- Erik Hayes with a Westslope Cutthroat, caught on a mouse pattern.
One year later, and with the world a much different place, we headed North with a StreamTech Boats Green Drake in tow, for delivery to Woods Bay, MT. Brenco finally pulled the trigger, and happily took delivery of a sweet boat with nice amenities. Unexpectedly, we came into a demo boat from a fly shop in MT that needed a little TLC and what better way than to take it across the border and pursue big trout on dries, and aggressive pre-spawn Bull Char. All things aligned for the good of all.
Fernie was as welcoming this year, but colder and the Elk was running lower. Fall is already in the air, the black bear already making appearances in town, prepping for winter. We’re told that there are more than 100 RCMP in town for a conference, so instantly the flashbacks to last year http://flyfishtheyakima.com/2010/09/08/fernielicious-with-a-twist/ didn’t feel as ominous. Well, at least this time it would be bears, not meth heads, but where did the chocolate-covered raisins go…
Day one was uneventful; a late afternoon float throwing big dry flies, a copious Fall caddis event which the YakCaddis came in handy for, Chubby’s, streamers of all sizes – it all worked. The only reason to change flies was just to see what wouldn’t work – it’s that good of a fishery. A few small Bulls come to hand, but nothing like what we’re expecting. Dark came quickly, and we high tailed into town. There were four of us, but like the Three Wise Men we were drawn to Fernie to find no rooms for the weary. Apparently the economy in Canada is much stronger than in the US, as there were plenty of workers in town occupying every available room – but for one. Kyle from WI makes the call and finds a kitchenette not far from where we stayed last year, and we settle in. I’m pretty sure everyone snores, although I’m the only one called out for it – and Brenco’s dog licks himself all night. Insert your dog jokes here, but damn son give it a rest.
Day two and we’re floating a different stretch this year – no improvement in launch facilities, so I’m still left to wonder where exactly the $20/day that tacked onto the “special waters” permits goes. We’re met by several other boats, so the locals are onto something and we’re in on it too. Big pools are accessed by football (US, not Canadian) sized runs that run shallow and are no match for the Green Drakes. These boats pull very little water, don’t bang around like glass or wood boats, and even when portages were necessary, at 165 pounds (what’s that in Canadian?) very easy to move around. We don’t draw the attention of many fish to start – it’s earlier in the day, colder, and overcast. We mutter that it’s an olive day, but that would take all the fun out of throwing chunky foam dries. So, I dig deep into the box and out comes the Mouse. I tied the pattern above earlier this year, and have only fished it on the Yakima once. I got a few followers, so in the face of adversity (meaning, each cast didn’t move a fish) I suggest we go rodent to get their attention. And it worked.
Sunlight, through your tail, makes me happy.
Day Three is the day of the Bull. The big fish aren’t showing themselves so it’s back down to the lower stretches of the river, and a quick stop at one of the many fly shops there in town. Where’s the 2/0 bunnies, please? Depth charge line, the 7wt lined up for the battle and it stood to be a good one. We don’t leave this system without big Bulls, and it’s down to the last day.
Three Wise Men or The Four Horsemen?
Fishing with even your best friends after three days can be challenging – the bottle of whiskey is running low, the Pabst is warm, and there’s a nervousness among us. Whose going to boat it? The jockeying intensifies, with normal decorum taking a break as we drift down further, light fading..
We wonder if there is a curse. While casting mouse patterns, Hayes witnesses a large cutthroat take this fly right off the line without even a ripple – staring back at me, as if to rewind time, the silence of the bank robber sends a chill down our spines – the mouse pattern that’s been so effective is now gone – I only tied one. Hayes doesn’t give up easily, so we wait a minute on anchor – and the mouse appears. Popping out of the water a few yards downstream, I quickly unseat us from the cobbled river bottom and the chase is on. Recovery comes quick, and without hesistation he ties it back on. Five minutes later, we veer left at a shallow braided fork in the river – we’ve not floated this side yet, and with Brenco and Kyle ahead of us, may have just pulled a coup.
We're headed left.
And then it happens again. Only this time, a strong cutty makes a strong shake of its head, and the mouse is gone. We watch in horror as it swims away. Wait, did I tie another one? There’s another mouse in the house, only this one is tied a bit differently and doesn’t sit as nicely. Remember the tail in the first photo? That made Mouse #1 swim so lifelike that we narrated each cast – “it’s just me, little ol’ field mouse walking down the log towards the river for a sip – oops, I’ve fallen in and need to swim away from these big fish so that I don’t get GULPED.” Brenco and Kyle have witnessed us take two large cutts on the mouse, and can’t believe it. Mouse #2 doesn’t have the mojo, and it becomes apparent that perhaps we are cursed – Hayes casts it into a log jam and we’re done.
Switching from oarsman to caster, I take the front seat and try a Chubby Chernobyl – it’s worked already, it’s easy to see, and at this point, hoping it’s a curse buster. “There’s a nice undercut over there, Hayes – put me on it” I ask and make haste with casting. Then, the curse rears itself again. I’ve hooked a bird in the leg, and it’s making havoc with my line. Diving and yelling like mad, it’s trying to drown itself it seems as I pull it closer towards me. We are cursed, indeed. It’s quick but messy, bloody work but the bird comes free, flying off into the trees. I’ve taken the rod down, and stored it away. We consider the events of the last 30 minutes, break for lunch, and as the wind picks up, make for the takeout. Half of the float remains, we’ve hit a rough patch, but press on.
It’s time to change strategy and tactics – the big bulls will come with time we say, and float over gin clear water from deep pool to deep pool. There’s less jockeying for position now, as deep holes become treasure troves that require time. Fish it all the way, from top to bottom, they’re in there.
And then the curse is broken. Kyle and Eric are 40 yards downstream, at the tailout of the last big pool with any promise. I can see Kyle’s fly rod bent towards the water and he’s shouting about a bull char. I’ve cast 60 feet to my left, behind a car-sized boulder, and let it sink. Then a strong pull, and a flash at a big Bull. It took three days, but within 10 seconds of each other, we’ve each hooked a fish and the work begins.
Elk River Bull Char.
I’m thankful for the opportunity to fish these great waters with great friends, and this year’s trip is a welcome change from last years. Concerns about locals removing the air from your tires, wondering if vandals will strike again (I didn’t bring the bag of chocolate-covered raisins to appease them) go away quickly as the riches of the experience overcome the worry. A curse that is broken.
“Blue light rain, whoa unbroken chain,
Looking for familiar faces in an empty window pane.
Listening for the secret, searching for the sound
But I could only hear the preacher and the baying of his hounds.
Willow sky, whoa, I walk and wonder why,
They say love your brother, but you will catch it when you try.” -Robert Peterson and Phil Lesh