First catches of season

Longtime readers have bought into this column’s ancient tenet that, no matter what the regulations say, you do not yell “Season’s open!” until you have caught your first fish of the year.

Longtime readers have bought into this column’s ancient tenet that, no matter what the regulations say, you do not yell “Season’s open!” until you have caught your first fish of the year.

It has taken longer than usual this year, but that first triumphant yell came from Todd Irwin of Patricia, who decided on April 21 to head north to check on Blood Indian Reservoir and found ice, open water and some good spring fishing, mostly with sunken flies, and even saw some small trout rising to something on the surface.

Todd’s far-off email yell will resonate with us all: “Great to catch that first trout of the new season and put that damn cold winter behind!

My season is open, so let the games begin!”

In a virtual dead heat with that email came Dr. Elisabeth Beaubien’s annual Plantwatch Newsletter, which is full of comment from volunteer observers on how late were the flowering dates of a long list of Alberta wildflowers in last year’s long, cold spring and late summer.

Beaubien is interested in phenology, the old mixture of the science and art of appearances.

When this newsletter appears, I know it is time for me to get serious about the new fishing season, especially when it contains a nice blurb for my book, The Phenological Fly, which describes my method of connecting the occurrences of major fly fishing super insect hatches to the blooming of certain of our wildflower species.

On April 3, the pussy willows were barely started blooming along the mostly frozen lower North Raven River, so I would not have expected to see any early brown stoneflies, one of the earliest of our hatches to get the attention of trout after a long, dark winter.

Farther west, along Prairie Creek, for example, where my indicator for the early browns is the male aspen flower in full bloom, there was nothing doing, let alone any swelling aspen leaf buds, which usually indicate that the first hatch of tiny blue-winged olive mayflies is about to burst forth.

The western March brown mayfly never hatches in March in these parts; sometimes in April, but mostly in early to mid-May when the wild clematis is blooming and the first morels of the year are starting to pop up here and there, causing a major dilemma: what to do; go fishing or mushrooming?

This lore, these omens mean little to cabin-fevered anglers anxious to get fishing as soon as the government says “go.”

These are some of our best anglers, many of them looking for that magic time just after the ice has gone out, even as it is going out, when huge, hungry trout can be lured from under the ice shelves clinging to either bank with streamer flies, particularly flashy white ones.

For most of these anglers the ice-out magic did not happen this year.

There have been several email grumbles from good anglers I know and respect of rivers and streams already brown with heavy surface runoff just as the ice was going out.

Such a combination turns fishing into a fool’s frolic and wading to do it life-threatening.

Little winter fishing was done this year even on the unfrozen upper section of the North Raven River, so the Raven Maniacs were extra anxious to get at the ice-out fishing in lower sections for big brown trout still lurking in the dark under the ice-extended cut banks.

Alas, for most of them, even this gentle, generally clear spring creek was also browned and blown out by the surface runoff from the melting of the heavy snows of winter.

Finding the same conditions, one unusually stubborn and ingenious Calgary angler just kept on upstream on his favourite spring creek until he finally found clear water just downstream of the springs which are the creek’s source.

Up there he expected small brook and brown trout, but instead surprised himself by taking three plus-50-cm brown trout on streamer and leech patterns.

The trout were all in prime summer shape, one unusually highly coloured from a high density of red spots.

This angler reports fair numbers of the tiny stoneflies called “snow flies,” and BWO mayflies, but no trout rising for either.

Dwayne Schafers, with whom I have enjoyed fishing many times over the years, caught a favourite section three days after the ice went out.

He fished the hardest on the longest stretch ever for him in the spring and “never even moved a fish.”

“Not typical,” Dwayne says, “when fishing from anchor ice and with good water clarity.”

Typically, Dwayne vowed “to get out there again and report.”

Red Deer and Caribbean guide Garry Pierce checked in as he was off to the Bow and promised a report.

He intends to do some Alberta guiding if we get a summer.

He and spouse Connie had just returned from Mexico where they each landed, respectively, 20 and 15 kg roosterfish, a species known for its strength and endurance. Garry reports that he needed a cold beer after a long battle under a hot sun.

Tough! Other Albertans took the easy way out and stayed home for the worst winter in many memories.

Bob Scammell is an award-winning columnist who lives in Red Deer. He can be reached at

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