By Bob Scammell
From Fly Fishing Canada, Published by Johnson Borman Publishers
How can you explain the anonymity on the troutless
prairies of a fish that runs in schools, take the
fry fly eagerly, that is a spectacular jumper when
hooked, and when smoked is a famous delicacy to rival
smoked salmon? Yet the goldeye is even more unknown
than our northern sheefish, which is so obscure that
it is call "inconnu" - French for "unknown."
Prior to the completion of the Dickson Dam, Alberts's
Red Deer River was one of those large, silty systems
favored by the two members of the Hiodon family: many
goldeye (Hiodon alosoides), the western member; and a
few mooneye (Hiodon tergisus), the eastern
member of the family. These fish still inhabit the Red
Deer tailwater - a good thing because the river below
the dam can still get high and muddy, at which time the
goldeye is the fly fisher's insurance fish, feeding freely,
even rising to dry flies in brown water that completely
puts down brown trout. These fish are common in Alberta's
larger rivers after they come out of the mountians and
latter out onto the prairies. The Bow, Oldman, North
and South Saskatchewan, Peace and Athabasca are Alberta
rivers where good fly fishing for goldeye may be found.
The goldeye, armored with huge, hard scales, appears to
be a creature from another age, ancient and prehistoric.
The fish is shadlike to some, tarponlike to me, as though
it would be more at home in salty than silty water. That
wonderful eye, encircled with the gold ring, hypnotized me
the first time I ever saw it. The sides of the fish are
deep, slablike and pure silver. I have an unattributed
note that says the Cree called this fish napak
kinosew, which means "he is pressed flat, fish."
If so, the phrase is very descriptive; the two members
of the Hiodon family and the mooneye as well, are narrow
in cross section and thin through the shoulders.
In many jurisdictions goldeyes and mooneyes are not even
given the status of game fish. In that respect Alberta
has been more progressive than most. Here is what Dr.
Martin Paetz, Alberta's former chief fisheries biologist,
has to say about the goldeye in McClaine's New
Standard Fishing Encyclopedia: "The goldeye is
probably the best of the province's warmwater game fish
as far as sporting qualities are concern." Paetz does
on to note that "being insectivorous in feeding habits
the goldeye provides excellent fly fishing . . .it will
hit floating patterns with reckless abandon and it is
not unusual for this fish to leap out of the water in
trout like fashion when hooked on light tackle." It
is the leaping of these big-scaled, big-eyed and silvery
fish that reminds me of baby tarpon.
My father was a fan of the old True magazine,
and in it's long-gone pages I read as a kid one of the only
articles I have ever seen extolling the virtues of goldeye
fishing in, of all trouty places, Montana. That article
made the amazing claim that goldeyes could be taken on
flies. The trouble was that I did not fish flies in those
days, and neither did my father.
It was not until I moved to Red Deer in the early '60s and
learned to cast flies that I began to wonder whether goldeyes
really could be taken on artificial flies. One June Sunday
morning, the Red Deer River was in full mountian runoff,
brown and cloudy, so, because I have always believed black
to be the most visible color in dark water and that a
little flash attracts attention, I tied on a small streamer
with a black bear-hair wing and silver tinsel body. From
the first cast, I began to feel a curious pluck at the fly
just as it started to straighten out in its drift below me.
Now I know it was the characteristic raspy pull of a goldeye
at a fly. Eventually I struck back, the waters shattered,
and a live mirror flipped, shimmered and flashed in the
sunshine. Before the day ended I added several more to
my first fly-caught goldeye.
Now I seldom resort to streamers. Where the goldeye really
shines is in the eagerness with which it will take a dry
fly right off the surface. "What fly?" I am often asked,
and always reply, "Any fly at all, so long as it is a
grasshopper imitation." My own preference is a No. 10
Letort Hopper for its deer-hair durability because a
goldeye's tongue and mouth are, in fact, like a rasp
and a couple of fish can quickly reduce a hackled
Michigan Hopper, for example, to a bare hook.
While a perfectly dry, dragless, float upstream often
takes goldeyes, it is possible sometimes to cast too
well for them. A hard thing for the expert - letting
the fly drag on purpose - is one tactic that makes the
goldeye such a gem of a quarry for beginning fly fishers.
Purposely dragging the fly over where a fish had previously
risen, then letting the fly swing around on a long line
downstream and making a big wake far below, often draws
slashing hits from goldeyes.
Try fly fishing for goldeye if you visit the Red Deer, or
any other of the western rivers where the species is
found - you'll like it. Me? Now I have the best of
two worlds. One September evening I made two casts
to two rising fish on the Red Deer River tailwater
near the base of Dickson Dam. First cast a No. 14
Elk Hair Caddis produced an 18" (46-cm) brown trout;
the second, a 16" (41 cm) goldeye. ~ Bob Scammell
Credits: From Fly Fishing Canada, From Coast to Coast to Coast
By Outdoor Writers of Canada, Published by Johnson Gorman Publishers.
We appreciate use permission!
One of Canada's most famous delicacies
Larry Salamon's Smoked Goldeye Spread
(Makes four servings)
1 egg (uncooked)
Pickling salt as needed
1. Scale, gut and remove heads of goldeye. Split each
fish halfway down the back, then freeze. (Freezing
allows the brine to better penetrate the flesh.)
2. Place enough water in a container to cover the fish
by 2" (5 cm). Place an egg in the water and stir in
pickling salt. When the egg floats, the brine is ready.
3. Remove the egg and place the fish in the brine for
12 hours. Remove from brine and smoke according to
directions on your "hot smoker" (True North, Little
Chief, or similar). Goldeye must be hot-smoked to
cook the flesh and reduce the oil content.
4. Remove flesh from fish and combine with mayonnaise
for a delightful spread. Excellent with crusty French
bread and a tomato and onion salad, dressed with a
balsamic vinegar and olive-oil vinaigrette.
~ Wayne Phillips
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