Are the Red Deer browns in trouble?

Recent columns have drawn considerable reader comment and queries about the Red Deer River tailwater and its recovery and that of its creatures — mainly its formerly rich biomass of aquatic insects and its developing trophy brown trout fishery — from the ravages of the “200-year flood” exactly four years ago.

Recent columns have drawn considerable reader comment and queries about the Red Deer River tailwater and its recovery and that of its creatures — mainly its formerly rich biomass of aquatic insects and its developing trophy brown trout fishery — from the ravages of the “200-year flood” exactly four years ago.

The bugs seem to be back en masse, although their hatches are running two to three weeks later than usual owing to this dark, cold “spring.”

No sooner was I able to confirm that, finally, the chokecherries were in full bloom on the river’s banks than several angling readers took my advice to be there then and were reporting that, at last, the tailwater’s famous Skwala stoneflies were hatching.

But the eternal-infernal winds were blowing the Skwalas off the water and away from the trout; when the wind would subside briefly the stoneflies would return and get down to their egg-laying on the surface and the big trout would gulp them like tossed peanuts.

That keenest of all observers of the tailwater, guide Garry Pierce, reports the heaviest Skwala hatch he has ever experienced on June 1st, by far the latest he can recall. He is excited about the future of the river as a trophy brown trout fishery with such an abundance of fish fodder.

Well, maybe, but still I worry about the absence of younger age classes of browns in the river and if the surviving big spawners can breed them back into abundance, and the annual redd counts (brown trout “nests” the spawning trout scour into the gravel) for the four years since the ’05 disaster justify my worries.

In the fall of ’05, after the flood, the redds counted were down to 208 from the high of 547 in ’04. The redd numbers rose to 254 in ’06 and to 296 in ’07, then crashed to only 173 last fall, the lowest since 1999.

I am pondering possible reasons for the most recent drop.

Without really having had a spring yet, an important sign of fall landed in my mailbox a few days ago: the annual Hunting Draws booklet for the 2009 seasons, with its reminders that the deadline for applying for most draws is June 25th.

Many readers know that in most years the first half of June is absolutely critical to the hatching success of upland game birds.

Several readers have asked what I am hearing from pheasant country. The answer is absolutely nothing, and I am almost afraid to pack up my Brittany, Beau, and head south and east for “spring” training and the chance it gives us to assess what the cold spring has done to hatching success.

Last June’s trip was sad.

We found no young of the year because broods had sickened and died from the heavy rains just as the chicks were leaving the nests. The few second-nesting adults we found were mostly in alfalfa fields, a prescription for death when it comes time for the first hay cut.

There was a time when nothing could drive me crazier than the old chestnut that what we have here is a temperate climate.

Now I hear people exploding when they are told that the three lousy springs in a row are all because of global warming causing climate change.

What change? I ask. As far back as I can remember, the climate in this country has always been lousy and too intemperate: too wet, too dry, too hot, too cold, too you-name-it.

But Beau and I should probably steel ourselves and take the traditional June trip to Brooks.

If the pheasant hatch is late we can always chase the story a couple of faithful readers have tipped me on and find out what happened in the court case of pheasant hunters from B.C. caught and charged last fall with having in possession grossly over their limits of pheasants.

We could always take the long way around and see if Pincher Creek is fishable on its June 16th opening day for the first time in three or four years. Farther west, up in the Crowsnest Pass, Vic Bergman of Crowsnest Angler reports that the famous salmon fly hatch has started on the Crowsnest River, but fishing it was day-to-day, and more snow was expected, not to mention that, if it ever warms up, high runoff from the big snow pack in the high country will roil the waters. Summit Lake will remain clear and has been fishing well for triploid (eunuch) rainbow trout running to 3.5 kg

Over the Pass to the west, Fernie and waters in the vicinity will be hosting the 7th National Fly Fishing Championship and Conservation Symposium Sept. 21 -26.

The choice of dates has to be an act of blind courage, considering what the “temperate” climate in that area frequently serves up about the time of the fall equinox.

Bob Scammell is an awarding-winning outdoors writer living in Red Deer.

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