This year, for the first time in almost ever, I considered cancelling the annual April 1 trip to the West Country, simply because the deep snow and mostly freezing temperatures guaranteed there would be nothing going on out there and nobody in his right mind for me to do it with.
Alberta law decrees that both black bear and fishing seasons open April 1 out there, whether or not there are any bears awake and stupid enough to be out of their dens yet, or any water legally and in fact open and flowing. But and a man should both honour tradition and obey the law and go fishing and hunting when the law says you may, not must.
The change of mind and final decision to go was made on April 1, which came up nicer and sunnier than any day I can remember since early December, but its April Fool was a forecast for more snow and cold the next day. This might be spring, my alter-ego, Almighty Mouth, warned me, “let’s get out and enjoy it while it lasts.”
That reminded me that my old friend, Tom O’Keefe, was known in Canadian Wildlife Federation circles as Almighty Voice for his booming and sometimes abrasive tones. Tom, the second oldest of Alberta Fish and Game Presidents in terms of age and when he served, died on March 14th in Calgary, just before his 83rd birthday.
During the period 1971 to 1977, I served two years as the AFGA’s and Tom’s first vice-president, and he served as immediate past president during my two year presidency. During that time we, and the AFGA were working hard on the establishment of the restoration of the North Raven River as Alberta’s first, and most highly successful, Bucks for Wildlife project.
Yet another of our many blizzards this winter prevented me from attending Tom’s wake in Calgary, so it seemed appropriate that I should remember him while taking one of my April first slaloms up the North Raven from the Hwy 54 bridge 17 miles upstream to Leavitt Springs, its source.
Over the years, I have found that spring seems to come first in the unique micro-climate near this tiny spring creek.
Actually the first signs of spring were in the front yard in Red Deer, where a couple of too-early robins were getting drunk on fermented mountain ash berries, and their appearance had brought back the merlin with his strident, monotonous, and ominous breakfast song.
Four Canada geese were in a holding pattern over Penhold, circling, looking for somewhere to land. I quit worrying about them when the Red Deer River surprised me by being open and flowing at the Penhold Bridge. There were no Poissons d’Avril, (April Fish), as the French more politely call April Fool’s, out there trying their luck and risking their lives with the ice shelves and floes, because the river here is closed to angling until May 20.
The North Raven River is a popular angler destination at this time of year because it is legally open and its upper two or three miles remain open and flowing all year.
In all my Central Alberta years I can’t remember the North Raven being frozen as far downstream on April 1 as it was this year. Thus, I did not see the parked rigs of two of my favourite April Fish parked where they could bushwhack in to some great ice-out streamer fishing.
Even in the merrily flowing upper regions there were no angler signs, no parked rigs, no wallowing troughs through the deep streamside drifts; unusual for such a sunny day. There was a lone, muddy rig parked at the Buck for Wildlife lot, an ambiguous sign; the owner could merely have been patronizing one of the deluxe biffys.
Farther west was even worse. I did not even try to drive in to the Stump Ranch, nor even attempt to plow in to one of my favorite ice-out spring fishing holes, because I listened carefully in a couple of places, and Prairie Creek was not making any wake-up creaks and groans. I confess I looked at the trail, then wisely decided not to low-range the way in — just for a peek — to a tiny, un-named spring creek where, on past April Fish trips, I have taken small, rising brook trout on dry flies.
I did see another two geese pecking the residue on a cattle feed lot, otherwise the list of signs of spring that were not there is the long one: no raptors anywhere, nor any gophers skipping over the drifts for them to eat, no azure streaks of flying bluebirds, no mourning cloak butterflies flitting in the sunshine.
A favourite April Fish checked in and explained his absence was caused, uncharacteristically, by having to work. He did get out a couple of days later near Canmore, and got some action, including a 50-cm brown trout. Patience, faith, courage everyone, . . . it’s coming.
Bob Scammell is award-winning outdoors writer living in Red Deer.