Thursday, September 16, 2021

Golden Hour in The Canadian Rockies
When some people turn their attention to hunting during fall, others slip into chilly streams to catch super-eager cutthroats, bull trout, and browns.
By Curtis Hall

The Canadian Rockies are one of the most pristine pieces of wilderness on earth. Home to breathtaking views, charismatic mega-fauna, and world-class fisheries, it is really tough to beat the biodiversity and raw beauty found in this part of the world. With golden light beaming through the changing cottonwood leaves, and gin-clear rivers cutting through the landscape, fall is the most stunning time of year here.

BC Bull Trout

Riverside walks like this are not uncommon while hunting big British Columbia bulls during fall. This specific piece of water holds fish that are not spawning. It’s a short system and isn’t conducive for spawning behavior. This means these bulls are in here for one reason, and one reason only… to eat other fish.

Gin-clear fall water is a perfect environment for sight stalking these fish. We were lucky enough to find and hook into fish shortly after we showed up.

We weren’t the only ones cruising the riverbanks that morning. This is something you should prepare for—the Rockies are grizzly country. Although encounters are rare, bear spray and knowledge on how to behave in bear country is essential.

Bull trout spend the latter part of August through early October gorging themselves on kokanee salmon. These landlocked sockeye are a year-round food source for big bulls and contribute heavily to the size and numbers of these spectacular, native fish.

A good release is the best way to end an epic day of sight fishing for “dino” bull trout.

Late Season Westslopes

After breakfast and coffee on a crisp and frosty morning, we hopped in the truck and headed to the river, raft in tow. Although peak fishing season is mid-July to early September, early October still produces some spectacular dry fly fishing.

Starting a little bit early, we decided to drag our feet before launching the boat, just to give things enough time to warm up. Despite being cold, we started moving fish right away.

We found big fish eating small dries in skinny water, and to top it all off we had another day of gorgeous, clear weather. The quality of late-season fishing is very weather dependent; sunny, bluebird days up your chances of epic action; snowy days and a crashing barometer diminish your chances in October.

We got to fish small flies in skinny water with a screensaver for the backdrop! Fall fishing for cutthroat is extremely picturesque, and even with a drop in bug activity on colder days, these fish are still very willing to come up and eat a dry fly.

While not essential, a hot cup of strong coffee is highly recommended for frosty October mornings in the Rockies. Sometimes taking a break when things are slow is just the ticket. Doing so allows the water, the bugs and the temperature to heat up.

Bonus Browns

After a few solid days of catching bulls and cutthroats, we mixed it up and snuck away to hidden gem where we hoped to find trophy brown trout.

Another cold, early morning with a classic Canadian coffee to keep the frost at bay. We knew we were going to be covering a lot of ground, so showing up at the crack of dawn gave us time to accomplish our mission.

We spotted fish in shallow water right out of the gate. Unfortunately, they were pre-spawn and starting to make redds. Because bigger fish only spawn every two-to four years, we knew there would be other fish—not spawning—waiting for a tasty meal.

Most of the day was spent walking and fishing where we knew there weren’t staging fish. Needless to say we covered some serious ground.

In the 11th hour we managed to find the fish we spent all day searching for.

Dan was fortunate enough to shake hands with this stunning buck. This made the early morning grind, and all those miles we covered, well worth the effort

The setting sun brought our day nearly to a close. We were still hoping for one more fish and, lucky for us, a big brown was tucked away in an undercut, just waiting to ambush its next meal. After a quick hello and a snapshot, we sent this dinosaur back to the undercut. With a round of high-fives and fist-bumps we took in the last few moments of a fading sun and made out way back home.

Final Thoughts

Whether fishing in your backyard or halfway around the world, angling takes us to stunning places and allows us to witness incredible things. It’s a pastime we can share with good friends and family, a pastime that keeps us in touch with the natural world. As anglers, we have the responsibility to conserve and protect all of our public lands and waters for future generations. We are extremely blessed here in the Rockies. Blessed with large, untouched tracts of wilderness, and all the amazing angling opportunities at our fingertips. With the healthiest populations of bull trout and westslope cutthroat in the world, and trophy browns that rival just about anything you could find in New Zealand, this truly is a place that every angler needs to experience at least once in their life.

Ready For It: Click HERE to visit Gil’s Fly Fishing International for open dates in the Canadian Rockies.

Curtis Hall

Based out of Fernie, BC, Curtis spends much of his time on the water guiding and photographing anglers on some of the best cutthroat and bull trout water Canada has to offer. When not fishing, he can be found in the studio hosting the Hunter Conservationist podcast with his father Mark.