rushing mountain stream in pursuit of cutthroat trout with a fly rod in hand, is a bit of a shock.

For ten days last month, southwestern Alberta near the Crowsnest Pass region provided just such a backdrop. Packing up a motorhome, four of us drove fifteen hours from Winnipeg to set up camp.

Our first stop was the Castle Falls Campground located on the shores of the Castle River, a glacier-fed stream that holds cutthroat trout, whitefish and a few rainbow thrown in for good measure. Friend Phil Brake had been fishing this part of Alberta since 2001, a semi-annual pilgrimage that went back to his childhood. Growing up in southern California, he learned to fly fish at an early age, hiking the mountains near his home in Fresno. When he invited me along, I figured why not revisit this part of the world. During my days filming The Complete Angler television series, I shot three different shows in this region. That was close to fifteen years ago. While my stream fly-fishing skills were a little rusty, Phil had me back in the saddle right away.

Alberta has some incredibly scenic campgrounds, the one at Castle Falls Provincial Recreation area is no exception. Our site was serenaded by the sound of moving water 24 hours a day, a bonus when falling asleep after a long day on the river. One thousand metres away, a series of waterfalls tumbled down the valley, attracting tourists from far and wide.

There have been some changes to the booking system for campgrounds in the region. Our site was now in the reservations system. This meant you had to book in advance online.

That usually wouldn't be a problem, except there was no cellphone service upon arrival. Fortunately, the campground manager had a cellphone-signal booster and I was able to muddle through an almost impossible reservation system. Still, the price was right at $18 dollars a night with no power and no running water. There were outdoor toilets though, and a pump to collect water for dishes. The scenery made up for any possible inconvenience. We spent four days headquartered there, visiting a number of different rivers and streams within a 30-km 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 I hooked and landed 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 fished were small-to-medium sized on this part of the trip and almost all were total catch and release.

On day four, we packed up camp and headed up Highway 507, once again crossing the Castle River as it widens out in its lower stretch. We also crossed over the Crowsnest River, just south of the town of Bellevue. Here we turned onto Highway 3 and headed west where we stopped and visited the two great fly shops that were along the 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 we get the latest information on the rivers and streams we are about to fish, Susan hand-picked the flies we needed. This chosen selection would dramatically increase our success ratio the rest of the way.

We then went north to the Racehorse Creek campground, which is to be our home for the next five days. This well-treed and spacious campground was centrally located to where we wanted to fish. From here we had access to a multitude of different small rivers, creeks and larger rivers, including the Oldman River. After setting up camp we walked from the campsite to Racehorse Creek, which was only a stone's throw away. While small in stature, this creek provided 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.

The next three days werr 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 didn't have too much trouble finding peace and quiet, but come Friday things were crowded.

Since Saturday was our last full day, we decided to head down the foothills to the Oldman River in a section near Highway 22. I had my best day using two different presentations, a Terranasty dry fly along with a Prince nymph dropper. Six fish later the action slowed down... then on the last pool of the day fish started to rise and I caught 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 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 adventurer, but that's always a possibility. One thing to keep in mind though, if you do plan to fish, 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.

For more information on the region visit

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 2, 2014 E1

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