Collin cura river fly fishing
Chris Hunt hooked up to a big brown trout on a side channel of the Collon Cura River (photo: Chad Shmukler).

With a side of adventure

Side channels are to be explored, not ignored

Side channels rock.

I was 11 years old when Messrs. Page, Plant, Jones and Bonham - Led Zeppelin, for those of you who don’t know - released one of the great rock & roll anthems of all time. Stairway to Heaven was an instant classic, and it still blasts from car speakers and home stereos all over the world. I was actually listening to the song the other day when the lyrics, which I’ve probably heard a thousand times over the last 40 odd years, jumped the tracks and made a new connection in my brain.

Angler Mike Sepelak tosses a big streamer at a logjam on the Elk River near Fernie, BC (photo: Chad Shmukler).

Down by the river

Todd Tanner is old as dirt and proud of it

I’m thinking about driving up to British Columbia in the morning to sneak in a little dry fly fishing. It’s crazy, but I just can’t get Neil Young out of my head.

Old man sitting
by the side of the road
With the lorries rolling by,
Blue moon sinking
from the weight of the load
And the buildings scrape the sky,
Cold wind ripping
down the alley at dawn
And the morning paper flies,
Dead man lying
by the side of the road
With the daylight in his eyes.

Elk River Cutthroat Trout
Guide Paul Samycia shows off a pretty, pepper-spotted cutthroat trout from the Elk River near Fernie, BC.

Listen to Your Guide

On more than one occasion, on guided fishing trips, I've found myself in the boat with another angler that seems to have arrived at the water determined not to listen to our guide. It's never clear why. Maybe the angler thinks he knows better than the guide. Perhaps he simply has a problem with authority. Whatever the case, by the end of the day, it is always abundantly clear that the angler has done little more than sabotage his or her own day. Almost without exception, your guide knows best. For a myriad of reasons, when heading out on a guided trip, being an attentive and compliant angler will not only improve your day but will likely improve your angling as a whole.

Elk River Cutthroat Trout
Guide Paul Samycia shows off a pretty, pepper-spotted cutthroat trout from the Elk River near Fernie, BC.


Unless you're a local expert on the stream, river or flats you're about to embark upon, your guide spends a ridiculously greater amount of time on said water than you do. The guide knows the riffles and runs, the way minor changes in conditions from day to day affect the fishing, the best tactics for certain spots and times and so on.

Earlier this year, while fishing the Elk River in British Columbia, our guide -- and owner of Fernie's Elk River Guiding Company -- Paul Samycia parked our driftboat in a small, slow back eddy that had formed alongside a torrid run. A long, heavy but relatively shallow riffle above was channeled by the narrowing streambanks where it dropped off a small spillover into a deep pool. The result was a 20 yard stretch of heavy rapids that I'd scarcely have thought to throw a nymph or streamer into, thanks to the ripping flows. As I peered out at the deep, emerald water, Paul handed my rod back to me with a small ant -- probably size 18 -- tied to the end of the line.

Elk River
British Columbia's Elk River.

Adrift on the Elk

“You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.”

The wry, completely accurate observation comes from the man on the sticks behind me and I have to admit, after missing a half-dozen hooksets, that I do appear to be stubbornly equine.

But, in my defense, I’m distracted. Distracted by the mist-shrouded Three Sisters and surrounding Canadian Rocky peaks that rise majestically to the north of our drift down the Elk. Distracted by the lush riverbanks of lodgepole and fir and quaking aspen. Distracted by the lake-filtered emerald green glacial melt as it races along wide stretches of perfectly smooth freestone rapids. Distracted by…

Crap. Missed another.

“Let me know when you’re ready to take the oars.”

Elk River
The Elk River, near Fernie, British Columbia (photo: Mike Sepelak).

We roll out of our comfy beds at Fernie's Park Place Lodge at a civilized hour (code words for overslept), but there’s no panic. No scooping of gear and dashes for the door. Unlike most trout fishing, at this time of year in British Columbia it’s not about catching the morning or evening hatch, but rather about just getting on the water. With a solid fourteen hours of good terrestrial opportunities, there’s no need to hurry, no need to sacrifice that few extra winks.

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