Secrets of the Eastslope

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Lance Larsen plays a fish under the watchful eye of master guide Cam Jansen. Photo: Charles Gehr

SECRETSof the EASTSLOPE What You Might Not Know About Alberta

by Charles Gehr





caused me to drop the phone. Four images of rainbow trout in the 24 to 26 was first introduced to Cam Jensen, owner of Eastslope Adventures, by inches range. I thought to myself, “That’s it, Cam, you’ve just set the hook a long-time friend and client of Ken Morrish. This gentleman had spent buddy.” I responded back, “I’m in. See you in September.” a good portion of the last 40 years fishing the world’s best fisheries. He Several months later I am part of a fresh group of anglers getting their confessed that he had been fishing with Cam for a long time and had gear ready for the first fishing day at Eastslope. Eagerly I look over at Cam deliberately not told us about it because he was afraid of “word getting out” Jensen and ask, “Well Cam, are we going to catch some fish today?” Cam about a rainbow trout fishery that, in his opinion, offered some of the best dry looks at me and, with a deadpan expression, replies, “I don’t know. I haven’t fly action for trophy trout this side of Alaska and Kamchatka. I was impressed seen you cast yet.” Harsh but poignant. Tough but fair, and as I have come to with his description and stories but a bit incredulous about the supposed size learn, indicative of Cam and the trophy fisheries he champions. and strength of these fish. I Googled the systems. Nothing. It seemed that either this specific report was inaccurate or else it was the single best-kept secret in North American trout fishing. Where Are We Again? Not long after, I received a call at our office from Cam Jensen himself. Eastslope Adventures is based out of a sturdy 4,000 square foot log-built lodge After a brief introduction Cam began telling me how the fishing had been for on the banks of the Waterton River in southwest Alberta. Located just across his guests the previous season. In all honesty, I simply didn’t bethe Canadian border from Glacier National Park, Montana the region is charlieve him and chalked it up to an over enthusiastic lodge owner acterized by gently rolling prairie land, ever-present wind and spinning tales. Hundreds of fish in the 20 to 22 inches class. wide open skies. Windmills dot a landscape of wheat and canoHundreds more in the 18 to 20 inches class. The numbers were la farms interspersed amongst sheep and cattle ranches. Sitting so exact and so extraordinary that I thought this outfitter was at an elevation of 4000 feet and in the rain shadow of the Rocky either half trout-fishing Zen master and half accountant, or Mountains, the growing season here is short. The jagged peaks of Morrish Hopper else completely delusional. Needless to say, like a big rainbow the Canadian Rockies are visible 30 miles to the west from almost Bl ac k awakened by the slap of a foam hopper, I was intrigued. any point on the plains. It’s the type of landscape that some people I went in over the phone, probing Cam and his stories to see how well he would call desolate. Rivers like the Waterton and St. Mary have cut fissures in knew his stuff. When I asked about dry fly patterns for a particular hatch that the plains. Oftentimes you can be 150 yards away from a 200 foot deep canyon he was describing he immediately delivered an educational seminar on how and have no idea it is there until you walk up on it. he used various Bob Quigley patterns throughout the stages of the hatch. A good sign. Cam then explained that his biggest problem with production verRivers of Reward sions of Quigley patterns was that his fish were bending and breaking all the The great beauty of the Eastslope Adventures program is that it is a multi#16 and #18 hooks. He casually mentioned the name of a most influential fly system fishery. While the trophy rainbows of the St. Mary steal more than fishing author that he had been guiding for more than 10 years. This author their fair share of the limelight, the fact of the matter is that anglers who had set him up with a fly tier who custom tied all of his dry flies on heavy spend more than three days here would be remiss in not taking advantage of wire hooks. At this point I was like the big rainbow rising fast towards the the other extraordinary angling opportunities in the area. Most notably these dry. I couldn’t take the verbal descriptions anymore and asked Cam if he had include the Waterton River, a particular brace of pristine, beautiful native pictures he could send me. Cam said he had an email with pictures loaded westslope cutthroat streams and also a few ridiculous hog ponds. and ready to go and had just pressed send. What I received in my inbox nearly As mentioned, the St. Mary River is the headliner. While floated in

“In all honesty, I simply didn’t believe him and chalked it up to an over enthusiastic lodge owner spinning tales.” PAGE 6

Clockwise from top left: Wet wading mid-summer; Cam holds a healthy one; the front porch; the local landscape; one that didn’t get away; the great room.




South Castle, Carbondale, Lost Creek, Lynx Creek and the Oldman. If these the early season it is primarily a walk and wade river with both moderate and streams were in Yellowstone National Park they’d likely be considered among aggressive walking beats available. It is, by all definitions, a small river. From the best fisheries in the park. These systems are small, crystal clear, mid-July through the end of the season in October it typically flows less than forested freestones where anglers of any skill level can catch healthy 350 cubic feet per second and runs crystal clear. It is without question the most numbers of feisty, wild westslope cutthroat between 12 to 18 technical of the rivers and has some of the hottest rainbows that I’ve ever eninches. Were these creeks and rivers in any other location and countered. The lion’s share of the fish are 16 to 22 inches but fish pushing 28 not overshadowed by systems like the St. Mary and Waterton, inches are encountered and typically lost each season. Frankly, I was dumbthey would draw repeat anglers in their own rite. Make time for them struck on my first trip here. As a long-time trout and steelhead if you can, as they exemplify classic trout fishing at its best. guide, I have battled my fair share of large and aggressive fish The last and definitely most under-utilized aspect of this and I expected to land a fair number of the big ones. The St. program is a series of small, spring-fed beaver ponds that sit Mary saw things differently. Despite my best efforts and mulabout ten minutes away from the lodge. While they are rarely tiple opportunities, I could not land a fish over 22 inches. They Qu igl ey’s used these ponds are, by any definition, absolute hog farms. were simply too hot to handle for the flies and tackle employed. Spid er Varian t Plenty of beautiful wild specimens can be caught in the three to And that is indicative of the St. Mary, a system that runs a fine line six pound class with some fish as large as 12 pounds. The spring-fed water between finesse and force and keeps anglers coming back for a re-match. keeps them fishable throughout the season but the early season has been, by Cam and his guides specialize in fishing dry flies. They are not opposed far, the most productive for the few anglers that have fished them. to fishing nymphs when conditions warrant but the fact is that these fish will eat a well-presented dry fly nearly as often as a nymph or streamer, with The Lodge emphasis on “well-presented.” Plan on bringing your “A game” when you Eastslope’s lodge comfortably caters to eight anglers in seven spacious single fish the St. Mary. An hour of mentored casting practice before your trip or double occupancy rooms with attached private baths. The rustic log-built will serve you well. This is a river where the guides know their quarry’s winlodge is situated immediately above a productive stretch of the Waterton dow of vision. If your fly is not drifting perfectly through that window they River, allowing anglers to fish the home waters unguided in the evenings or are going to work with you until you get it right. Inches matter and while early mornings. It has a spacious great room with a stone fireplace and a large sloppy casts will sometimes produce, Cam and his guides will likely explain deck overlooking the river. Hearty home style meals are served at a large famthat there is no such thing as “good enough” when presenting dry flies. The ily style table in the dining room. After breakfast each morning a lunch bar drift is either perfect, or it is wrong. Nothing good is easy and the St. Mary is set up for anglers to make their own sandwiches before setting off for the fish are more than worth the effort. day’s fishing. While this is not a luxury lodge, it is an ideal and comfortable The Waterton River is the lodge’s home water. Were the Waterton in base for serious anglers who want to chase serious fish. Montana, it would be one of the more famous rivers in the state. Clients have All in all, what Cam and his crew offer at Eastslope Adventures is truly described it as a pristine Big Hole River with almost no fishing pressure. While unique. For us the “secret” of the Eastslope is a world of angling opportuniseeing other anglers is rare, seeing 14 to 20 inch browns rising to large attractors is ties that has been missed by the masses. It is a place where anglers have a common. Not only is the Waterton a beautiful and prolific fishery, but because it chance at big, wild, free-rising rainbows that will test your tackle and your can be floated it offers a great way to rest the legs and re-charge midweek. technique as well as a region where the simple pleasures of casting dries to Of equal note is that within a one hour drive of the lodge there are uneducated trout in solitude still abound. numerous world-class westslope cutthroat dry fly fisheries. They include the

“‘Well Cam, are we going to catch some fish today?’ Cam looks at me and, with a deadpan expression, replies, ‘I don’t know. I haven’t seen you cast yet.’” PAGE 8


$2,240 for a 5 night/4 day package

Getting There

Anglers have two choices when flying into southwest Alberta. Both involve renting a car and driving roughly three hours. Flying into Kalispell, Montana is the more scenic option. A side trip to Glacier National Park is a worthwhile reason to add a day onto the beginning or end of your trip to Eastslope. Anglers flying into Kalispell should be aware that the border crossing is lightly staffed and often takes longer than expected, especially during the busy summer. The second travel option is to fly into Calgary International Airport. Calgary offers a number of advantages, the most notable of which is that the Bow River flows right through the heart of the city. A growing number of guests are choosing to fly in and out of Calgary in order to add a day or two of floating the Bow River onto their itinerary. The drive from Calgary to Eastslope Adventures is relatively straight forward and has the added advantage of no border crossing.

Tackle Rods: The Waterton and St. Mary Rivers are, without a doubt, 6-weight territory. Bring a sweet little 3 or 4-weight dry fly rod for the cutthroat streams. Reels: Due to the average size and fight of the fish we highly recommend reels with a smooth drag system and 100 yards of backing. Anglers fishing with click/pawl reels will find it difficult to land the larger fish frequently encountered! Leaders/Tippet: 7.5-9 ft. 2X leaders. Bring 1X-4X tippet. We highly recommend tying fluorocarbon tippet on your nylon leaders. Flies: Cam and his guides will be prepared to provide all of your flies for the trip. Please note that if you are going to tie flies for this trip they need to be on heavy wire hooks!

Top: The Waterton River; Cam Jensen making it look easy. Photos: Charles Gehr and Randy Morton.