Has it really been more than a decade that my faithful old Jon boat has been out of commission?
It has to have been at least that long because it was when I bought my first vehicle without the rain gutters essential to anchoring a dedicated boat rack that I no longer had a means of transporting the craft. This is a 12-foot aluminum Smokercraft, an ideal car-topper, and, over the years, through two rain-guttered diesel Landcruisers, it took me and my friends on many great float fishing adventures, many times on big water, the Bow, Red Deer and Clearwater Rivers, but also on small to tiny waters where you wondered if you were going to end up walking.
But Jon always came through: it floats on heavy dew and something on board to chop, saw and hack through hazards to navigation took care of the rest.
Now, suddenly, the purchase of a truck by my son, John, that he was sure would easily transport Jon, activated in the kid that Huck Finn virus that infects many of us, giving rise to strong desires to go float, maybe even fish some river or another. So, suddenly, after all this time out of service, the old boat was to be re-commissioned, as they say in naval circles — after evicting the wasps, of course.
Surprisingly, most of the gear to convert Jon into a fly fishing drift boat was right where it should be. The oars with oarlocks attached were up under the garage rafters and the flotation vests were on hooks on the wall. Even the swivel seats and the planks they mount on, for anchoring with C-clamps to Jon’s gunnels, to give a fly caster from a boat some of that essential extra altitude, remained where stowed on shelves all those years ago.
In mid-week (to avoid the weekend tuber armada), just after lunch on the first fine day in mid-August after 10 low-pressure days of grey skies, fog, rain and drizzle, we launched from the re-built bare bones ramp at Fort Normandeau. While I waited with the boat for daughter-in-law, Darlene, to shuttle John back from our take-out just below the Golf and Country Club, I amused myself by rebuilding my leader and rigging up a fly rod and was entertained by a murder of crows loudly killing each other over the few really plump and prime saskatoons on riverside bushes.
According to the Red Deer guides I consult, we were probably two days too soon and seven hours early on this day. Lows always send the river’s brown trout into deep sulks that generally last for two or three days after the pressures rises. The only good fishing reported had been coming at 9 to 10 p.m. to varied caddis hatches mixed with a few late brown drakes.
But we just wanted a short float to see if John could still row a drift boat to suit a fly fisherman, and if our old Jon boat still held water (out) and we didn’t want to be on the water at or after dark in case he couldn’t or it didn’t.
Grasshoppers were buzzing here and there on the banks, so I was casting a Le Tort Hopper with a small nymph dropper. But the only fish seen were schools of tiny Rocky Mountain Whitefish pitting the surface like raindrops. No matter, I had high hopes for a spot just below the QE2 bridges.
But just as the spot came in sight, John asked “what in —-’s that?” and I suddenly remembered: “it’s the Oriole Park Wall.” This is an eyesore of 800 meters of Class 2 rip rap (a wide boulder wall at least two meters high) along the base of a cliff on the north bank below Maskepetoon Park. It was approved and licensed by a March 22, 2007 final decision of the Canada Environment Assessment Agency and built by the City of Red Deer at a cost of who knows how much “to provide erosion protection for a proposed subdivision at Oriole Park.” The CEAA said “the project is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects.”
Well, maybe, but it has sure made it impossible to fish one of the great holes on the Red Deer River from the bank. In his younger days, the late Kerry Wood would hike up there to fish for goldeye. I used to ride my mountain bike up the old trail and hike down a gulch to fish for brown trout, goldeye and walleye.
There have been days when we have spent two hours fishing this hole from a drift boat and taking some nice browns, but on this day, nothing. But never mind.
We landed without old Jon having shipped a drop of water: the future looks good for other and longer float fishing trips.
Bob Scammell is an award-winning outdoors writer living in Red Deer.