Like everything else this so-called spring-summer, even the June monsoon was four to six weeks late. But it was not as severe or prolonged as in the past few years so, when it ended, I headed west with some fishing hopes.
Faint hope, as it turned out; what we had was a bright day and brown water in most of the several west Central Alberta trout streams I looked at, with catch-up wildflowers brightening the banks.
I remember winning a bet by catching a couple of trout many years ago when an early July monsoon finally quit. Grounded by pelting rain, my then brother-in-law, the late Morgan Johnson, and I were toughing it out with two days of bridge with the ladies down on the family ranch west of Pincher Creek.
When the rain finally quit and the sun came out, I rose stiffly from the table and announced I was going out to catch some trout.
Morgan bet me a “26” of my favorite Scotch that I wouldn’t. It was like taking Scotch from a teetotaler, which Morgan wasn’t.
I stopped by for a baggie of worms from my father-in-law’s pit of aged manure from decades of corral cleaning, and then walked down to a big backwater at a bend pool in the raging Pincher Creek.
Sitting on a big downed cottonwood, I threaded a worm on a No. 8 snelled hook, added a split shot or two and let it swirl around in the little backwater.
Quickly I had two fine, fat 13-inch (this was before we were sold a bill of metric) rainbows. When I cleaned them (you could also keep and eat the odd trout in those good old days), they were both stuffed with earthworms that had been washed adrift by the rising, raging water.
As I stood on the bank of one of the streams I looked at on my recent après-monsoon safari, I noticed a swirling backwater right below me on the inside of a big bend on the creek.
This backwater, too, I know as a refuge for the trout from the high, brown water, and I bet myself that I could take trout from it just as I did so many years ago on Pincher creek to win that bottle of Scotch, except that, for many years now, worms and other live bait have been taboo.
Hardware might have worked. Way back when, I learned that, contrary to logic, black spinners worked really well in muddy water, but they and all my spinning gear were back home, as I have burned out on it for this season and am hoping, finally, for some good fly fishing.
Big black weighted nymphs and streamers can work well in blown out streams if you dare wade in fast waters where you can’t see the bottom. Son John did that right here once, and somewhere I have a picture of only his red hat on the brown water and his rod hand held high as he washed downstream after having misjudged where the drop-off was.
Among the wildflowers on the bank was the first burst of wood lilies, a bloom I connect with an early hatch of Hexagenia limbata, North America’s largest mayfly, on another Central Alberta stream. Huge aquatic insects sometimes can trigger surface rises in water so murky you wonder how the trout can see the bugs.
Several years ago on another bright day, brown water day on this very stream, I watched big brown trout rising to take Brown drake duns, a big mayfly, but half the size of the Hex.
So we decided to check out the top-secret Hex place to see if there were some around that had been fooled by dark water into thinking it was night, when they generally hatch. But no, there was brown water again, but no bugs of any kind and no rising trout.
The North Raven River is Alberta’s most reliable clear water place for anglers when everything else in Central Alberta is high and muddy, and, where we crossed it on the way home, it was flowing a little high, but clear and fishable.
Back home an email with picture from a fishing friend told of experiencing one of Nature’s true rarities the day before on a particularly jungly section of the lower North Raven.
This gent knows his Hex and was surprised by a good hatch of them in the afternoon and the picture confirmed the catching of at least one really big brown trout.
The friend confirmed the day had been dark and overcast. Very rarely, the Hex will hatch on a dark and/or drizzly day – a phenomenon that I have seen only once in all my years of chasing the big bugs – instead of starting at last light as they usually do.
Which is still one of the great things about fishing: you never know your luck.
Bob Scammell is an outdoors writer.