The remarkable catches just keep on coming to the end of this strange fishing season.
First we had the 148 cm sturgeon caught in June by Chris Funk, a pike angler, from the main pond on Red Deer’s River Bend Golf Course. Then the standing Alberta record is demolished by a brown trout taken in July by another pike fisherman, Lindsey Paterson, from the Waterton River, that story spiced by the likelihood that yet another pike angler had caught and released the record fish almost a month earlier.
My Stump ranching friend, Ken Short, has been known to remove pike from trout streams using huge and quickly dispatched streamer flies, but that was not what he was doing in late October when he landed the most unusual fish he has ever caught.
Ken does not hunt and likes to extend his fishing as far as the law and flowing water (he does not engage in solid water angling) will allow. There was a time when Ken prided himself on catching trout on flies every month of the year in Alberta, but some stupid stream closures have foiled that project.
In late October and into November Ken carefully avoids disturbing the North Raven River’s gravelly spawning runs in favour of silt-bottomed sections where he can fly fish for smaller, younger, non-spawning trout. It was while thus engaged that something far larger than the usual, expected, maximum 36 cm brown trout, smacked back at the custom black beetle pattern Ken ties to land with an attention-grabbing “plop.”
What Ken Short eventually landed was obviously a trout or char, 55 cm long, handsomely striped, with no spots at all, and nicely rose-coloured toward the belly. The gill plate was gone on one side, but nicely-healed. He suspected the fish was either a lake trout, possibly up from the Red Deer River, or, more likely, a tiger trout. He deployed his ever-present Pentax Optio W20 camera and sent me several pictures to see what I thought.
To me, it is obviously a tiger trout, simply because I have seen them before, on an ugly June day several years ago, taken from Twin Lake, near Duck Mountain Provincial Park in Manitoba, where they had been planted by the nearby hatchery that had “created” them.
A tiger trout is a sterile transgenic hybrid easily created in a hatchery from brown trout eggs and brook trout sperm. They very rarely occur in nature when a male brook trout spawns his milt into a female brown trout’s redd (nest). That latter unlikely event could take place in the North Raven where there are both brown and brook trout, especially in the upper reaches.
Ken Short released his “tiger,” as he does most of his trout, so it is fortunate he is among the growing army equipped with the best outdoors person’s camera there is, the Pentax Optio W series. In fact, Ken bought my W20 when I decided I just had to have the then newest model, the W80. It is hard to believe and comprehend how so many functions can be included in such a small camera: waterproof, shock and dust proof, telephoto-wide angle zoom, macro and underwater modes, filter functions, on-screen editing, etc.
All those features aside, its major advantage is its small size, easily fitting into a shirt pocket to be instantly available when those “if only I had a camera” outdoors opportunities arise. Again, down on the lower North Raven, Ken Short was able to quick draw his W20and shoot three otters that suddenly surfaced in the pool he was fishing.
Otters were virtually extinct on West Central Alberta trout streams when I first started fishing them nearly 50 years ago. They are still rare, but more common now, probably because trapping along these creeks is in decline. Some anglers are concerned with the otter increase because of the trout they eat.
So far, what I notice is a near extinction of muskrats and a blessed decrease of beavers, the young of which the otters also eat.
More than decade ago, half hidden under a spruce at the tail of the Perkins Pool on Prairie Creek, I was watching for quiet trout rises, when an uproar erupted at the upstream bend. Two adult otters and their two pups were chasing each other up the steep sand bank, sliding down on their bellies and flopping into the water, over and over.
Because they are such quick and efficient predators, earning a living is so easy for otters that they are among the few mammals with spare time for play, the bank sliding being a favourite game. If only I had a camera . . . but I’d left my expensive single lens reflex with the zoom lens back in the rig because I’d endured frequent dunkings and totaled one camera in the Perkins Pool over the years. Had it existed back then, a waterproof Pentax Optio W series camera in the shirt pocket would have caught some great pictures.
Bob Scammell is an award-winning outdoors writer living in Red Deer.