Fly Fishing the River Spey
Clearly not in Manitoba.
As part of my trip to the UK and as part of the Scotland portion of the vacation, I book an evening of fishing. Now I made it a trout trip but salmon were a possibility.
Fly Fishing in Scotland
IF you thing the regs in Manitoba (or anywhere in Canada or the U.S.A) are complex, mixed up, unfair, etc. take a look at Scotland.
I haven’t untangled all of it but here is is in a nut shell.
- You don’t need a license.
- It is home to lakes and rivers full of trout, salmon and pike.
- It is all owned or righted to someone.
- You can’t fish it without their consent.
- Their consent is usually in the form of a ‘ticket’.
- ‘Tickets’ cost money (LIKE A LICENSE).
- They are only good for a day or portion of a day.
- Rivers are divided into ‘beats’.
- Your ticket is only good for that one beat on that one river.
- You’re in a little trouble if you fish for trout without a ticket
- You’re in A LOT of trouble if you fish for salmon without a ticket
Now these ‘beats’ are well maintained and fences have steps or gates to let anglers in. Sometimes even a shed to get out of the rain. Trees are cut down/moved/anchoured to make better runs and easier wading. They are well maintained and litter free.
To someone from Canada or the U.S. this can seem very unfair as it makes fishing unattainable for the average person. In Scotland it is just the way it is.
When a Guide Hires A Guide
Given this tangley mess, I elected to hire a guide. That alone was complex. Given that I was going to be in 3 cities. (Glasgow, Inverness and Edinburgh) and there are rivers all over theses areas. We elected to go without a car which meant trains bus and the occasional Uber or taxi.
I essentially went with the one that answered back reasonably quick and would pick me up. Turned out that was Inverness, and the River Spey.
Fly Fishing Mecca
To fly rodders, the River Spey is special. I mean, an entire method of fly fishing is named after this river. The guide picked me up at my rented flat in Inverness. Surprise he had another fly fisher with him. Not a client but a army buddy or something.
As we pulled away he promptly told me the area I was staying wasn’t very good and quite rough. We’d been there a few days and while it wasn’t Beverly Hills, there’d been no trouble, no noise and no sirens.
What he would call rough most would ‘working class’.
I think he forgot to get boots for me and we swung by his home where they were on the front step. Off to the river. After a bit of scouting we suited up. He had nice Grey’s waders (though mine was missing a suspender buckle) really liked the gators on them. I thought ahead and brought a sling pack for my water, camera, pipe, tobacco, etc.
The guide rigged me up with a 9wt switch rod and a skagit floating line. I have lots of 2 handed ability but our lack of decent rivers doesn’t give me much chance to hone the skill. I played lots of country music back in the day but I wouldn’t walk into a country gig tomorrow without a lot of prep.
The first spot had him put me under a tree. Not what I would deem an ideal spot for someone with rusty 2 hander skill. Matter of fact I felt like he was trying to give me the most difficult set up to fish.
Spey casting referesher
I was thankful for the refresher and tips on 2 handed casting and I got the hang of it reasonably soon. Since it was re-new to me, anytime I let my guard down, the cast failed.
I caught some salmon parr in the first runs. It was basically 1/4 cast, let it straighten out, twitch a few times pick up the line, throw it, move down a few steps and repeat. Very effective way to cover the water.
When we got below bridge, more of the same. The conversation was very telling and explain some of this and the rest of the day. He told me bluntly, that he had lost is passion for fly fishing and he was done. This was his last year.
I have heard of this with a few people who had made fishing their jobs. Heck I have heard of it with people in music. It is very rare. The fact he would tell a client who was getting skunked was rare and weird.
After that 2-3 hours, we climbed back into the truck and headed up stream. On the side of the road we had a delicious meal of mince pies & lemon cake.
Fishing the Evening Hatch
The few times I have hired a guide, I always choose the evening half. I hate to get up early and so staying out late is more my thing. The shadows get long, the flies hatch and the fish let down their hair.
At this point the water was real skinny and the rod was total overkill. He was trying to get me to lay down delicate presentations with a distance and wind punching rig. When I said I was having a hard time doing that with this set up. I could do it but seriously why was I using an 11′ switch rod to fish water I could use a Tenkara on??
His response was to give me a lecture about how you have to be able to everything with the same rod in Scotland!
Anyways I caught a brown and he literally laughed at it and said ‘that must be the smallest trout in there’.
Anyways we fished till 11pm, it was still light. I caught 2 browns and 5 salmon parr.
In retrospect I feel he took my $600 bucks and then used the 6 hours to show who was the better guide. (Please note his friend fished the same water with a single hand rod and caught nothing)
I am not upset I didn’t do well, that’s fishing. It was hot, no clouds all day, no real hatch at sunset, etc.
How it could have been better
- Treat me like a client and not the competition.
- Have more than one rod weight option.
- The flys weren’t working maybe change the fly?
- It was a 6-7 mile beat, we could have started high and fished down stream.
- Seeing the big ones weren’t happening, downsize the rods and go for numbers.
Now you may be wondering why I am not telling specifically who this was. It is for a good reason. While he was being a dick and counting down to the day he didn’t have to spend his days on beautiful rivers for $1200 a day, his daughter still loves fishing and is the other half of this company. (Her clients got fish that day…hmmmmmm.)
A Terrible Fall
Fall is the time many people anticipate with great and positive feelings. Folks who do not like the heat love the cooler temperatures. School based business like my Music School here in Winnipeg look forward to the returning income. Most salient to this blog is the outdoors people who look to make up for lost time (with fishing and hiking) and hunters looking to get started. Instead we we had a very disappointing turn of events.
After a scorching hot and dry summer with record temperatures what followed was an early snow fall in September, followed by below normal temperatures in October.
I managed to brave the +3 on Friday October 12th. I drove to one of the few eastern watersheds that are stocked with trout.
The first thing I found, other than the snow on the ground, was that the picnic table was removed completely.
This picnic table has been the bane of all the boat and float tubers. The shore folks kept moving it on to the boat launch. I guess the six foot walk from tackle box and bait was too much to deal with. Every time I went I had to move it. If I went on a weekend, it would be back there by the time I got off the water (complete with fishers who had no clue what to do when a boat of float tube came in to get off the water). That is why I tend to go on a Friday
Thinking I had to move it to get started I was pleasantly surprised that not only did I not have to move it, it was gone completely.
Anyhow, the air temp was supposed to climb to 5 (it didn’t) the water temp was around 1 and there was a bit of wind. I managed a few fish on a Bead Head Flymph in Brown. I lasted about 5-6 hours before my numb feet forced me off.
The fish were scattered and only a smooth, long, and relatively fast retrieves seem to elicit any action. Once I went this way, I got a lot of strikes and LDR’s as well a 4 fish (2 x Browns and 2 x Bows) The fish were an OK size. Considering the lake winter killed and was just restocked in spring I thought the fishing was pretty good. While I could complain that the Whiteshell Lakes don’t get this kinda love, I am grateful that ANY bodies of water, east of Winnipeg, gets this sort of squeaky wheel favouritism.
While I haven’t done any fishing since getting back from vacation, I have given some casting classes. These are all private lessons and (if needed) I supply the gear. On the 20th I was teaching a fella who is planning on retiring to the B.C. mountains.
A few days later I gave a fly rod casting lesson to a fella who’s van trip to the mountains was thwarted by engine failure.
I went a little earlier so I could shoot some birds.
The next fella was a guy who hasn’t had much success fishing but thought fly fishing was for him.
With these classes I use 6wt rods (which I feel are a good 1st outfit for Manitoba Waters) a real leader and real flies (with the points off so no one gets a hook in them)
All of these folks couldn’t cast even a little but by the end of the hour they had the skills that could get them fish!
Whiteshell River Tour September 2nd 2018
I had been fishing since I got back from my trip to Newfoundland (where I fished a lot!). One because I was quite busy with gigs (playing music) two, we had some brutally hot weather and three, I was giving my music school a bit of a make-over.
But this date was booked way back and I was kinda needing to get back out there.
Because it was the Sunday of the last long weekend of the summer I could not take him to all my spots. Luckily I have a few spots that are less known.
We caught trout, pike and perch and missed out on bass which are pretty likely and walleye that are almost impossible this time of year for wading fishers.
The client was from Italy and marveled at all our wild spaces and so much open areas. Italy has almost twice the population of Canada but could fit comfortably inside our province.
Ironically, we happen to be planning a family vacation to Italy next year and my client this day has offered not only tourist advice, but to set up some fishing opportunities!
Funny how things work out.
Lyon’s Lake Manitoba
Headed out to my formerly favorite lake, Lyon’s.
I say former because changes in focus on the delivery of services by the hatchery have changed this lake from being the jewel of the stocking program to an also ran.
The drive is still not bad, the launch is easy and the scenery is stunning.
First off a trip to the Whiteshell is not complete without a stop at the Nitehawk Cafe!
The lake was busy with kayaks and canoes as well as some shore fishing.
After launch I made sure I had the essentials!
It didn’t bode well as I got a fish on the first cast!
I was to go on catching a few of these. Clones is the best word as they were all the same size. These would be the most recent stockings.
When I started the clouds and light rain boded well but the the sun came out. It got hot fast and the fishing slowed down. But then come the perch that have always been in the lake.
It picked up a bit when the sun dipped.
I fished from 2-9:15 and caught a handful of trout fresh from the hatchery (7 in total). Saw one bigger fish work the shallows but that was it.
This used to a great lake. Back when a lot less lakes in the province were stocked, this lake got lots of fish. When the attention shifted to making then stocking the aerated lakes in the west, there were less fish to stock. Then the number of lakes in the west boomed. This (and the other Whiteshell Lakes) got zero fish for 2-3 years. The new director, who was clearly more focused on the western lakes, claimed the eastern lakes were ‘over stocked’ for years and used this as a basis for denying these lakes fish. That is when the fishing declined and has stayed pretty crappy and forgettable to this day. Even when the stocking returned (at seriously reduced levels) the lake has never been the same. Now we sit with crappy lakes in the east and a domino of failing aerators and bucket biologists in the west. There are still some good lakes in the west. But a system dependent on pot hole lakes not freezing during our long and cold winter and aerators to prevent winter kill seem precarious at best.
The economic benefits of these trout aquariums has been proven to be a reasonable return on the money via tourism, so there is definitely a need to continue the program. The problem maybe is every reeve and mayor wants a piece of this action and squeaky wheel politics is putting too much emphasis on the west.
I have lost count of all the new stocked trout lakes that have popped up in the west. Some I only hear about because it winter killed when the electricity was off for a few days or some reeve or mayor swapped out a working aerator for one with cost benefits etc.
You know how many new lakes there have been developed in the east in the last 20 years?
And that one is really (you guessed it) an aerated lake that just winter killed this year.
I am not against the western lakes as they have proven their worth but the Whiteshell lakes have clearly been the ones to suffer. These lakes just need fish. They don’t need aerators and the associated maintenance. They just need fish. The budgets are cut and they don’t have gas for the stocking truck but 2 of these lakes are seconds from the hatchery.
|Eastern Lakes||Western Lakes|
|Distance from main population/ international airport||Close||Far (except for Anton’s Lake)|
|Resource needs other than stocking||Needs no aeration||Needs aeration|
The western lakes provide economic benefit and grow big fish while the east grows smaller fish and the Whiteshell doesn’t need the help. But is that the only reason to stock the water, so you get more tourism?
How about stocking lakes based on the benefit of ALL Manitobans?
Anton’s Lake Manitoba
Got a last minute call to guide a visitor from Ontario. He had a trip with friends planned but that got cancelled.
Gave him the choices and he picked Anton’s Lake just west of Minnedosa
The client got in the water an took off to be left to his own devices (after having me choose a fly and nix the bobber…err…strike indicator.
He decided to go to the enticing back bay that never seems to have fish and I went to where the wind was pounding the shore.
Experimenting with a floating line and a weighted leech pattern and a sinking line with a minnow patter, I got my first fish. A recently stocked rainbow fell to a black muddler.
More experimenting got me a nice fat 23″ brown trout on a Sparkly Nymph pattern of my own Design.
I called the client over after this fish and got him to work the same shore line. As the wind was constant the main trick was to keep kicking into the wind while casting to shore where the fish would tend to be feeding. Even stopping your kicking to fix your gear or tie on a new fly would push you into the weeds and spook the fish. As this was his first time in a float tube, he still managed to get a couple of bows one in the 16″ range. As he was content to be off on his own I did not get any pictures of them. I did manage one more brown.
While this was not a classic day on Anton’s we still out fished the trolling gears guys who report anything from 0-1 fish caught.
Fall Trouting Part 5
Another great day with the water cold enough for the trout and the air temperatures great for humans! Headed east again to see if I could better my numbers from last time. A bit windy but not too bad on this small body of water.
First fish, a small tiger trout on a mid lake weed hump, was caught using a damsel nymph on a sunk line.
The next fish I saw were a bit of a surprise.
I saw, what I thought was, tailing fish. I made perfect casts to it and got nothing. I also didn’t spook it. I thought is was concentrated around a log but the log turned out to be another fish. The water temps were perfect for a spawning dance as males competed. I saw this repeated all over the place. I assumed that catching browns was off the table. Here are some pictures of the action.
Not noticing an abundance of hits on the damsel and sinking line I went to floating and a variety of bead heads, settling on a GRHE to catch my second Tiger that was closer to 16″-18″.
Lost that fly in the bull rushes and switched to a slower sinking bead body soft hackle fly of my own design. This got me my next Tiger Trout (told you I wasn’t gonna get a brown).
Ran into a kayaking fly fisher who sat on a known hot spot but got nothing. He saw a few of the fish I had caught and asked what I was using. He told me he was using a leech pattern. In a teachable moment, I told him that fishing leeches this late was a bit of a gamble as they weren’t active and trout might not key in on them. He left and I cast to the hot spot and well….
I hate to be right…wait no I don’t
Caught one more near the launch around sunset.
One thing I have noticed in my last few outings here, is the lack of rainbows. I don’t know if they are still there (lots of bonk on the head types frequent here) were put off by the over active browns or are being out competed by the tigers.
Still good though!
Anton’s Lake October 6th 2017
Facebook keeps giving you old posts from the past. This week it reminded me of a very successful outing on Anton’s Lake (just past Minnidosa) from a year ago.
Heck just this spring I had a good time as well
So, on Friday I headed out there to repeat the magic.
Well, as the saying goes, that is why they call it fishing.
For one thing it was windy. I usually time my trips to these aerated lakes based on the wind. Even a little wind can make these sheltered, featureless lakes surrounded by miles of featureless prairie, a challenge.
A challenge with staying on a spot, wind knots, casting accuracy, with flies presented, etc. It didn’t seem to matter what fly I put on I got the same reactions, light bites, hits some brief struggles, LDR’s and a couple lost at the boat.
The other fishers did about the same.
For me it was one fish to hand.
Fall Trouting Week 2
Most fishers and all fly fishers know that fall is a great time to get out there. The water temps are predictable based on night time lows and the fish are ‘putting on the feed bag’ as they say. While the fish are bulking up they may not be on those same spots they where early summer. As the weeds thin out and the water clears, so does the location and types of forage.
Another thing about fall is the weather, it can be a foul rainy day with a north wind or, like yesterday, a glorious combination of sun, light breeze, intermittent clouds and decent fishing.
I headed out to a stocked trout water east of the city. It is just over an hour away so I was in great shape to leave at a civilized time and get back for my son’s concert.
The day was literally the ‘good to get out’ type and the fish were a bonus. Decent fall colours abounded on the water and the drive.
5 fish to hand, 3 lost at the boat and about 5 hook ups and tussles including one big rainbow.
Here are the pictures.
Whiteshell Provincial Park Camping and Fly Fishing
Normally my summer vacation is based on going away during the hottest parts of our Manitoba summer. Since we are doing a reset on our vacations, to allow for a winter trip, we stayed close to home. That meant borrowing a friend’s trailer and a week on a spot at West Hawk Lake. One of the things I was looking forward to was fishing the last 2-3 hours of daylight without the 3-4 hour round trip.
Day One August 7th:
Decided a quick trip to the river was in order. armed with just a tenkara rod and a box of flies.
Nothing. Not a sniff. at first I chalked it up to me wearing a white shirt. Then I lost most of my leader and at the same time realized that I left my leader spools in the car. OK too much minimalism is a thing too.
Day Two August 8th:
Wanting a redo on the day before, I donned a neutral shirt and was very ready with leader spools. Nothing. Not a sniff. Not only that, I didn’t see any fish sign. No risers, no swirls, nothing. On top of that there were no hatches going on and very little mosquito action. The water was a good flow and its usual gin clear.
I have been fishing this river for 17 Years and I know the spots. My best flies on the best spots didn’t work. Hell I even tried the “pellet pool”
The month before it fished well. The only major difference was the bridge construction up stream. I mean, it looked good, but maybe there was a spill that wiped out the fish and insects or at least encouraged them to move downstream to the lake.
Day Three August 10th:
Ok, time for some lake fishing. So I hit Lyon’s Lake. I have fished this lake more than any body of water. To say I know this lake is an understatement. Nothing but a few perch! Not trout. I waited till the magic hour when even the summer skulkers come up. Nothing. For many years I have been able to get trout in the summer but the fish-ability and over all quality of this lake (and Hunt Lake as well) has declined. If you look at the numbers 13,000 rainbow trout since 2014 seems like a lot. I don’t know if the number (in 2001 they dropped 13,000 fish alone in there and that was followed by some years of great stockings and great fishing) or size of the fish needs to be increased to help them out compete the the perch or stay out of predators’ mouths, but the last few years have been real crappy.
Day Four August 11th:
This time Hunt Lake. This used to be a near perfect lake for brook trout. But it got lost in the shuffle by trying to things differently. So, a once idyllic brook trout lake was made into a splake hell hole (don’t worry you won’t find splake on the stocking list for this lake but I have caught these slinky lifeless hybrids). There have been only 6,000 Brookie stocking since 2014 (compare that to the 13000 fish they put in 2001) but over 100 brood browns. Maybe they were put in to control the perch but we know they also like brook trout fingerlings. Anyways the spring summer and fall fishing on this lake is pretty terrible right now and has been the last few years coinciding with the decline in stocking
Together with McHugh, I have been fishing these 3 lakes for 17 years and this is the worst they have been. Even in spring and fall.
The stocking is tax payer paid for and should create a fishery that works. It used to work year round and it can again if we can get back on track. Hunt for brookies, Lyons for Rainbows and McHugh for browns, all in proper numbers. In the years of the supposed ‘over stocking’ we never saw die offs due to starvation and the fishing was great for shore anglers and boat anglers alike. Of course I say this as stocking levels drop, ‘Parkland’ lakes seem to get the lions share of the fish and the hatchery is getting out of having their own brood stock.
As usual, there are some photo ops as well.