The Elk River is famous for some of the best dry fly fishing in North America. Fly-fishers come from all over the world to cast a line in this largely undiscovered river as it flows through the majestic Canadian Rockies from melting glacial ice high above Elk Lakes Provincial Park some 90 miles North of Fernie British Columbia.
The Elk River and its tributaries are home to native wild Westslope Cutthroat and Bull Trout. Large numbers of Kamloops Rainbows can also be found in streams flowing into the Elk, and are considered to be the highest jumping trout in the world.
The Elk has great hatches, so a day’s Cutthroat fish count can be high on dries. Often the excitement of reeling in a fifteen inch wild Cut can end up your “fish tale” to take back home, as often times a huge Bull will seemingly come out of nowhere to swallow your trout whole, and you have an entirely different fight on your hands. Bull Trout are roving predators of clear, cold water lakes and rivers of the Northwestern United States and Canada. That orange gill wild Cutthroat jumping on end of your line, is a carrot on a stick to one of these fresh water sharks, which can reach lengths of over three feet.
Growing up in a little Montana town just eight miles south of the Canadian border, I made many trips with my parents, to the picturesque alpine style village of Fernie BC. Most often these trips were made to visit the dentist. Dental work was, and still is, much less expensive in Canada than in the states. Now, the weekly allowance I invested in those two-for-a-penny bags of candy of my youth, has matured into a two-for-the-price-of-one root canal. So decades later, on a gorgeous Indian summer day in early October 2012, I am on my way to Fernie, driving past boats of fly-fishers as they drift lazily along the Elk River, casting to greedy West Slope Cuts through clouds of caddis flies. I can’t help thinking, the two hours of torture I am paying big bucks for in the dentist chair; is almost equivalent to the cost of two full days in a drift boat.
The sun is almost dead-center in a clear cobalt blue sky as I walk out of the dentist office dabbing drool from the corner of lips that feel the size of baseball gloves. Since I had to drive back over the border, I was required to wait in Fernie until the Novocain wore off. Lunch was out, so I decide to drive down to a nearby river access to watch fly-fishers drift by.
I walked through a parking lot and down to the river’s edge. The Elk is quite shallow here with nature’s cobbled freestone rock bed clearly visible from where I stood. The pleasant aroma of vanilla pipe tobacco came to me first, drifting on the ever so slight crisp fall breeze, before I spotted the pipe-smoking fly-fisher, almost knee deep in gin clear water halfway off shore. The fisherman with the pipe clenched firmly in his mouth, was watching for the slightest rise, with a relaxed yet intent focus. This scene combined for what I thought would be the perfect subject for an Elk River blog page, and I excitedly pulled my camera out of my shoulder bag.
My subject had a concerted clench on his pipe, while at the same time ever so softly and perfectly presenting a dry fly up-stream. I did not want to interrupt his concentration to ask consent for a photo, and started snapping shots. He remained totally unaware of my presence as I followed him along the river bank. Suddenly, I was startled by a woman’s rather blunt questioning voice coming from off my left shoulder. The question “are you stalking my husband?” caught me completely off guard, and I turned around to stare speechless for a few seconds. Through still numb swollen lips, I apologized and went on to explain that I really was not a stalker, just an amateur photographer, who works as a chef, booking fly-fishers into a lodge just south of the border.
She smiled, and told me she and her husband lived in Georgia, and as he was an avid fly-fisher, many of their vacations were planned around fly-fishing destinations. She would spend her time while he was fishing, shopping in nearby towns, or as on this day, reading in the shade. We talked for several minutes, then she asked me to follow her, and took me down to the river’s edge, where she cupped her hands to her mouth, and yelled at her husband “Rick, catch a fish for this lady, she would like to take your photo!”
I took another series of photos, yet now, as somewhat posed for; they did not turn out as well as my previous “stalking” shots. After a half dozen casts resulting in a nice cutthroat, the fly-fisher reeled in, took the pipe out of his mouth, and with a pleasant smile on his face, waded out. He chuckled when made aware of his wife’s and my confrontation on the river bank, and then when shown the results of my unintentionally illicit photos, requested copies to be sent to his email address. His email username “The Fish Whisperer” became the perfect theme name for my Elk River fly-fisher, so intently and serenely, involved in guiltless “catch and release” stalking of his own. We exchanged contact information and parted with the promise to connect the next time they visited the Northwest.
Before heading back across the border, I had one stop to make. Although cringing a little at the thought of anything sweet, now that my Novocain had worn off, I made a stop at the duty-free store, to purchase a bottle of 100 percent pure French Canadian maple syrup. A sweet guilty pleasure, that to me, although expensive, there is no substitute for.
For 6am breakfasts at fishing lodges, I came up with inventive ways to save time by prepping the night before. My loaf pan pre-made “slice and grill” method of making French toast, added an extra half an hour of time to my seasonally sleep- deprived, internal clock.
“A Piece of Cake” French Canadian Toast
This French toast loaf may also be served still warm out of the oven as a coffee cake.
4 large eggs
2 cups heavy cream
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon Saigon cinnamon
1 Tablespoon butter or margarine
18 slices day-old bread (be sure the slices are the same width as your loaf pan). Slices from a standard loaf of bread fit perfectly, or you may trim larger bread slices to fit.
2 Tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ cup melted butter
1/4 cup sliced almonds or pine nuts (optional)
Cooking time: 40 to 45 minutes
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees
- Beat eggs well. Whisk in cream. Add brown sugar, cinnamon and vanilla beating until the batter is smooth and lump free.
- Spray the bottom of a 9 inch by 5 inch loaf pan with non-stick vegetable spray. Cut parchment paper to fit (bottom only). Butter or spray the bottom and sides of pan.
- Dip slices of bread in French toast batter, one or two at a time (coating well). Do not saturate the slices until soggy. If you do not have slightly dried out bread, you may dry it out in a 200 degree oven for 15 minutes. Stack bread slices in prepared loaf pan (as illustrated). Depending on the thickness of your bread slices, you may need fewer slices to tightly fill the pan.
- Mix brown sugar and cinnamon topping together and sprinkle over cake. Drizzle on butter. Top with sliced almonds or pine nuts.
- Cover with aluminum foil and bake for twenty minutes. Remove foil, and bake an additional 20 to 25 minutes. Test the center of cake with a knife. The knife should come out clean.
Let the loaf of French toast cake cool in the pan to room temperature. Invert on a cooling rack and remove paper. Wrap the loaf and refrigerate. This loaf may be kept for two to three days in the refrigerator. After it has cooled in the refrigerator, it may also be sliced, wrapped, and frozen for later use.
When ready to serve, brown cake slices in a lightly sprayed skillet or grill on medium high heat. Serve hot with butter, real maple syrup, and if desired, fresh seasonal fruit.