My first taste of the addicting nectar that is flyfishing came at a ranch nestled in the foothills of south western Alberta, the Palmer Ranch. The Palmers were family friends of my father, a horse-riding coach. As riding aficionados themselves, the Palmers loved having my father come out to help them with their riding skills. The first three years I was out there, ages 10 to 13, were somewhat boring but overall enjoyable experiences for me. But then, age 13, I discovered that the Palmer Ranch was home to world-class trout waters. At the time I was a dedicated spin fisherman, having already caught hundreds of walleye and pike at dozens of lakes and rivers across Saskatchewan. But trout
, even the name held mystique for me. Trout were a real sportsman's fish. You caught trout not for the taste but for the battle. So the next year, I excitedly brought my fishing gear to try my hand at the big rainbows and browns of the Palmer's spring-fed trout ponds.
To my surprise, standing there with a tackle box in one hand and a spin rod in the other, the Palmer's ponds were dominated by flyfisherman. And so it should be, as the ponds owned by the Palmer's are home to truly trophy-sized rainbows and browns. 20 to 30 inch fish are a real possibility, as photos like these from the Palmer's website ( Palmer Ranch
Looking at the (mostly American) flyfishers casting around the ponds, I saw that they weren't having much luck at the moment. I decided to try my hand at the trout anyways. As I was picking my way along the shoreline, the flyfisherman began to snicker at me, with my spinning reel and my simple jigs, while they were fly-casting with elaborate dry fly patterns. I took up my position a good distance away from any other fisherman, sitting on a large boulder that overlooked a deeper, structured part of the ponds where a few channels ran together. The water was clear as gin and I could see the trout holding in the boulders and weeds of this deeper part of the pond. Bruiser browns and mighty rainbows, gliding effortlessly through the clear waters. They seemed to be feeding underneath the surface on this day, explaining why the dry flies weren't getting anything.
Tying on a long-bodied yellow jig imitating a big leech or grub, I cast out into the waters and began to jig through the weeds. I only managed to reel in a few feet of line before the jig was gulped up by a hefty rainbow that instantly pulled out several dozen feet of line as he surged away, deep and powerful. I fought the 'bow for about seven minutes as he alternatively broke the surface in great powerful leaps or swam to the bottom with enormously strong strokes of his tail. When I finally netted him, I had gotten the attention of every flyfisherman around and they were paying close attention to my jig. They soon began to tie on wet flies instead, usually long and yellow like my jig. The rainbow I caught was an absolute beauty, 26 inches from nose to tail, with a great broad stripe of deep crimson along his side and a formidable kype jaw. As I released the big rainbow make into the waters, the flyfisherman around me gave me tenative nods of respect.
For the next three days, I fished the ponds and rivers surrounding the ranch, catching many big 'bows and browns. I even became somewhat friendly with the flyfisherman there, and learned to cast from a few of them. The next year, having honed my casting skills as best I could, I returned to the Palmers in the spring with my father to attempt to catch my first rainbow on the fly. Once again, I resumed my spot where the three channels met and formed a deeper zone. I had tied on a small nymph pattern, knowing that the trout here fed mostly below the surface. I began to cast in a patient sort of way, knowing that the flyfishing here was not always so successful. Several casts later, my patience was rewarded when a beautiful brown sucked in my nymph. Though he did not fight like my first rainbow, the 25 inch brown trout still put up one heck of a struggle before I slid my hand beneath his belly.
The Palmer Ranch is a located a few hours drive from the closest large town of Pincher Creek and is also about an hour's drive from Waterton National Park. Alongside their first rate spring-fed ponds, the Palmer Ranch also encompasses part of the Waterton River, fine waters for trophy rainbows, browns and also big pike. The Elk and Crowsnest rivers are also within short drives of the Ranch, and Waterton National Park is also within reach if you want some excellent fishing opportunities for bull trout, lake trout, cutthroats and the superb rainbow and brown fishing that you've come to expect from this area. A full day on the Palmer's private waters costs about $500 US, but the quality and variety of the trout fishing is well worth it. The Palmers also offer guided fishing trips with expert flyfisher Brian Larsten. Catching trout in the Palmer's private waters is strictly catch and release, but you may keep any big pike you hook. For more information, I urge you to check out the Palmer Ranch website:
It is really is a first-class fishing opportunity for any dedicated angler. I will be returning this summer as many times as I can, for there are still dozens of big trophy trout left uncaught. And the dream of a 30-inch rainbow, a real possibility, is still calling me to the Ranch.