A Creek of One’s Own

When I was about 12 years old, my best friend’s dad bought a house on the opposite of the island we were living on at the time. When I asked him why his dad had bought the place–they already had three places that I knew about–he told me that the creek that ran through the land had really good brook trout fishing.

At the time, it was about the craziest thing I could think of. Why on earth would anybody buy land just for the fishing? I mean, we lived on a island that was filled with lakes and, more importantly, on one of the Great Lakes. In other words, there was no shortage of fishing opportunities. Heck, back then, I could have the time of my life casting right off the dock right outside my house.

Plus, I never really associated his dad with fishing. He was a lawyer and, like a lot of dads at the time, always seemed to be doing something. He also hunted, which was as close to fishing as I would have expected him to get.

But he did fish. In fact, he was a fly fisher. Growing up, he was one of the two people I knew who fly fished (the other was an uncle of mine who lives in South Africa). I tied my very first fly on his vise. It wasn’t pretty tie. His advice was to try and create something that looks like something you’d find in nature, but I just grabbed a few feathers and tied them on a hook. I’m fairly certain that I still have it somewhere, although by now I’m sure it’s nothing more than some feather dust and a hook.

Now that I’m older and I’ve taken up fly fishing, though, I totally get it.

I mean, I really get it. Off the top of my head, I can think of at least three different pieces of property I want because of the fishing. One is on a really nice stretch of my favourite little stream (the section of stream that just happens to have the biggest trout I’ve seen on this creek). The others are just a peaceful spots that not only have great fishing, but are  favourite places of my daughters.

A pair of brook trout from one the place I have my eye on.

The thought of having a little stretch of water that, in a sense, is only accessible by you and those you trust (because when you’re sharing your fishing spots, it’s always about trusting the person you’re sharing with) is an exciting one.

It’s partially a matter of being close to the action. Even though I can be fishing decent water in 20 minutes, including drive time, the thought of being able to just walk out my front door and do some fishing is a great one. I miss being able to do that.

It’s also partially about having a little spot of water all to yourself. This was especially important back when my friend’s dad bought his land because every square inch of that island was private property (not counting any park land). In order to get access, you either had to know the person who owned the land or, well, you had to own the land yourself. Here in BC, there’s crown land and water access everywhere (although access can and does get cut off all the time).

For me, though, it’s mostly about really connecting to a piece of water. Being able to watch it grow and develop over time, see the ups, the downs and really getting to know the fish in that stretch of water is an exciting one. Every time I see a post from someone describing a stretch of water that they’ve been fishing for years and they start talking about how the river has changed, I get excited.

Rivers change a lot from year to year. I see that on the few rivers and streams that I’ve fished with any kind of regularity over the last couple of years. Being able to track that change and see how the runs differ from season to season and whether or not the pools remain good that whole time is fascinating to me.

Plus you have the opportunity to get to know the fish based on the funny little differences that make it possible to tell them apart (like scars, particular spot patters or even favourite hiding spots).

All I can now is dream and fish the spots that are close to me, but one day, I hope to get my hands on that little bit of a dream: a piece of water that is, for all intents and purposes, my own little fishy heaven.

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Chasing Rumours

The fishing season is winding down and, as tends to happen, my thoughts are drawn to the year’s fishing.

As I’ve talked about in the past, it was a bit of a funny year. Forest fires, courses, backcountry closures, smoke and everything you can think of made getting out on the water hard.

But, despite all that, it wasn’t a total bust.

All the plans of great hike-in lake adventures and exploring changed in favour of a pair of smaller quests that, ultimately, changed how I felt about a few of the areas I fish quite a bit.

A few pieces of information had dropped into my lap at the beginning of the season that I couldn’t shake. The first, was the presence of larger fish in stream I fished quite a bit. I had been hearing rumours of these so-called lunkers for a couple of years, but for the first time ever, I had a location to scout.

To be honest, I would have fished this creek a lot over the summer anyway, even if I hadn’t been told where to look for the bigger fish, but having a place to start look really helped firm up my plans in a summer when things didn’t look good for fishing.

The second was of a species of fish that shouldn’t have been where they were, but, apparently they could be found. Again, just like the tales of bigger fish, I had been familiar with this one, but nothing had ever come from my explorations. But, just like with the first rumour, someone gave me a location to try scouting.

The fishing was exactly like you’d expect. I’d study a map for way longer than I should, come up with a plan, find a little bit of time to get out there and then fish and fish and fish, taking care to cover the water as best I could. I’d usually catch fish, but not quite what I was looking for.

I hadn’t meant to spend so much of my summer looking for these particular fish, but I couldn’t help it. They got into my head and I couldn’t get them out of there.

I’ve always had that problem, though, especially when it comes to fish. Once I get it in my head that I want to get a certain fish, everything else fades away and it’s all I can think of.

When I was a kid, it was Mad Dog catfish, this “giant” catfish that I would see cruising around the marina where we kept our boat in Port Severn, Ontario when I was 5. I spent an entire rainy day standing in one spot, waiting for Mad Dog to appear. Along the way I managed to catch sunfish, rock bass and perch, but Mad Dog continued to elude me. Until someone suggested I lay the worm on the bottom.

I was holding the fish in my hands five minutes later.

That’s the way it is. You try and you try and you try, until someone says, “Have you tried this?”

I would have been happy to just have done the fishing and continued on with my quest to find the fish I was after, but as it happened, this wound up being one of those years that I was successful.

In mid-fall, after months of chasing around the bigger fish in the small creek, I hit a patch of water that I’d been eyeballing for a long time. Not only was it a perfect day for fishing, but I had the chance to fly fish with my brother, something that doesn’t happen very often at all.

He moved up river to fish higher up on the run and I settled into my spot to fish. Within a couple of casts a beautiful brook trout rose up to sip a dry fly off the surface. After a brief fight, one of the nicest looking brookies I’ve ever seen was in my net. I pulled quite a few nice fish from this run over the course of the next few days and I’m hoping that they will be back again next year.

The ultimate moment, however, came earlier in the season.

I was working a stretch of water in a river not too far from home. I’ve been fishing this river since just before I started fly fishing (in fact, I didn’t start catching fish here until I started fly fishing), but this particular run was one that I had only discovered the year before.

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I was fishing away, catching all the usual little fish I was used to. I was having fun, as usual.

After a while, I caught a particularly small little fish. Probably four to five inches long. As I was removing the fly from its mouth, I noticed a bright slash of colour on the underside. For one moment, I thought it was blood (I was fishing after all), but then I noticed a second bright orange slash on the other side.

It was my first cutthroat trout.

I made an attempt to get a picture, but the fish decided he wanted to remain a secret and flopped back into the water before I could get a shot. I howled and wailed as the fish disappeared back into the water, then laughed. Of course I would miss getting proof of something I’d been looking for for such a long time.

These rumours– of bigger fish, of fish that shouldn’t be there, of beautiful spots and things that call to our hearts–are the things that fuel anglers. They drive us to the most remote corners of the world and keep us close to home in our own backyards. They spread at tying nights, around the campfire and, best of all, on the banks of the river.

Without these rumours, most of us would still fish, of that I’m certain, but the allure of the unknown and the desire to see it for ourselves is a force that will drive anglers to anywhere that water flows.

The Road Block

Exploring, and the activities that go along with it like fishing, is a funny thing. You can plan and plan and plan out your trek to the Nth degree, cover every square inch of the area you’re in with your map book, Google Maps and prior knowledge and still not be fully prepared for what you encounter.

It’s one of the reasons I love it so much.

Not knowing what’s around the next corner or what state the water will be in when you get there adds an element of surprise that isn’t often encountered these days.

You’re forced to think on your feet and decide whether or not you’re going to keep going and adapt to what you’ve found or just give up and go home.

This point was driven home on a recent fishing trip to what is fast becoming my favourite piece of water.

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A Fish 12 Months in the Catching

About five kilometers north of where you’re staying, you’ll see a large rock that looks like a house. People have painted a door and a window on it. There’s even a satellite dish. Stop there. Fish downriver. Don’t go upriver. The water is only three inches deep for a mile. Ask me how I know…

The man from the fly shop’s words played over and over in my head as I drove to my destination. The landmark was unmistakable. Just as he described, it sat on the side of the road, slowly modified over the years by locals. I remember passing the rock on my last trip out here (more on that in a bit).

I pulled over and got out of my car. I grabbed my rod and flies from the trunk, climbed down the bank and waded the river to get into position.

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Summer of Small Streams

It’s been a strange summer here.

One of those summers where plans were put in place, routes were mapped out and then everything changed. This happened to me a few times this summer, first when a new boat wandered into my life, then when I signed up for a course for my professional life and again when everything went from flood mode to fire mode.

The unfortunate result was that I barely managed to get out fishing much at all.

The fortunate result was that the fishing I did do was that much better as a result.

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Stolen Moments (or never send an angler to cover an event next to a river)

I’ve started writing more for my local paper, lately. It’s a fun way for me to get out and do a little bit of writing that is relatively easy and enjoyable. As part of my new beat, I was sent out to cover a local festival.

As it happened, the festival was located next to a section of a local creek that I’d never really had a chance to see before. I’d heard rumours about the fish in this water,  but I’d never seen it.

As I wandered around the event and talked to people, I couldn’t help be distracted by the very, very nice looking stretches of water I could see. It made it a little hard to focus on the task at hand.

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The run that started it all.

Not only were there nice looking runs and pools, but the water was clear and no actual looked fishable. We’ve had an did very wet year here, to the point of almost disaster level flooding. Seeing fishable water was completely unexpected.

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How To Be A Better Angler, Part 6 – Really Get to Know Your Fish

A recent outing to a local bass lake taught me a good number of things about fishing. The first is that all the pollen that the pine trees have been releasing lately has made all the water on the bottom of the valley really murky, which makes fishing tricky. Another thing I learned is that unless I’m fishing in a very specific set of circumstances, I don’t know the first thing about fishing for bass (beyond looking for structure and they like it hot, but not too hot).

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My only fish to the boat that day.

Growing up, I didn’t really need to know a lot about fishing for bass. So much of my fishing was just walking to the end of a dock and casting. If I caught something, great. If not, I’d cast again. Eventually I’d either give up or try somewhere else.

In fact, outside of a handful of details that I picked up along the way, I didn’t know much about fish at all. I knew when a few different species spawned because it was either a big deal where I grew up (like the smelt runs, perch season and the big salmon run on a small river).

All of that changed when I moved to B.C. and started fishing for rainbow trout. Those first couple of years where I didn’t catch much in the way of fish were an eye-opener for me. I learned that if I wanted to start catching rainbow trout, I had to know more about them.

So I started reading.

And reading.

And reading.

Eventually, I hit the point where I could reliably catch rainbow trout on most outings, which was where I wanted to be.

As you might imagine, the more you know about the species of fish you’re targeting, whatever it happens to be, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to at least find when them when you’re fishing.

What Should You Learn About?

Absolutely everything that you can. The more information you possess, the more likely you are to be adaptable when you’re on the water.

Their eating habits: This is probably one of the biggest things you can learn. Take rainbow trout, for instance. Their eating habits have a tendency to be focussed around whatever particular insect happens to be hatching at the time. In the spring in the Interior here in B.C. the first major hatch is chironomids, that’s followed by sporadic hatches of backswimmers and boatmen, flying ants, damsel flies and may flies. Early in the season, you’ll do pretty well trying those flies as you try and match up to whatever is hatching. The more you know about their feeding habits, the better you’ll be at keying in on their food source and catching more fish.

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Trout food.

Where they spend their time: Where does you fish like to hang out? Are they deep water fish like burbot or do they like it shallow? Perhaps they like it deep at one time of the year and go shallow during others, like bass. The more you understand about stuff like this, the better. Not only does knowing where they like to hang out help you, but if you can figure out why they go there (are they photosensitive, does what they eat hang out there, is it where they mate) you’ll increase your success on the water.

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Where I typically look for bass (on this particular lake).

What is their life cycle: Knowing the life cycle of your fish can help you understand things like where they spend their time at certain stages of their life. Say you’re fishing an area and all you happen to be catching are smaller fish. If you knew that the young trout like to hang out in a certain zone of lake and, based on what you’re catching, you’re in that zone. All you have to do is move to where the bigger fish hang out (which you know because you spent the time learning about their life cycle). This can also help you stay away from spawning fish or target pre-spawners (who are usually looking to bulk up).

How Does This Help Me?

Like so many of the things I’ve been talking about in these posts, the more information you have about the fish you’re targeting, the more likely you are to have successful days on the water. It can be especially helpful if you’re trying to plan a fishing trip. For example, here in B.C. planning a stillwater trip any time during the month of May almost always going to be successful as you’ll be fishing during the peak of the chironomid hatch.

On the end of the spectrum, there’s no point in trying to plan a bass trip in Ontario, because they are early season spawners and the fishery is actually closed until some time in June (I could be wrong about the specifics here, it’s been a while since I lived in Ontario and some details may have gotten fuzzy).

It can also help you figure out why you’re not catching any fish. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of being too shallow or using the wrong thing or just being in the wrong part of the lake for the time of year you’re fishing.

This is great stuff to focus on in the offseason, as it’s possible to spend weeks, if not months just studying up on the eating habits of some fish (I know this because I sat through a three hour presentation on trout food once that was then broken down into an all day session on one particular part of their diet).

At the end of the day, that extra little bit of knowledge you’ve taken the time to turn could be the thing that saves a trip from being a frustrating weekend of not catching any fish, even though they’re jumping all around you.