A ‘staycation’ from heaven — except for the turbines

We recently yielded to the recession “staycation” concept being so heavily promoted by our government and ventured for a family summer trip to contrary country, the southwest corner of the province generally and Herself’s family ranch near Pincher Creek in particular.

Wind farms such as this one in southwestern Alberta are an eyesore to this writer.

Wind farms such as this one in southwestern Alberta are an eyesore to this writer.

We recently yielded to the recession “staycation” concept being so heavily promoted by our government and ventured for a family summer trip to contrary country, the southwest corner of the province generally and Herself’s family ranch near Pincher Creek in particular.

As usual we found new and rediscovered old manifestations of the old saying: “that’s what we like about the south.”

One of the great pleasures of this trip for us is to travel south on scenic Hwy 22 to where it meets Hwy 3 near Lundbreck. There are superb restaurants en route, and we always plan to be near one of them at lunch time.

This time we reluctantly went by the Route 40 Soup Co. on 22 through Turner Valley to try the Chuckwagon Café, a block away and what has been touted to us as the best hamburger in Alberta. We had the House Burger, featuring caramelized onions, mushrooms and an excellent relish, but it is the Alberta AAA organic beef patty that makes it the best, full of flavour and tender. The café sells various cuts of this superb beef to take home, including ground at $3 a pound.

From Lundbreck, east through Cowley, Alberta’s most majestic mountain-foothills vistas are now marred by at least twice as many eyesore wind turbines as I can remember from my last trip, looking like a plague of gigantic spiders crawling the flanks of the front range.

One unmarred sight is Alberta’s longest-standing and friendliest landowner’s gate sign on the south side of Hwy 3 just west of Lundbreck inviting anglers to walk across the lease to fish some superb water on the Crowsnest River: “Please do Not Disturb the livestock or fences. Park to the side of the gate. HAPPY FISHING! Thanks. Al & Shirl.”

This is country for the exploring angler and there seemed to be as much cross-border hopping as usual, back and forth over the nearby Crowsnest Pass to and from the superb cutthroat and bull trout waters near Fernie, B.C., to and from the rich rainbow, cutthroat and bull trout waters of south western Alberta. A typical example is Randy Tucker of Richmond, VA., who contacted me after reading a piece of mine in Angling Report. He came first to the Alberta side many years ago, fell in love with the area and its friendly people, and now returns for an extended period almost every year and continues exploring the good fishing on both sides of the Crowsnest Pass, in Alberta and B.C.

A must first stop for me on any trip down here is Vic Bergman’s The Crowsnest Angler at the east entrance to Bellevue off Hwy 3. The shop has a fine new look this year, having been expanded 30 to 40 per cent by an addition to the old house in which the shop has always been located.

Vic and his guides do trips into B.C. on the Elk and tributaries, including an amazing walk-and-wade on an un-nameable tributary to an Elk tributary son John and I once took with one of Vic’s then guides, Joe Cunningham, who now lives in Pincher Creek and hand crafts fine cold smoked salmon, trout pates, etc.

On the Alberta side, Vic and his guides offer an amazing range and variety of float trips on the Oldman, Castle and Waterton Rivers, although these floats will soon end because of the annual low water period and they will concentrate on Elk River float trips in B.C.

The shop also offers walk and wades on the Crowsnest River and other less well-known waters such as the Livingstone River and other tributaries to the Oldman and also into the high country lakes.

Speaking of lakes, Vic’s hot tip is Summit Lake, just over the B.C border which, at least in the early season, was producing sumo wrestler-shaped triploid rainbows, reaching eight pounds at 24 to 26 inches. Vic Bergman may be contacted at his fly shop, The Crowsnest Angler Fly Shop & Guide Service, info@crowsnestangler.com, by phone, toll-free 1-800-267-1778; the website is www.crowsnestangler.com.

A few days before our trip a wide area down here got a short, sharp dump of 10 cm of rain when everywhere else in Alberta was moaning drought: this is contrary country, after all. The first night in sister-in-law, Caroline’s, house on the ranch, everyone was awakened by heavy rain, and horrendous thunder and lightning.

At first light I was up and out on my usual trip into Pincher Creek for the papers and to road hunt for pictures. The sun rose scarlet, filtered through smoke from the Kelowna fires. Rain over, deer were out feeding everywhere: all my favoured mule deer and only one white-tail, which delights me; the bucks still in velvet.

Worrisome, though, was my personal confirmation over three mornings of an observation Caroline had made early on, that she has not seen one fawn this year: either did I, though I carefully scrutinized herds of as many as 20 mule deer does.

(Concluded next week)

Bob Scammell is an award-winning outdoors writer from Red Deer.