Westslopes in the East kootenays

In our opinion, Westslope Cutthroat Trout are one of the prettiest fish out there. Living on the West Coast there really isn't any water (outside of Ross Lake) where you can catch them. You need to travel far, out to the Kootaneys in BC, to find one on the end of your line.

They are a beautiful fish. Blue to green backs that transition to a nice sandy and sometimes pink belly. They have less spots than our Coastal Cutthroats, with the heaviest concentration at the tail. And of course they have that brilliant orange to red slash under the jaw.

We knew we needed to catch a "Westy" this year so we reached out to our good friend Joey Sandberg at the Choice , in Cranbrook BC, and started laying down some plans. A late August date was set and things were starting to come together. 

The Crew

Joey Sandberg - Without Joey, this trip would never have happened. It was actually his suggestion to me, on a business call, that we come out there to fish Westslopes. Joey was a more than gracious host who knew exactly where to take us and had zero concerns about driving us everywhere from the river, the market, or to the hotel. Let's not even get into the amazing food his lovely wife cooked for us. 

Tyler Charles - Although Ty was really hyped to catch a Westslope, he really likes chucking streamers and had heard about the big Bull Trout in the Elk. You know his main mission was to try and catch a big one. But don't you worry, he caught more than his fair share of Cutty's too. He also caught a ton of laughs with his constant off the cuff, often offside jokes and sayings. There is only one Tyler Charles and we are pretty stoked he's with us!

Moses Itkonen - Moses has pretty much become our regular fishing partner and welcomed friend. He drove himself across the whole province to join us on this particular mission. He was a god damned fishing maniac everywhere we went and easily clocked a ton more fish than the rest of us. If you get him anywhere near some fishable water, just watch the magic happen. 

Brody Seselja - Brody comes to us via a long standing friendship and his affiliation with Ultimate Distribution. He is the main sale representative there and works very closely with Craig. He just happened to be on a sales trip through Western Canada and his mission lined up perfectly with ours. He was able to link up the Friday we got into town and spend all day Saturday fishing the Elk river with us before continuing on his way. Its always exciting to have some "young blood" on the trip. Not the die hard fisherman we are but he is definitely no stranger to fly fishing and wrangled more than a few nice Westslope's.

Paul Machnau - A Cranbrook native and the original owner of the Choice shop, Paul recently moved back to town and was stoked to show us his "secret" spots.

Like Moses, Paul is also a retired skateboarder of the highest caliber! His career was long and very respected. Just watch this video part and you will understand. 

Paul definitely puts all the passion and dedication from his skateboard career into fly fishing these days and it showed as he guided us from hole to hole on Sunday. Constantly pointing out which rocks had fish holding behind them and catching the biggest fish of the day. 

Craig Williams - For me, this was a dream trip. Knocking off Westslope from the species list with a bunch of my good skateboarding/fishing buddies.

The Elk River

The first mission of our trip was the Elk river. Joey had a great day planned out for us fishing the upper section of the Canyon before it hits Montana. 

The Elk is a major river that flows south out of the Rockies through Sparwood, Fernie, and Elko before it merges with the bigger Kootenay River. This river holds many Westslope Cutthroat, Bull trout, Mountain Whitefish, Pike Minnow, and Kokanee. While we were there the Kokanee were spawning and we saw thousands of these beautiful bright red fish holding in back eddies and deep pools. 

We got up early, stopped at Timmys and made the drive out towards Elko. We got to the top of the canyon and started the long hike across the meadows and down into the canyon. It was a steep hike down but really, not much would have stopped us at this point, short of a Grizzly bear. (Joey reminded us we were in Grizzly country with a harrowing story of a Grizzly encounter he had while out hunting.)

Once we got into the canyon and felt the power of the river as it ripped by us, we wondered how many fish we would actually find. In our experience the faster the water, the harder it is to find the fish. But we were in for a surprise.  Lots of smaller Cutty's were holding tight to the shore, like really tight. We started catching them right away about a foot from the shore in the shallows. It was super exciting to catch our first Westslopes and there was a lot of cheering as we all got into some.


Once we got our fill of our first Westys we decided to slowly start fishing our way up the river. It didn't take long to start finding some slower, deeper water and some beautiful runs. The trout were fully cooperating with us and taking pretty much any dry fly we offered them.



As the sun started to dip low we knew we had to call it and made the hard climb back up out of the canyon and dragged our tired, but satisfied, souls home.

The Secret

 On Sunday morning Brody had to leave us and continue on his journey West and Paul Machnau joined our crew. 

Being that Paul grew up in Cranbrook and spent a lifetime fishing there, he has some golden spots. He shared one of these with us and to do the honourable thing, we are gonna keep it close to our chests. Where he took us was way off the beaten path and probably one of the most magical systems I have encountered. I am sure we are all day dreaming of the day we can get back up there 

Without giving anymore info about this spot, here are a bunch of photos (if you do happen to recognize where we are, please keep it to yourself.) 

the St. Mary's River

We were not flying out until the early evening, so on our last day we hit some of the St. Mary's river. This is a beautiful system that flows from the Purcell mountains down through Kimberly and Cranbrook and into the Kootenay River in Forte Steel. Its tannin stained water hides seven species of fish. Bull Trout, Rainbow Trout, Westslope Cutthroat Trout, Brook Trout, Mountain Whitefish, Pike Minnow, and Kokanee. 

We made plans to meet up with Moses and Paul at the river and headed out after a bit of a sleep in....It's tiring business hiking canyons.

Joey knew a beautiful section of river for us to explore and it most definitely did not disappoint.

We spent most of the day nymphing for Mountain White fish, Cutty's and even got a few Pike Minnows and Rainbows too. For some reason we never ended up finding Moses or Paul, but we still had a blast. 

It was a gorgeous day and we really did not want it to end but it was time to get to the airport.

On the way out of town, as we were crossing over the St. Marys river, we looked down and happened to see Moses and Paul. They were still fishing! We stopped the car, yelled down our good byes and was on our way. 

In Closing

We would like to thank Joey and his amazing wife Joanna for their amazing hospitality. They really made this trip "that" much better! It would not have been the same trip if they were not involved.

If you are ever in Cranbrook do not be afraid to pop into the Choice and say hi to Joey or any of his amazing staff. 


Photos were taken by Paul Machnau, Moses Itkonen, Joey Sandberg, and myself.

Craig W.

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