Sometimes messages are taped to the Stump Ranch gate, mainly dealing with the neighbourhood outdoors news: how the hunting, fishing or foraging have been lately. In season there will occasionally be the gift of a package of morels to prove they are up and around.
Apparently this stuff is interesting to certain others, because a friend reported a wildlife officer reading my gate-mail a couple of falls ago.
The best of these messages are invitations, such as the most recent one from my friends, Ken Short, wondering if I would like to do a float.
The cabin is about three mile as the raven flaps from Cow Lake, where an horrendous hailstorm hit about midnight on Aug. 2, and I arranged with Ken to do a float right after an insurance adjuster had finished his work on the cabin roof. As I was shuttling the adjuster out and back to his vehicle, we met Ken coming in with his double pontoon raft on top of his rig.
While we munched an early lunch, Ken and I reviewed the possibilities for a short drift fishing float on running water. Our own creek was just too low and other, bigger waters were easily floatable, but were also so low that the places to get a boat in or out and to get ourselves (mainly me) in or out of the boat were iffy. Eventually we settled on some fishing at Mitchell Lake, just up the road, to the west.
Neither of us knows much about lake fishing, but the regulations confirmed it was open to angling and Ken had heard that some brown trout had been planted there, in addition to the rainbow trout, in the hopes that the aeration project would increase winter survival and eventually produce some truly trophy trout.
The last time I fished Mitchell was years ago when it was all brook trout and Ward Falkner, then a biology instructor at Red Deer College, showed me how to catch a mess of them with the heresy of a Mepps spinner tipped with a worm and retrieved deep and slow.
When we got to the boat launch on Sept. 18, it was as fine a June afternoon as we never get in June anymore. The turning leaves on the shores glowed in that thin fall sunlight. We’d hardly cleared the lily pads when I got two hits to my weighted, black Short Booger.
No fair attacking me when I wasn’t quite ready yet! Both trout slipped the barbless hook, as did several others, so I switched to a more lightly weighted #12 Hot-wired Whole Squirrel Hide, a tie of mine that superficially resembles and parodies the legendary Gold-ribbed Hare’s Ear.
Trout were rising here and there, to nothing at all as far as we could see, a quite usual phenomenon on lakes, my lake fishing friends tell me. The rises were mostly swirls, with no lingering air bubble which often indicates the fish is gulping air along with an insect right on the surface. We concluded these trout were taking some form of insect just under the surface. Ken tied on a Despickable, a beetle — backswimmer imitation of mine that is designed to float in the surface film and in which Ken has a great deal of faith.
Eventually we hit the winning drill for that day: cast to a rise, and then retrieve the fly very slowly. The hits were hard and most of the trout stuck to the barbless hooks, even those that leaped high and hard when stuck. Between us in little more than two hours fishing, we took and released about a dozen and a half trout, mostly rainbows, except for two brown trout I caught, including one of 46 cm that we had to snip out of the noose of discarded nylon line that was cutting him.
A few other anglers on the lake, using a variety of unmotorized craft, all seemed to be getting some action, but maybe not as fast as ours.
It was a good day, the fastest action I have had on a lake since the last day of the World Fly Fishing Championship in England in 1987. Ken and I had done no trolling whatever, confining ourselves to casting to risers, and took all our trout on two of the small cadre of original fly designs of mine. Could lake fishing get even better than this?
Consistently over many years, whenever anyone asked me about the fishing at this or that lake, I have replied that I didn’t know much about lakes because I didn’t fish them much. When asked to explain why, my glib answer has always been that I was not yet old enough to fish lakes.
But I have always known that lake fishing could be challenging and, like all fishing, satisfying and sometimes rewarding. Maybe it’s time to take up lake fishing seriously; maybe now I’m old enough.
Bob Scammell is an award-winning outdoors writer living in Red Deer.