& photos by Ian Forbes
cutthroat trout are supposed to be gullible pushovers willing to
take any fly that passes by. The little cutty on the upper Elk River
in the Kootenays didn't follow the rules.
for him for two evenings and one morning with only limited success.
The trout rose regularly in the same place next to our camp, and
for about four hours fishing I only managed to briefly hook him
once. In contrast, I had easily taken dozens of larger trout while
drifting more remote sections of the river. The cutthroat obviously
wanted only a drag free drift and would only inspect a few of the
more than 20 fly patterns I offered him. There was a light hatch
of small green stoneflies, three different species of caddis, and
two types of mayflies. Due to the rise forms I suspect the trout
was selectively taking emerging mayflies, but I can't be sure because
I never did catch the trout I eventually called zipperlips. Cutthroat
trout with continual exposure to anglers will eventually smarten
up and provide a challenge.
are cutthroat trout,
Bull trout (Dolly Varden) and whitefish in the Elk River. There
are also a very few rainbows and eastern brook trout. Some huge
suckers may also take the fly, usually a sunken nymph. The river
is managed to provide opportunities for all types of anglers. It
is divided into sections (usually bridge crossings) with different
regulations and restrictions for each section. It is imperative
to read and understand the fishing regulations. That is the fascination
of this beautiful Rocky Mountain stream; there is something for
everyone. The river is a delight for fly fishers who enjoy free
rising trout, but there are some huge bull trout that will provide
an exciting trophy for the lucky angler who hooks one. Although
they should be released, a big bull trout will put up a good tussle
on light tackle. Bull trout are predators who prefer large lures
Elk River starts high in the Rockies adjacent to Peter Loughead
Park in Alberta. The river has its beginning in two small, clear
lakes appropriately called the Elk Lakes. The lakes require a short
hike to reach them. Flowing southward through the Elk Valley the
river is joined by numerous small tributaries that swell its volume
until it can only be crossed in a few places.
upper river is strictly catch and release, but that changes at Forsyth
Creek, just upstream from Bingay Creek. The catch limit from any
part of the river is only one trout over 30 cm, but we've seen that
ignored. We noticed considerably fewer fish per pool in the kill
sections as opposed to the catch and release areas. And, the fish
appeared to be a smaller average size. The kill section extends
downstream to Line Creek bridge where it changes to catch and release
all the way to Sparwood. Other catch and release sections are from
Hosmer bridge to
Fernie , and from Morrissey bridge to Elko Dam.
Service access roads parallel the upper river on either side, but
only come close to it in a few places. It's possible to walk through
semi-open forest to the river in a few places. There are several
forestry recreation sites on the upper river: Upper Elk, Riverside,
Weary Creek, Aldridge Creek, Blue Lake, Krivensky Farm and Round
Prairie. Most of the lower river is bordered by private farms and
there's little in the way of camping near the river. The Morrissey
Bridge rest stop is very noisy due to trains. Highway 3 follows
the Elk River all the way from Elko to Sparwood. Beyond Sparwood,
a paved highway to Elkford parallels the river on one side while
a gravel road follows the river on the other.
of the upper river can be drifted in small rafts and pontoon boats,
but the river is too small for bigger rafts and drift boats. There
are lots of sweepers, brush piles and small jambs; some of which
have to be portaged around. Downstream from Elkford to the Line
Creek bridge there are slow sections with beaver dams. The water
from Line Creek Bridge to Sparwood can be drifted, but care must
be taken, especially in high water. The river is faster, more confined
and the sweepers can be dangerous. It's also more difficult to ford
the river in waders because of deep, fast water. Downstream from
the Elk River is suitable for all types of craft. There are several
egress points, with the obvious ones being the bridge crossings
at Hosmer, Fernie, Morrissey and Elko. It is about 10 kilometers
between each crossing and each section makes a full day's drift.
Don't consider drifting below Elko because the canyon section is
drifting the river is a pleasant and rewarding experience, there
is lots of water for the casual angler who only wants to walk the
river. By late summer and early autumn the Elk can be forded by
an experienced wader. However, it can be a long hike between fords.
A wading staff can be a help in the faster runs. The bottom is slippery
and requires felt bottom boots.
withstanding the few selective feeding trout, there are lots of
gullible cutthroat trout willing to rise to a dryfly. A variety
of deerhair caddis patterns are all anyone needs most of the time.
I prefer size 14 to 8 hooks, with body colours in order of choice:
green, yellow, brown, orange and grey. Size 16 and 14 mayfly imitations
in grey, tan and olive are useful. I also like a few emergers for
the selective feeders. I'm happy with only a few weighted nymphs.
A tan/olive/brown, flashback bead-head in size 14 (Mustad 9671)
handles most of my needs, except when the golden stoneflies are
hatching in July. Then, I like a size 8 weighted nymph with an olive-brown
back and creamy yellow belly. For the huge bull trout I like a size
2 streamer/bucktail that imitates a small whitefish or
guides are not necessary, they do have the equipment for a drift.
They have knowledge of the river and provide a return vehicle. I
had several excellent days with Mike Labach from Kimberly and we
always caught lots of fish.
can be reached at phone: 1-250-427-7210