Tell us about a day of fishing with Big Jim.
I like to start early in the morning, stop at JK Bakery in Canmore and get fresh coffee. The deep dish ham and eggs quiche is amazing and popular with guests. We order an a la carte dagwood sandwich for lunch, and then we put on our waders. From JK it’s a few minutes’ drive to a great spot along the Bow. 10 minute walk in on a flat trail, after that we are wading, and that gets us to the first spot. I set up all the gear. If it’s dry fly season, we start there. If not, we try a nymph rod or one of my lure rods, or a streamer rod. I’ll show them the ropes- and then we’re catching fish.
How does fishing in the Canadian Rockies differ from other places to fish?
Well, it’s such a spectacular view, and that’s why people come to Banff. The backdrop is so stunning that I have had customers say that even if they don’t catch a fish it’s ok, it’s just so beautiful on the river. But we catch fish. The water is so clean and that beautiful blue-green; you are standing knee deep in this flowing water, and it’s a bit sunny, but the water is cold on your feet, and you’re casting,..it’s mesmerizing. We have all these different kinds of spectacular trout that require really clean water, and we have some whitefish as well-so if you have a school of whitefish and you have Dad with a ten-yr-old along, you get the youngster parked on a school of whitefish and it’s “I got another one, Dad, I got another one!” The whitefish are not as handsome as the trout, but they’ll fight.
Do you have to be a skilled angler to do catch a fish on a fly? How is fly fishing different than spin casting?
The major difference is, for spin casting, you are using the weight of the lure-throwing it out and twitching it in. And most lures represent a small bait fish. In fly fishing, the method of propulsion is the fly line, like a giant whip that you don’t quite snap. At the end of the leader is a hook with some feather tied around it that looks like a fly, not a fish. You can even get flies that look like a minnow or a mouse.
When is the best time of year to fish in the Rockies?
Consistently, August is the easiest month for catching fish on the dry fly. March has good ice fishing but for most people the river fishing doesn’t start until June, so some days we will ice fish in the morning and then hit the river later in the afternoon. Some of the biggest fish we catch is in March and April, because nobody is fishing.
What advantages are there to having a guided fishing trip?
Well, you catch fish (laughs). It’s easier to catch fish when you know where the fish are. The other advantage for a lot of people is that you don’t have to take all the gear. Guides have the waders, the boots, the spare jackets, all the flies, cooler with drinks, spare sunglasses, and they pick you up.
What kinds of fish will be fishing for?
About 80% browns, and then the other 20% is the mystery 20%; could be bull trout, cutthroat, rainbow trout. I have actually caught three lake trout in the river, they must have swam all the way from Bow Lake making it down the falls and then somehow lodged themselves in the river. There’s a lot of trout in the 10-14 inch range. Weekly we get 20 incher or bigger. My largest is a 32 inch brown at close to 15 lbs. And we have some whitefish as well, not as handsome as the trout, but they’ll fight.
What got you into fishing?
I was fascinated by fishing at an early age. My uncle came over to my house and he sold fishing lures, this is the 1970’s, and he opened this case up and there was these shiny lures dangling, and I was probably 3-4 years old, and I’m like ‘Dad you should buy one of everything!’ And then, we had a cottage when I was a kid, so we would be fishing before breakfast and would continue on the dock at night when it was time to go to bed. Guiding? I was working as a waiter at the Fairmont Banff Springs, bumbling into things, and there was this guy, Jeff, one of the owners of Banff Fishing Unlimited who would show up, looking so cheerful, so I called him up one day and got a part time job driving the van and learning. He just looked so cheerful doing it. It seemed like a better job than waiting tables.
What’s the best fishing advice you have ever received?
That’s a hard one. Set the hook, that’s it. Set the hook. When in doubt, set the hook. If you think it was a 1% chance that a fish bit your line, a little tick, SET THE HOOK. Those can be some of the most satisfying fish to catch. And that’s where some skill comes in-that detection of even the minutest manipulation of your line.
What do you like most about the sport?
I think it’s the totality of the day. Even the night before you're thinking ‘tomorrow I’m going fishing’ and then you have a nice breakfast, you are in this gorgeous forest, birds are singing, and it’s fun to throw a fly or slim lure. Catching a fish is fun, but it is not the b-all end-all of the day. Camaraderie with your buddies or your family, it makes for just a great day. And then the beer tastes three times as great at the end.