Elk River Fishing - What You Need to Know

photo by Raven Eye Photography

Spring is upon us and just around the corner is summer, and summer time means fly fishing time in Fernie. Here are five important pieces of information to help you enjoy your slice of fly fishing heaven:

The blue ribbon Elk River and its tributaries, the Fording and Wigwam Rivers and Michel Creek are internationally renowned among the top five dry fly fishing destinations in the world. One of the very last frontiers in North America for wild, pure strain Cutthroat Trout which rise to take dry flies all through summer. Bull Trout also add to the attraction for anglers who enjoy the challenge of taking on big fish.

The Elk and all tributaries are closed annually from April 1 to June 15 to allow an undisturbed spawning season for Cutthroat Trout. The headwaters of the Wigwam River, Alexander Creek and Lodgepole Creek are closed from September 1 to October 31 for Bull Trout spawning. When the rivers open on June 15 these hungry trout, having gone through winter and spawning, and having not seen an artificial fly for many months are very aggressive feeders. Present a fly and find out. Anglers too keen to wait for the rivers to open, as soon as ice comes off (usually early May) can look for large Rainbow and Brook Trout in any of the many lakes around Fernie.

Opening time and early season coincides with hatches of large Stoneflies, great for dry fly fishing because even old half blind anglers can see their fly. July also sees hatches of larger Brown and Green Drakes. July and August provide a wide variety of Mayflies including Pale Morning Dunns which although smaller (size14-16) are still easy to see, as are Caddis and Yellow Sallies (always good flies to carry), but as the season wears on the water level drops forming crystal clear pools and hatches of tiny Blue Winged Olives which provide a great challenge for the experienced angler, but with great rewards, as real big fish take real little flies. Novices need not despair as terrestrials such as ants, beetles and hoppers are often taken during this time, and the big orange October Caddis start appearing in September as well.

For the one-rod novice angler a 6 weight rod with a good general purpose floating trout line is the most versatile outfit. A 6 wt is not too heavy for dry fly fishing in most situations (except tiny flies in crystal clear pools requiring extra light leaders, but remember terrestrials), is excellent for nymphing, will cast streamers, can handle Bull Trout, lake and lighter saltwater fishing, and is easy to cast so it is a great start. For the experienced angler with a quiver of outfits, or those like me who prefer the simplicity of changing outfits rather than continually changing rigs on one outfit, carry up to three outfits: a 4 wt with dry fly, a 5wt with nymph and a 6 wt with streamer. Although this is only when the going gets tough or I want to try for a big Bull as well, most of summer a dry fly outfit is all that's required.

The real good news is that the fishing gets better every year, more fish and bigger fish. Isn't that great to hear when most of the world suffers rapidly declining fish stocks? Government enforced regulations including very low bag limits, fly fish only rivers like the Wigwam, single fly barbless hook and a huge positive swing in angler attitudes toward fish preservation have all contributed greatly toward retaining Fernie as one of the very best dry fly fishing destinations in the world.