We’d driven by Talbot Lake a ton of times while on camping trips in Jasper National Park. We always said sometime we’ll stop and fish and we finally did. The lake is shallow and it was a calm day so we could see the bottom—which meant we could see the fish. We knew northern pike liked the weeds, so we paddled the shoreline, the boys peering into the water looking for fish. We could spot pike. Which meant they probably saw us. And we quickly realized the fish would react to every noise and move we made. It might have been the quietest our boys have every have been while fishing. Until they caught the fish, of course. Then it was all shouting and laughter.
It became increasingly clear that, given how much time I was spending fishing each summer, my choices were to teach my wife to fly-fish, give it up, or find a new place to live. The first seemed the better of the options.
Fly-fishing looks incredibly complicated to the uninitiated, and my wife was somewhat reluctant at first. I knew, however, that despite appearances it’s actually pretty simple, and I was confident she’d be a great student and I’d be at least a passing grade teacher.
As all anglers do, I love to browse and shop in tackle stores, and I found that purchasing gear for her was more fun than buying it for myself; it’s no cheaper, certainly, but at least it’s guilt-free. Actually, the basics are pretty affordable, and we walked out of the store with a 4-weight rod, matching floating line, and a simple reel, leaving only a minor dent in our credit card. The rest of the tackle she’d need, including leaders, tippet, and flies, I had enough of to stock my own fly shop.
I showed her the basics of casting in a local schoolyard, with a piece of red yarn substituting for a fly. It turns out that what I believed to be encouragement and sound coaching came across as badgering and nagging, so in short order I left her to practice on her own, casting to a target in the grass from various distances. For several consecutive evenings she’d head out for an hour, occasionally asking for a bit of advice beforehand, but largely learning on her own. In just a few days she declared she was ready for the real thing.
Our first trip was to the Little Smoky River, a beautiful grayling stream near Fox Creek. We waded a short way upstream and I pointed out the likely places where a fish might be. Eventually we came to a pool I knew to always hold fish. I tied on an elk hair caddis dry fly and she made her first cast.
It’s hard to say which of us was more surprised when her fly landed exactly on target and a grayling aggressively smashed it. In retrospect it may have been the grayling that was most astonished, as my feminine wife ripped that easy meal violently out of the fish’s mouth. Apparently the prospect of actually hooking a fish hadn’t occurred to either of us in training, and my wife jerked her rod like she was setting the hook on a marlin. As I recall it wasn’t until the fourth or fifth take that she actually hooked into a grayling, only to quickly lose it as she was unable to get the slack out of the line. The fish easily spit the fly. Some lessons you can only learn through experience.
Before that day was out, however, she’d landed half a dozen silvery-blue grayling, and in one afternoon came to understand my passion for fly-fishing. Since that first experience a dozen years ago, we take at least one three- or four-day trip together every summer, and have fished and explored many of Alberta’s most beautiful trout streams. She has become a very proficient fly-angler. And I get to live in the same house as she does.
- Ken Bailey
On a rainy camping trip at Switzer Provincial Park, my son found an old fly tying kit tucked in the back corner of our trailer. To be honest, I had forgotten all about it. My husband’s aunt gave it to us years earlier. She’d said, you never know, it might come in handy on a rainy day. It did. What started as a rainy day arts and crafts project has turned into a true hobby. YouTube and help from the Northern Lights Fly Fishers and Superfly and he’s become quite the fly fisher. I think a moment he’ll always remember is his first fish caught on a fly he tied.
It’s been said that sometimes what you want is right in front of you; all you have to do is open your eyes to see it. I discovered this to be true when a long-planned fishing trip was cancelled at the last moment. I was all packed and ready for four days of non-stop fishing when plans changed, leaving me with an itch that needed to be scratched.
I live in Edmonton, so with no better options apparent, I wandered down to the shores of the North Saskatchewan River, near downtown, to lick my wounds. I hadn’t fished there in years but remembered a couple spots that had produced in the past. It’s lazy, Huck Finn fishing at its best—enough weight to hold steady in the current and a mess of worms on a hook.
I’d barely got my butt down in a lawn chair when a sharp tug signalled “fish on.” After a brief tussle I pulled out a firm 15-inch sauger, then tossed my bait back in. Only a few minutes later I had another sauger, then shortly thereafter I beached a fat sucker. Before packing up I’d landed ten or so fish and realized I should be fishing here more often. It’s not exactly an exotic locale, but it was tough to ignore all the action.
Two weeks later I called up a couple buddies. Important fishing tip—make friends with people who own boats! We met at the Gold Bar boat launch and motored upstream for several miles before drifting back down. We’d stop and toss in our lines wherever there was a natural eddy, where a stream or spillwater outflow poured in, and on the downstream side of islands. Invariably we’d catch a fish or two and it seemed to matter little whether we jigged, lindy-rigged, or used slip-bobbers; as long as the presentation was baited there was a fish willing to eat it.
Adding to the excitement was never knowing what might be on the end of your line. Between us we landed walleye, sauger, goldeye, burbot, pike, and suckers in that single afternoon. It took the three of us back to a simpler time, when fishing was all about catching a fish, any fish, with size or species mattering little.
By then I was getting my North Saskatchewan groove on, so I decided to try to catch a lake sturgeon, Alberta’s largest fish. I returned one evening to the Gold Bar area, walked downstream a short way, and heaved out my offering, a three-ounce pyramid sinker on a slip set, with a three-foot leader tipped with a single hook and as many worms as I could mash on.
I wasn’t shocked to hook up after a short wait, but was admittedly surprised when I first felt the heft and strength of the fish on my line. Not wanting to risk losing it, I fought the fish carefully, working it slowly but surely to shore. Eventually the unmistakeable snout of a sturgeon broke the surface. I was elated, but with nobody there with whom to share my accomplishment, I simply smiled to myself, released the brawny fish, and continued fishing.
- Ken Bailey
What’s that saying…something about a carrot and a stick? Well, when we decided to take our boys on a backcountry camping trip to Lillian Lake in Kananaskis Country, we knew we needed a carrot. And that carrot was a fishing rod. The guidebook called the hike “strenuous.” Needless to say, the boys called “forfeit!” a number of times. But what kept them going was stories from other hikers of all the fish at Lillian and Lower Galatea lakes. We fished for three solid days—sunup to sun down—and ate cutthroat trout every night. Fish are the best carrots ever.
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