December 4th, 2000
Excerpt from Angling in the Shadows of the Rockies,
available though Frank Amato Publications.
We greatly appreciate use permission.
Dry Flies and the St.Mary Cutthroat (Alberta)
By Jeff Mironuck
As the sun stretched out its firely arms and peered over the icy
Steeples I could feel the warmth graze my back and gently push
me to the river bank. Early July can bring out some of my favorite
river fishing and on this particular day something seemed different,
almost haunting. As the hair on the back of my neck stood up I
tied on an olive Elk Hair Caddis. With only 20 ft of line out and
one false cast my fly graced the water. The shadows along the
bank began to retreat and a large cutthroat broke surface upstream.
I realized there was one less caddis on the river this morning.
The St. Mary River begins its decent in the Purchell Mountains. Ice
cold water flows down into St. Mary Lake, all the while gaining size
as many smaller streams flow into the river. Meachen Creek, Redding
Creek and Dewar Creek are the most notable as they themselves do
hold a fair number of trout. From the lake down Hellroaring Creek,
Matthew Creek, Luke Creek, Perry Creek and Mark Creek join up
with the river. The water found above St. Eugene's Mission is faster
flowing with more small log jams and separate side channels. There
are many areas open to wading and the fishing is quite good. Road
access is poor but the country is hiked easily. Below the mission the
river widens and with the more level ground it slows as well. Typically
you will find larger fish here but the numbers will be down. As the
water deepens and slows Dollies are more frequent along with suckers
and squaw fish. The river continues on like this until meeting up with
the Kootenay River. The St. Mary has all the makings of quality
blue-ribbon stream and it should be recognized as one.
Generally you will find good numbers of cutthroat and Rocky Mountain
whitefish with a few rainbows, brooks and Dolly Vardens. Unfortunately
you will also find coarse fish. The cutthroat are the most sought after
fish in the river by most anglers. Yellowstone cutthroat in general are
more willing to take a fly or a spinner, they are also the most abundant
fish in the river. They can be distinguished by their bright orange
slashes on their throat. They are good fighting fish that take flies
willingly. This is the one characteristic that makes them such a
good trout for learners. Throughout the river 12 inches is an
average size fish with some cutthroat, rainbows and Dolly's
reaching the mid 20's. Occasionally you will see a Dolly in the
area of 10 to 15 pounds but often you will only be left with a
broken line. Large suckers also provide some excitement for
anglers. Many times I have seen experienced anglers get excited
over a heavy strike only to be disappointed by a "bottom dweller."
Although the are not considered a "trophy fish" by most, on the
bright side they often provide some great fighting action. Fishing
the bottom in slower water will allow you to hook up with these
fish as well as the other larger more appealing ones.
In geological terms it is a relatively young stream. The stream
bottom is formed in a "V" shape due to the steady flush of water.
In spring runoff the heavy snow pack from the surrounding
mountains and hills causes the tributaries and the main body
of the river to gain water level, speed and also is responsible
for the increased amount of debris in the water and the decreased
clarity. St. Mary River is closed from April 1st until the middle
of June although I would not recommend fishing it until July. The
water is dirty and the currents become unpredictable and unsafe
early in the season. As it flows and meanders though the drainage
it constantly grows in size until reaching the lake. St. Mary Lake
is incredibly important to the success and quality of the stream.
It acts as a settling pond and in some cases it creates a protected
haven for the habitants of the stream.
I concentrate the majority of my fishing below the lake where the
river photographs into the perfect blue-ribbon, freestone trout fishery.
I have drifted the river and am confident that it can be done in a safe
manner through its length. However, I would not recommend that
anyone drifts in anything less than a high quality raft or drift boat.
Fishing from a raft allows the angler to cover more water and makes
those hard to reach areas accessible. Be prepared to get out and
lead the boat along in a few sections during periods of high water.
This can easily be done by tying a sturdy rope to the stern or bow
and guiding it along the rapids.
From the lake down the river is joined by several other tributaries.
The most notable are Perry Creek, Hellroaring Creek, Matthew Creek
and the once troubled Mark Creek. For many years Mark Creek
dumped heavy pollutants into the river and made it almost completely
sterile of any life below its confluence. Mark Creek flows through the
small mining town of Kimberly. Until about 1979 it served the town
as a convenient moving garbage disposal. Everything from road salt,
dead animals and sewage to highly toxic chemicals from the mine
flowed down Mark Creek into the river. Some of this is still evident
in the old channels of the river today. Things such as old tires and
metal drums can be found lying on the permanently yellow stained
rocks. The local biologists were aware of the problems by the mine
and the government were not prepared to pump out the required funds
to clean up the mess. In the early 80's Kimberly and the surrounding
communities began the hard work of cleaning. Today we see a pristine
river and some of the best fishing and insect hatches are found below
Mark Creek. In 1983 a two-fish limit was imposed and the minimum
keep size was 12 inches. Unfortunately, many fishers were not informed
or just did not care. The river was then changed to fly fishing only
below the lake and catch and release is practiced by most anglers now.
This has greatly improved the fishing and hopefully it has increased the
public awareness when it comes to protecting such a valuable resource.
Concluded next time ~ JM
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