“Are you Leigh? You look like a fisherman”. Due to Alberta’s poor start to the summer, I was wearing head-to-toe Gore-Tex. However, I took these words from the hired guide as a compliment. He loaded me into his battered GMC for the short journey from my resort on Tunnel Mountain to Lake Minnewanka.
Banff National Park’s Lake Minnewanka – “water of the spirits” in the local First Nations language – is 17 miles long and its far end is true wilderness. I had made the decision to try lake fishing as the nearby Bow River was in flood due to heavy rains. On the way to the lake, the guide showed my photos of some of the best catches and told me tales of his 28 years guiding on the lake: catching big trout and facing down grizzly bears.
The lake is a stunningly beautiful place to fish, and the weather started to brighten. Maybe I wouldn’t need the Gore-Tex after all. A brief chat with some fisherman on the dock about which lures were working and the productive bays, and we were in the boat and off. On the drive to the lake, the guide said the best way to catch at this time was with a “nail”. I assumed that this was some kind of lure. No – it is an actual four-inch nail, used in place of a weight due to restrictions on using lead. The rest of the rig comprised a small buzzer-style nymph on a dropper. The technique was to fish on the bottom, reeling as s-l-o-w-l-y as possible.
The guide and I cast from the boat towards the shore, and it wasn’t long at all before the guide was into a fish. He passed the road over to me to play and boat the fish. A good strong fight and shouts of “put more bend in the rod” and the fish was in the net. A 5lb Lake Trout.
A few more casts in the same bay gave no result, so it was time to move on. In the next bay we caught a few Cisco – a species that I’d not heard of before – which resemble herring. A pair of bald eagles were watching the boat, waiting for this moment. The guide took out a ballpoint pen case, inflated the unlucky cisco and threw it for an eagle to snatch from the water’s surface.
Another similar looking species, the Rocky Mountain Whitefish, was caught the same way.
For a bit of variety we broke out the fly rod. The technique was different to what I’m used to with a fly rod. The set-up included a small sinker and a float, which of course meant that the line couldn’t by kept in the air whilst more line is let out. So the technique was to cast from the water surface on each side of the boat back and forth. Tricky to get used to, but added a few more of each species – the best being another lake trout of about a pound.
- 3 Lake Trout
- 4 Cisco
- 3 Rocky Mountain Whitefish