American Fly Fishing

By Paul Samycia

Have you ever wondered what the perfect trout stream would look like? How big would it be? What kind of access would be available? Would it be gin clear? What type of fish would it hold, and would it offer lots of smaller fish or a few really large fish? Would they be easy marks or would anglers need substantial expertise?
   Ultimately we all might answer those questions differently, but I bet any angler who fishes Michel Creek in southeast British Columbia would add this beautiful cutthroat fishery to his or her personal top-10 list of perfect trout waters.
   Hatches are so consistent and predictable that you can set your watch by them—and they stir epic dry-fly fishing for the creek’s native westslope cutthroat trout, which happen to be some of the fattest cutts in the region. Such superb fishing might not be surprising in a remote mountain stream reached by hours of hiking. But for more than 25 miles, Michel Creek is accessible and easy to wade, with most of the stream flowing within 200 yards of a paved road. And yet such proximity to the road doesn’t negatively affect the fishing in the least, in a stream less than 30 minutes from the beautiful mountain town of Fernie. Michel Creek is a tributary to the far-better-known Elk River. From Sparwood, you can follow the creek upstream as it flows alongside the Crowsnest Highway, and then continue along the creek on Corbin Road (the Coal Mountain mine road), a signed right-hand turn off the highway. In total, that route gives anglers some 17 miles of paved-road-accessible water.
   So what makes Michel Creek such a haven for fat cutthroat? Likely it is the nitrates from open-pit mining in the area that contribute to the prolific aquatic insect life. Abundant big bugs to sustain the trout, catch-and-release fishing, and the fact that many people overlook the obvious—in this case, a great trout stream right along major roads—result in an exceptional fishery with great access.
   Michel Creek is ideal for anglers who like to sleep in. Its cold, freestone flows, drawing from high mountain tributaries, means anglers can wait for the water to warm a few degrees during daytime—and enjoy a good breakfast before heading out for the day. On a typical summer day, the creek’s hatches are predictable. When advising anglers who have never fished Michel Creek, I tell them to find a spot where they can pull off the pavement and then start walking downstream: study the different structure, carefully taking inventory of the fishy spots and watching the surface. Don’t get discouraged if you spend a lot of time casting to trouty-looking water with no success. The key is the hatch. Move on and watch the slow runs and riffles. Try a few casts; if you don’t raise fish, move on farther. Soon enough the temperature will be just right, or maybe a little rain or a change in atmospheric pressure will spur the mayfly hatch. Suddenly you will see a mayfly rise off the water, then another, and then another. Before you know it, the slow run that seemed lifeless despite your dozens of casts will be covered with hundreds of huge mayfly duns. Forget about the tiny dry flies in your box. Here you need size 8 and 10 Gray Drake patterns. These bugs are actually the famous Western Green Drakes (Drunella grandis), but on Michel Creek they are more gray in color, hence the local moniker. The run will soon be alive with the snouts of 14- to 18-inch cutthroat; it’s as if they have appeared by magic.
   A drag-free drift with a large Drake pattern will usually do the trick during this July and August hatch. Foam-body terrestrial patterns or searching patterns entice the cutthroat as well. They aren’t pushovers, and some days these rising cutts will get the better of you; but many days you will catch them almost at will. Either way, I’m betting that with some time spent getting to know this fishery, you will agree it merits a spot on your own top-10 list.
   For a primer on this fishery, or to arrange for a day with an expert guide, consult Elk River Guiding Company and Fly Shop in Fernie, (877) 423-7239,
   Now another question comes to mind: Why would someone want to publicize such a great fishery, giving up secret spots? Simply put, it’s because Michel Creek needs friends: a mine expansion on its western banks is in the works. In the past the mining activity has created access for anglers, and the nitrates from mining might be providing nutrients that enhance the aquatic invertebrate life and thus bolster the trout population. Michel Creek and the coal mines have coexisted for many years, but recently the discovery of increased selenium levels in the Elk River, as well as cadmium and calcite on Michel Creek, have brought concerns that the watershed has reached the threshold of what it can tolerate. Anglers need to be stewards of the waters they enjoy, so keep an eye on this one as it develops—it is too precious a fishery to lose.


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