Anglers and gardeners watch the seasons and weather more closely than most other mortals, and they all have the same word for this year so far: weird.
Even the dog days of summer are late this year.
This is the name we commonly give to the hottest period of the year, reckoned by the ancients from the heliacal (near the sun) rising of Sirius, the Dog Star, usually in mid-July.
The gardeners are delighted by the current long, dry, hot spell making up for a long, cold spring, and are so busy harvesting vine-ripened tomatoes and ripe corn that some are actually praying for the merciful end of a killing frost.
Anglers, however, are not happy.
Yet again we had high, cold waters in the early season, then a brief spell of good conditions with some decent aquatic insect hatches, even occasional rising trout. But that brief period segued into these long, hot, glaringly bright and dreaded dog days, where the water is too low, clear and warm, and the trout siesta wherever they can find a shady hidey-hole.
Judging by the lack of rigs parked in the usual places along many of central Alberta’s trout streams, hordes of anglers have written off the 2009 season.
The diehards wait and yearn for what is sometimes the best trout fishing of the year, when the air and water cool off and you get some cloudy, maybe even drizzly days that bring on hatches of the tiny Baetis, blue-winged olive mayflies and eager trout rising to eat them.
Other fall anglers hunt for trout that are keyed on terrestrial insects — grasshoppers, ants, beetles — hoping also to encounter just one of those odd clowns of troutdom that try to catch flitting dragonflies, sometimes even grounding themselves on the bank in the process.
But there are few grasshoppers, the ants all seem to have gone to bedevil the gardeners, and there are even fewer dragonflies than usual at this time of year.
There will be lots of beetles, members of one of the world’s larger insect families, and when things cool down a little I expect fly fishermen will do well with beetle patterns.
The good fish tales lately are few and far between.
One angler got superb fishing earlier on for small, feisty bull trout at the top end of Elk Creek. That is good to hear, because it was one of my favourite spots years ago, before we were hit with the Alberta bull trout crisis.
More recently a female fly fisher took some good brown trout, fishing hopper patterns along remote, undercut “grasshopper banks” where there were actually a few hoppers buzzing, jumping, and occasionally landing in the water.
Suffice I have been fielding more reader requests than usual for suggestions of where to go for some decent late-season fishing.
The under-rated Clearwater River, when it finally “unmuddies” for the year, can provide excellent fishing for brown trout moving and stacking up in the river’s braided side channels where they will spawn in late October, through November.
Hiking down the Tay River to where it runs into the Clearwater should show the angler big rising browns in the side channels of the Clearwater, mostly upstream of the Tay.
Not up to the hike? Floating the Clearwater from the Hwy 22 bridge down to the bridge straight south of Rocky Mountain House can get an angler into side channels with big browns stacked up in them.
As usual, whenever I mention this float, I have to add this caveat: nobody should risk his life floating any stretch of the Clearwater upstream of the Hwy. 22 bridge.
Another reliable place to encounter rising brown trout from about mid-August through September is just below Dickson Dam on the Red Deer River, where the browns, moving upstream to spawn are stopped by the dam. One caveat here is that these may be the most educated trout in Alberta and regularly drive anglers, including me, nuts trying to figure them out, while they carry on blissfully rising for and eating something.
The other caveat is that the limit from the dam and for a long way down the Red Deer is zero, both for brown trout and walleyes, and is one of the more patrolled pieces of water in Alberta by wildlife officers who regularly bag a mess of poachers.
That said, many anglers, while they understand the need for the zero limit on the introduced brown trout, are absolutely outraged by the zero walleye limit. The river downstream of the dam, they claim, teems with all age classes of walleyes, including many truly trophy specimens.
But fresh walleye is also one of the great fish delicacies, and the majority of lawful anglers wonder why the poachers should be the only ones who get to eat walleye. I hear that same angler complaint year round about many Central Alberta lakes.
Bob Scammell is an award-winning outdoors writer living in Red Deer.