Finding the Beauty in Plan B (A Fly Fishing Destination Story)

wills in a lake
Image courtesy of Sue Moody Photography

It was mid-March and I was sitting at my desk cramming for an economics exam when I received a call from my good friend and co-worker Collin Terchanik. Without haste, he spread out a plan which in short involved the two of us catching a flight to Calgary, and staying with talented photographer Sue Moodie, as well as her husband/ esteemed angler; Kyle Moodie. Sue and Collin previously worked together on a Flylords Photographer spotlight a few months prior, and she had now decided to extend some world-famous Canadian hospitality, offering us the trip of a lifetime. As quickly as the plan was proposed, we had our plane tickets, as well as wide-eyed aspirations of bull trout and vast mountainscapes.

collin walking
Image courtesy of Sue Moodie Photography

Surrounded by bustling crowds of travelers flowing in all directions, I sat inside the Montreal- Trudeau international airport alone with my phone pressed to my ear. “Conditions are perfect, you guys took a chance with the dates, but it looks like we’re going to have one hell of a week ahead of us,” Kyle assured me as I watched the second hand on my watch tick away the day. With an excited chuckle, I hung up and stuffed my phone back into my pocket. Taking another glance at my watch, I couldn’t help but let a smile crawl across my face… In 4 hours I would be landing in Calgary, Alberta chasing the world-famous bull trout.

Unfortunately, as we would soon learn after landing in Calgary, conditions were NOT perfect. A large storm front would roll in on our arrival and batter the landscape with rain, blowing out the nearby rivers. See, this is not a story of Collin and I landing massive bull trout in front of vast mountainscapes. It’s not about long battles that would have Hemingway turning in his grave. This story is about torrential downpour, broken rods, folded plans, and the best trip of our lives. 

casting for trout
Image courtesy of Sue Moodie Photography

Day 1

As the first day on the road rolled along, we saw no fish. After waking up at 4:00 am and driving two hours in order to find a mountain lake, we caught nothing bigger than a few raindrops on our windshield. However, as the day progressed, the fog and clouds began to part. Rays of sunlight extended down from the sky and bathed the Rocky Mountains in warm light as if to display an artist’s masterpiece. Collin and I glanced around in sheer amazement of the territory we had entered and as we sped down the dirt roads that lined the dried riverbeds, it occurred to us that maybe our reward today would be the gift of this scenery…and that was alright. 

However, about 20 minutes after that Collin hooked onto 2 beautiful cutties to end the day, but that was just a bonus.  

cutthroat trout
Image courtesy of Sue Moodie Photography

Day 2

At 3:30 am the next day, my alarm began to wail. I promptly awoke and rose to look at Collin from across the room. Looking back at me, we nodded our heads and without words sprang out of bed. It was Go-time. Water conditions were still shot on our prospective rivers, however, Kyle and Sue had plan B all lined up. We barreled up the dirt roads yet again, this time climbing in elevation. Once we stopped, Kyle stepped out to prospect the water below, then promptly returned with instruction to rig up and get moving. This landscape was different than what we had experienced prior.

After a steep climb down consisting of many carefully planted steps, the crisp chill of fresh mountain water squeezed our muscles as we entered the river. Kyle positioned Collin and me as he saw fit, and we began fishing a larger pool below a towering waterfall. Soon, I hooked into my first fish. The fish was no larger than 7 inches, but it was the first cutthroat trout I had ever caught. I was ecstatic. 

As the day went on, the entire crew caught a few more fish. Unfortunately, none of them Bull trout. After exploring many more kilometers of magnificent water, we packed up the truck and headed home. Upon arrival, Kyle called into a local Japanese restaurant and ordered up a large tray of sushi. The rest of the evening was spent filled with laughter and indulgence as we blended soy sauce and lager in our gullets. With my first cuttie in the books, and many more on the way, it would have been impossible to label our day a failure. That night, under the gleaming Canadian starlight, salmon sashimi tasted better than bull trout. 

first trout
Image courtesy of Sue Moodie Photography

Day 3

Today was a new day. Kyle had managed to get a hold of his friend Kyle (let’s call him KyleGBS for clarity’s sake), who apparently knew some secret bull trout spots. At 6:00 am we rolled up to KyleGBS’s house. Off we went deep into the unknown regions of Alberta, now with fresh intel. Once we finally settled on a location, we rigged up and began scouting the waters ahead. It didn’t take long before we were on a pristine hole full of hungry cutthroat. Back and forth Collin and I were hooking up on gorgeous trout, and with each one released, a new contender emerged. 

We eventually continued our hike upstream, bringing in the occasional cutty here and there. Then, as we rounded the next river bend, ominous storm clouds began to roll in at about 3:00 pm, and we were a long way from home. We continued our trek for another couple minutes until a bolt of lightning ripped through the sky, quickly followed by an explosion of thunder. A light mist of rain began to fall, and as we stood in the water and weighed our options, we decided to live to fish another day and began our hike back to the car. 

Another day, no bull trout. However, there was a slight pain in my side, right under my ribs. It wasn’t due to ailment or injury, but actually due to laughing so damn hard with Collin and the Kyle’s. Looking back on the day, there wasn’t a single moment we hadn’t spent without grins plastered across our face. With such a fond collection of memories, we pushed the lack of bullies far from concern. 

Collins trout
Image courtesy of Sue Moodie Photography

Day 4 

The day started as all previous had. Under the moonlight, the truck was loaded in silence, and before the sun had a chance to peak over the mountains. We were headed south. Over muffled Waylon Jennings, Collin and I exchanged nervous glances as we were propelled into daybreak. There was a silent understanding amongst every passenger, fully knowing that today was make or break for finally finding bull trout. 

Once we hit the river, it was all business. Kyle brought us over to some violent water feeding into a deep pool, and Sue set up her camera with the discipline of a marine sniper. With ample direction, kyle guided our casts, and we worked the river system up and down. No luck. 

We packed up and rode out another hour. Yet again, we set up shop by a protected turn in the river and began to toss heavily weighted flies into the sapphire blue water. The cutties were biting, and while we certainly couldn’t complain about the beautiful fish that we were pulling from the river, it’s not what we were after. We were so enthralled in the action, We barely batted an eye when Collin’s new rod split into two pieces. As soon as it happened, he had his spare rigged with his line in the water. The man was on a mission.

fish and rod
Image courtesy of Sue Moodie Photography

After a few more trout we packed up again and headed further south. As we hiked, I looked over at Collin and could see the flame of determination raging in his eyes. After about 30 minutes of wading upstream, we began to cast again. I looked downstream to Collin who was honed into a small stretch of water, and watched him for a few seconds. Suddenly, I saw him lurch his rod to the sky. His tip bent at a 90-degree angle and he started to shout. It was clear…this was no cutty. I began to sprint over to him as the fight persisted. He tugged and pulled, line whizzing out of his reel. He danced around on the river bank, angling himself so that the fish couldn’t shoot downstream. Then, it happened. 

Suddenly his line went loose. He fell back into the dirt. He snapped his head up and began to look around in a combination of disbelief and dismay. I approached him timidly, wondering what emotions were about to present themselves. He stood up, brushed the gravel off his waders, and brought in his fly. On the end of the hook, was a grey maxillary section…aka, the lip of a bull trout. There was zero denying it, the fish on the end of his line was a bull trout, and due to nothing other than poor fortune, we never got to see it out of water. Collin collected himself and looked at me, he was clearly broken, but certainly not about to show it. Truthfully, I believed he felt more heartbroken to have hurt such a beautiful fish, as opposed to losing it.

collin in the canyon
Image courtesy of Sue Moodie Photography

The rest of the day was filled with gorgeous landscapes, perfect weather, and lots of cutthroat. Unfortunately, no Bull trout. As we made our way back to the house for the final time that evening, there was a slight essence of disappointment, but there was no silence or mourning. Laughter and loud music filled the cabin as we rolled by acres of yellow flowers and mountain landscapes only found in paintings.

Fishing stories like these usually end with the main characters finally collecting all their whits and making the perfect cast, thus finally enticing the legendary record-breaking trout to take their fly. Then, they are sent barreling home spouting war cries as they celebrate their monumental achievement. But that’s not what this story is about.

No, this fishing story ends with a few new friends sitting down and having a delicious beer, reminiscing on the unparalleled experiences they had together. This fishing story ends with Knowledge gained and friendships made. It ends with the memories collected of side-splitting inside jokes that could never be repeated, of mountainscapes towering in the distance over newly hatched mayflies buzzing off of the water. Of a plethora of beautiful trout caught on techniques never before known. Of connections so strong and genuine, one contemplates the meaning of fly fishing in an all-new fashion. Of the beauty that can be found in taking a deep breath, moving forward, and finding the beauty in plan B.

wills and collin
Image courtesy of Sue Moodie Photography

Flylords would like to thank Sue and Kyle Moodie for their unparalleled hospitality. Without them, we would have never been able to obtain the incredible experiences that we were so lucky to have been a part of, as well as would have not gained such a gorgeous archive of photographs and memories. Please check out Sue’s other work Here.

Images courtesy of Sue Moodie Photography

Story by Flylords team member Wills Donaldson 

Special thanks to Collin Terchanik, Sue Moodie, Kyle Moodie, and Flylords for making this trip possible!

Photographer Spotlight: Sue Moodie

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