K – Country Trout: Stalking Cutthroats In Banff’s Backyard

The amazing peaks of Banff National Park, in the Canadian province of Alberta, have a deservedly high profile and attract almost 4 million people per year, many from as far away as Europe and Asia. However, right on Banff’s eastern doorstep is Kananaskis Country, a recreational area that sees only 180,000 visits per year, most of them by Albertans. Although it has scenery almost as spectacular as Banff, Albertans have done an amazing of keeping K-Country, as it is locally known, amazingly close to their chest.

My partner Deb and I had the opportunity to fish the Highwood River, which runs through the heart of K-Country, for a couple afternoons this past August. The weather was cool and diabolically variable; brilliant sunshine would alternate with driving rain. We were close to the headwaters of the Highwood where tiny mountain creeks had converged out of alpine passes into enough water to fish. The water so clear we could count every stone under thin, chattery riffles. However, these shallow riffles stretched on for city blocks and there was a lot of walking between the deeper runs and pools.

Fly fisher in Canada
Nevertheless, hiking along the Highwood was by no means a chore. Sometimes, as we approached a prime lie, we could see cutthroat snouts rythmically poking out of the water. It was definitely motivation to keep pressing on to the next spot. The clear water and small size of the stream meant any risers had to be stalked. We would hunch over and waddle into a kneeling position, remaining well back of the water.

Fly fisher in Canada
Early in the afternoon, with no visible hatch, they took a small but bushy hair-wing Adams. Only one fish was particularly snooty and had to be fed a more subtle parachute version. Later in the day, some PMD’s helicoptered over the water and active cutties were happy to inhale anything small and yellow.

Don’t get me wrong; the fishing was not fast and furious. Many great looking runs and pools seemed fishless, even after drifting nymphs through them. But, as I said before, the possibility of seeing those snouts kept us going.

Fly fisher in Canada
Late one afternoon, we actually drove a little further downstream to where the Highwood River exited the mountains of K-Country and entered the foothills. The appearance of the river there was quite shocking. The water was still gin clear but the flow had increased. Instead of a little creek, the Highwood was indeed a river. Long riffled stretches were replaced by an amazing variety of drops, eddies, pools, and boulder gardens. With darkness falling , we merely sampled a very small bit of this enticing section, even coaxing a lively rainbow – not a cutthroat – into eating a nymph.

Later on, back at the parking lot, a local confirmed that in this part of the river rainbows predominated over cutthroats. He also said that bull trout up to 30 inches were a real possibility if someone wanted to pull six to ten inch streamers.

Cutthroat trout
Banff has stunning scenery and is an outdoor experience that should be on most bucket lists. If you are ever in the area pay its neighbor K-Country a visit!