Fly fishing heaven with a stone fly hatch

The window above me is awhirl with the 10th micro blizzard of our third awful April in a row.

An Early Brown Stone on a male aspen flower. Pure luxury on the North Raven.

The window above me is awhirl with the 10th micro blizzard of our third awful April in a row.

Then, onto the computer screen, comes a cheerful reminder from Elisabeth Beaubien, Alberta Plantwatch coordinator: “Might you have one or more bloom dates from 2008 you could share with me?” Yes, I have a dozen and a half recorded in my ’08 fishing diary and I’ll submit them as soon as I get this column done.

Attached was the annual spring newsletter of Alberta Plantwatch, featuring colour pictures of many of the wildflowers designated in the program, and a summary of more than 1,200 wildflower blooming date observations from 103 observers throughout the province.

For the third alleged spring in a row the selected comments from ’08 are full of cold and grey and late: “trying spring,” “funny summer,” “slow,” “sparse,” “everything two to three weeks behind.” Wildflower blooming dates are influenced somewhat by light intensity, but much more by ambient temperature.

The hatching dates of aquatic insects that bring good fishing are likewise affected, which is why I record wildflower blooming dates in my fishing diary — to make the phenological-phishing connections, which will faithfully take place, even in yet another slow spring: when certain wild plants bloom, certain aquatic insects will hatch.

Sure enough, the first reports of really good spring fishing come from the Crowsnest River where several amazed readers report fantastic dry fly fishing to decent hatches, even in blustery, blowy spells. It sounds to me like Blue-winged olive mayflies hatching, and I’ll bet the aspen buds are getting ready to burst into leaf, which always, for me, foretells BWO hatches, especially on cool, blustery spring days.

Next, from the North Raven River come breathless reports of good dry fly fishing to an amazing “new” Skwala hatch. Well, I’m betting it is not new and that the bugs are not Skwala stoneflies, either — I have reported before on the tendency of modern anglers to christen as “Skwala” any aquatic insect they can’t remember having seen before. The Red Deer River has a great, true, Skwala hatch which generally occurs when the chokecherries are in full bloom along the river about the third week in May.

In the current North Raven case they can be forgiven, because what they probably have here are good hatches of the maddeningly occasional stonefly commonly called the “Early Brown Stone.” I have macro pictures of these creatures posed on pussy willows from the last time I encountered them (and fish feeding on them) on the North Raven many years ago.

The best hatch of Early Brown Stones I ever fished was more recent than that, but also several years ago, on the Central Alberta brown trout stream I fish most, on a bright sunny day just as the ice was goning out and when the male aspen flowers were in full bloom. The mid-size stoneflies were mating, the females were dropping onto the water and laying their eggs as they skittered for shore, which few of them reached before being gulped by big brown trout.

Never before, and never since have I seen an Early Brown Stone hatch like that on that stream, though I have haunted it now for 45 years. Some day I’ll find an expert who can explain how that can be.

Spring winds will bring out kids and kites, but no expert is needed to tell that the kite launched recently by that big kid, Dr. Ted Morton, minister of sustainable resource development, just ain’t going to fly: the proposal that the sandhill crane be opened to hunting. The people who contact me are outraged, most by the danger of crane confusion with the rare and recently more endangered than ever whooping cranes, which can also be found in Alberta. But then we recently declared as provincial mushroom a species that can easily be confused with Alberta’s deadliest mushroom.

My objection is that there are not now enough waterfowl hunters left to control the many species of waterfowl they can hunt now. The out-of-control Canada goose is a case in point.

One canny reader wondered what you do with a sandhill crane once you’ve got one: “are those stringy-looking buggers any good to eat?” Well, I have to confess that, for the first time ever, the most inclusive of all fish and game cook books has failed me: The L.L Bean Game & Fish Cookbook contains no recipe for sandhill crane. There are lots of wild goose recipes, but I have sworn off: the last two I roasted were tougher than boiled owl.

Speaking of owls, I recently attended a meeting watched over by Otis, the great horned owl mascot and major domo of the Medicine River Wildlife Centre, where I learned of a long new government list of wildlife that cannot be rehabilitated and legally returned to the wild because of alleged disease concerns.Meanwhile Alberta continues to allow and even promote game ranching, arguably the focii of infection for Chronic Wasting Disease, perhaps the greatest threat North American wildlife has ever faced.

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

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