June monsoons interfere with a man’s fishing with old friends. This being the first June in four years where the monsoon hasn’t come yet, or is late, Jim McLennan drove up from Okotoks to spend a couple of days with me at the Stump Ranch.
I first fished with Jim 35 years ago, when he, with Russell Thornberry, pioneered what is now the guiding industry on the Bow River. Since then, Jim has been a partner in Country Pleasures store in Calgary and has published four books, The Blue Ribbon Bow, Trout Streams of Alberta, Fly Fishing Western Trout Streams, and Water Marks, a collection of his magazine journalism. He now keeps body and soul together with more magazine writing, offering, with spouse Lynda, a long and varied list of fly fishing schools, and playing occasional guitar gigs.
Jim arrived on the most perfect June day I can recall since June 16th, 2005, that being the day when all rivers and streams in Central Alberta were “blown out,” as anglers say, by the “200-year flood,” thick and brown as milk chocolate and higher than area old-timers had ever seen. By contrast, the creek was now almost low, its water just slightly clouded by recent moderate rains, perfect conditions for an angler after brown trout.
We were expecting hatches of stoneflies, either salmon flies, or golden stones, so Jim headed out after lunch the first day to fish a long, rocky stretch of the creek, perfect habitat for creatures called stoneflies. I headed out and upstream, scouting for hatching insects and trout rising to eat them; but I saw no sign of either.
When he returned to the cabin after six hours for a dinner of Stump Ranch Choucroute Garnie, Jim wore a wide grin.
“Good day?” I asked.
“It’s the same old creek it ever was,” he replied, “… weird.”
The creek and its trout are widely-known as manic-depressive: difficult, down and dour most of the time, with occasional manic sessions, mostly during big aquatic insect hatches, when an angler fortunate enough to be there can have his best day ever.
But on this day we agreed that the trout were acting sated, like they do the day after stuffing themselves on a big hatch. Could there have been a big hatch of something the night before? Jim recalled that on “his” river, the Crowsnest, the green drake mayfly is regarded as a pitch dark hatch and that on his other river, the lower Bow, there is a big hatch of a “new” stonefly that always occurs in the dead of night. On this creek the heaviest flight and egg-laying run of salmon flies I have seen in 45 years of fishing it started at midnight. We also agreed we were both long past the days when we could stay up late enough to see what was going on, let alone stumble around fishing in the dark.
Next morning reminded me of that fine June morning 12 years ago, when I guided Jim to landing The Shark during the filming of a segment for Iron Blue Fly Fishing, of which Jim was the host. On being hooked, The Shark, a very large brown trout, went ballistic, leaping over and over, high and hard, spraying diamond droplets of water into the June sunshine. Viewers other than just me have said the performance of The Shark on the show was the greatest ever by a trout, including the big rainbow in the movie Way of the Trout.
“For old times’ sake,” I told Jim, “I’d like a picture of you trying for, maybe even catching, Shark II.” Jim was game, so over we went to the shark hole, a difficult place to cast to, ahead of a brush pile and under spruce boughs. Jim had made dozens of casts in there before he hooked The Shark; not quite so many this time because he is an even better caster now than he was then. But if anyone was home over there, he was not responding.
After he landed The Shark, Jim and I knew that the creek was in one of its manic moods and that we should just forge on fishing upstream. What little fishing we were allowed to do proved our diagnosis, but mostly we had to stick around doing the essential fill-ins, the blah-blah for any fishing show, even one as good as Iron Blue. After not finding Shark II, I left the creek to Jim and went to stoke up the water smoker and rubbing the ribs.
Jim returned to help eat the ribs at an early dinner so he could get back for a Saturday morning school in Calgary. His fishing had been only marginally better than the day before and, in the Sweeper Bend, he had hooked, but lost, the only really big brown of the trip.
And that’s still my creek … mostly weird.
Bob Scammell is an award-winning outdoors writer living in Red Deer.