My favourite fly fishing author has always been John Gierach.
He once mentioned in one of his books that, ‘I learned how to fly fish in the hit-and-miss, trial-and-error way that makes things stick, and I learned patience, persistence, acceptance and probably a few other good things too.’
In fly fishing Lower Kananaskis Lake I have learned a lot about patience and persistence and accepting the fact that there will be days when I catch nothing and other days when I have hooked into some absolutely beautiful trout.
Most of the trout are bull trout and from what I have heard from local biologists, there are close to 3,000 of them cruising around. There is also a small population of cutthroat and rainbow trout. The rainbows are my favourite because of their strong fight and amazing colouration.
Before you fish this lake, get familiar with the regulations. According to the 2011 Alberta Guide To Sportfishing Regulations, the northwest bay and Smith-Dorrien Creek are closed to protect our provincial fish, the bull trout. This native fish was almost eliminated from the area due to overharvesting by anglers. If you do catch one, it must be returned. I find that the bulls I usually catch are 23-30 inches in length and are very determined fighters when hooked.
Another area to be familiar with is Boulton Creek. I have a great appreciation for the rainbow trout that migrate into this creek in early June to spawn. I had the opportunity to make a difference for this species and contacted Alberta Sustainable Resource Development (SRD) and Trout Unlimited in 2009 to help protect them and get a regulation change for the creek. In the past, anglers could harvest these fish while spawning. Today, the creek is closed from Nov. 1 to July 15 to give the rainbows ample time to reproduce.
The remainder of the lake is open all year and for trout (except bull trout) the limit is three cutthroat and rainbows over 30 centimetres. There is also a bait ban in effect. I am currently working with SRD to make a change to these regulations so that there is a limit of one trout over 50 cms. This will make a huge difference and give cutthroat and rainbows a chance of growing larger while giving anglers an opportunity to catch a trophy fish.
One thing that makes this lake tricky is that it is controlled by a power dam and the water level fluctuates throughout the year. The lowest levels are in early May and creep back up to almost overflowing in November. So, things are always changing and you have to adapt as a fisherman.
The lake is accessible from several parking lots. The most popular is probably the Panorama lot where water from the Upper Kananaskis Lake flows into the lower lake. I do all my fishing from shore and there are a lot of areas you can walk to.
At the north end of the lake is an area called Canyon and there is a boat launch there if you like and the fishing is good there as well. I really like the Gem Trek map of the Kananaskis Lakes because it shows everything.
In regard to gear, I like using a 10-foot, 6-weight rod. I can cast for distance and it cuts through the wind nicely too. There are several ways to fish this lake, but I like fishing with No.2 and No.4 Bow River Buggers and Clouser Minnows in the same size that are chartreuse and white or brown and white.
If the water is less than eight feet deep, I will use a floating line and a 7-foot leader constructed of three feet of 20 pound mono connected to four feet of 15 pound mono and then tied to the fly with an Improved Clinch Knot. Better yet is a Lefty’s Loop knot which is better for more action on the fly when it is retrieved.
If I am dealing with deeper water, I attach a 10-foot Type 6 sink tip. To this sink tip I will tie on a four-foot leader of 15 pound mono using a nail knot. Most fly lines and attachable tips have welded loops and connections are easy to put together and remove.
Lakes can be deceiving when you come across them. I stick to bays that have steep drop-offs and I really like fishing inlets like the mouth of Boulton and Kent Creeks. Bull trout start their migration in July to the Smith-Dorrien and some get confused on where to go and end up in smaller creeks. This is where you have to be smarter than the trout.
Rainbows, on the other hand, usually come in close to shore in the early moring hours or late in the evening to feed. Try using a countdown method when fishing to ensure where the bottom is, for this is where the trout usually are.
You might hook a stump or two, but one might just turn out to be a big bull or rainbow.