I had one of those water’s-greener moments in the past week.
Son-in-law Jasen, who lives on the Elk River, and I, who have fished in southwestern Alberta and southeastern B.C. for 40-plus years, were staying with our families at the Trading Post campground at Swan Lake, Montana. We had both crossed the Swan River on our way there and licked our chops at the beautiful-looking riffles, runs and pools. Neither of us had bought a Montana licence on our way, so we drove 11 miles (18 km) back up the highway to the Ferndale Market – the owner of the general store at the campground couldn’t sell us one because he hadn’t received the new software from Fish and Wildlife. Two days’ fishing cost us $25 U.S., part of that a conservation tag. Reasonable.
Earlier in the day, a neighbouring camper from Wyoming had told us of a local catching an 18-pound rainbow in the river, just around the corner, using a mouse pattern. Friends here in Alberta tie mouse patterns to fish for pike, I told him.
The tale had Jasen and I hooked, even though we’ve heard dozens of similar stories about waters around the world. I reminded him about the rainbow he had caught a couple of years ago in the St. Mary River that, at the time he had marvelled was the biggest fish he had ever caught.
No matter, we were on a quest, even though it was just a tiny bit of us that really believed the story of the 18-pounder.
We tried everything for parts of the two days – Elk Hair Caddis, Copper Johns, March Brown Spiders, Stimulators, an Adams that drifted just like the real deal and a Muddler Minnow, among a bunch of others. Nothing. The only signs of fish were the usual YOY this time of year that seem to relish trying out your fly just once.
Otherwise, not a sniff, not a rise, not a sign of behemoth or his smaller brothers.
We saw all kinds of water we recognized as likely to hold trout. Riffles on turns, like the one downstream of the 507 bridge on the Crowsnest; glacier-green runs like what I saw the previous week before on the Castle above a different 507 bridge; long, deep pools similar to those on the Elk or Wigwam.
The B.C. and Alberta water produced nice trout. The Swan River was, well, nice-looking.
I guess we could have acknowledged the skunking could have been a result of our ignorance of local conditions, but we saw the same mayfly and caddis flies hatching, although not in great numbers, and the same golden stonefly husk – which turned into a learning moment for Jasen.
Or, maybe it was a lack of skill?
We shook our heads while at the same time scratching them, unable to fathom the lack of fish, but still admiring the river.
“I’ll bet Montanans are fined if they tell Canadians there are no fish in the river,” Jasen said with a smile.
“I really like B.C.,” he added.
“Alberta’s hard to beat,” I replied.