What Makes Fishing in Fernie Special

When asked what makes fishing in Fernie special, why so many people come from all over the world to fish here, it catches me off guard as I have not really thought about it for awhile. I headed down to the Elk River, near my home, looking for inspiration and after an afternoon on the river, I came up with these things.

The Fernie area rivers primarily support native fish. I have been fortunate enough to fish a few other places. All these places have great fishing and great experiences, but the fish have been introduced, replacing the native fish. When fishing locally, it is for native Westslope cutthroat trout, Bull trout, or Rocky Mountain whitefish. We humans like to believe we can improve on Mother Nature, but I believe we are often mistaken in this. All of these fish have a special place in the habitat. They also have a special place for fishermen.

Bull trout are aggressive and can grow to a metre long. They make for exciting streamer fishing and the ability to target Bull trout is not to be taken for granted as in some locations near us, targeting this species is against the law. Westslope cutthroat trout are a close relative of the rainbow trout. They are not known for their athletics but are likely one of the most willing dry fly eating fish around. It took me a while to learn, but with patience, good technique and appropriate water temperatures, dry flies will work at some point almost every day through summer, fall and even parts of the winter. Then, of course, there is the much-maligned whitefish. We don’t give them enough credit. I have seen a huge smile on the face of a new or younger angler who has landed a whitefish, that’s a big win. I have also noticed that the Bull trout love to hang out near schools of whitefish. While I am a bit suspicious of their intentions, it seems to work out well for the Bull trout population.

One of the other special things about fishing in Fernie is space and proximity. The pressure on the area has been increasing as people discover the joys of fly fishing, but I often find myself fishing alone or with one other angler in sight. There is still a lot of space when compared to other fisheries where you might stand shoulder to shoulder with other anglers or surrounded by drift boats. I am also grateful that I can have a great day of fishing with a short walk or bike ride from my home. I love the startled look on faces of folks from out of town when they ask, “Where should I fish?” and I tell them, “walk along river trail anywhere in town and give it a try, it will probably be good.” The reply is often “really?” with a facial expression that indicates my immediate loss of credibility. Most anglers expect to drive for hours or hike into some obscure spot at the crack of dawn. While this adventuring has its own merits, this conversation reminds me that what we have here is the exception, not the rule.

The last thing that makes the Fernie area a special place to fish is the people. The area’s lakes and rivers have many cheerleaders. Groups like the Elk River Alliance work on habitat restoration. Local experienced anglers like John Poirier share years of knowledge with the next generation of fishers. The people I work with at the Elk River Guiding Co. treat every day like it’s “the Great Canadian shoreline clean up.” All these people make and keep our rivers and lakes a world-class place for fishermen and women.

These are just a few of the many examples of the people and experiences that make fishing in the Fernie area great. I recommend you go out and experience all these things and if you see me on the river don’t be afraid to say hello and remind me of the ones I missed. When not working as a fly fishing guide for Elk River Guiding Co.

Tyler Carson works as an Avalanche Forecaster and College Instructor who dreams of playing Banjo in an Old Time Dance Band.

Photo by Leah Milne