rispin Fly Fishing Seminar On Big Horn River, July 2005

Guest Blogger: Phil Rispin, fly fisher, photographer & more, find Phil’s photography here.

Note from J. Stockard: You can read Part 1 of this post here.

Fly Fishing Seminar On Big Horn River, July 2005
Fly Fishing Seminar On Big Horn River, July 2005

Fast forward to summer 2005. Karen and I made our annual pilgrimage home to Alberta from Texas and we had planned to spend two full weeks of our month fishing in the Nordegg area. For the east slopes of the Rockies in Alberta the summer of 2005 was a difficult one with heavy rainfall and flooding. Many of the water sheds were “flushed out” making things difficult for fish, bug life, road maintainers, tourists and of course fly fishermen.
rispin back to bsics 2I was supposed to teach a fly fishing seminar for Frontier Lodge west of Nordegg and there were a number of men with varying degrees of expertise coming for the clinic. I spent the week before the seminar hitting as many of the local rivers as I could to see how the fishing was; the sort of research I like. This included the Big Horn River, Wapiabi Creek and the Blackstone River.
I saw very few fish and caught even fewer. Nothing was rising and, other than huge clouds of mosquitoes, there were no caddis, mayflies or Stone Flies in sight. It’s difficult to teach fishing if the fish and bugs aren’t cooperating. As someone once said practicing casting and talking about fishing without actually catching fish is about as exciting as kissing your sister.
I assumed that the damage done by the flooding was extensive and I wanted to find out if there were any good streams in the area so I went looking for John, a legendary Wildlife Conservation Officer who lives in a small house next door to the “Beer Cabin” in Nordegg. I went to the back entrance of John’s small house and was met by a 180Lb black lab who barked at one end and wagged at the other. John’s son told me he was harmless and to come on in.
Now John is not a fly fisherman himself but he spends a lot of time observing fishermen in general with a lot of fly fishermen in the mix. Once I got him started John told story after story about the fishermen he had caught doing things illegal and others who had made friends with him sending him flies and lures that he assured me were killers on any stream. Out of the drawers in his kitchen John pulled container after container of flies. In the midst of the story telling I gathered that while no census had yet been made on the local rivers the flooding was expected to have killed about 40% of the fish stocks. However, there was still a good population. In fact, John had met one fly fisherman a week earlier who claimed to have had a 20 fish day on the Big Horn River. After more stories and a demonstration of John’s new electric log splitter, on which we split a half chord of wood, I headed back for the lodge wondering what I had been doing wrong. Clearly the fish were there, but why were they not biting using the techniques that I had been using. In years past this was a good and relatively easy place to catch fish, a good teaching stream.
The next morning it was back to the Big Horn to try again. I tried nymphs, nothing, more upstream dry flies, nothing, dry flies with a nymph dropper, nothing, and then I saw a lone fish rising at the head of a pool in an eddy. It was the right time of year for Green Drakes. I had not seen any but they often hatch at night. I reasoned that perhaps the fish would go after something that they had been eating recently even if there wasn’t a hatch going on at the moment. I tied on a size 10 Green Drake emerger pattern that I had cobbled up at our home in Texas. The only way to get a drag free presentation was to get up stream of the eddy and dap a fly into the eddy reaching as far as I could with the rod keeping as much line out of the water as possible and hiding behind a rock. That did the trick, he was on the line and a light went on in my head illuminating some old memories. I began dapping hooks behind rocks and in slicks in the stream while kneeling in the stream to keep as low as possible and I began to catch fish consistently. To anyone watching (perhaps John) it must have looked pretty funny watching an old grey haired fart crawling around in a stream dangling hooks here and there but they couldn’t deny the results. On that day none of the fish were more than 12” long but on the Big Horn that’s not bad. I felt that now I had a possibility of success when I finally had the men/students on the water and when everyone started arriving I was confident that the week end would be a success.

Note from J. Stockard: You can read Part 3 of this series as well.

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