If you let me have only one month out West, I’d take June.
May is an enigma; sometimes magical, often murderous. Had Ken Short not invited me to go fishing on May 16th, I might have missed one of the more magical Mays in my memory.
Ken remembered I always go fishing on May 16th in memory of my dad. The Guv always took me fishing on May 16th, opening day of fishing season when I was a kid. He died 36 years ago, on May 16th, as he was preparing to visit the Stump Ranch to assist in “catching” the salmon fly hatch, arguably the most mystifying and magical of all fly fishing hatches.
On Mothers’ Day I was “studying” a hole I had fished often with my dad. No bugs flew, no trout rose, but when Ken’s invitation came, the urge also came upon me to make a few casts on May 16th into my home water, Prairie Creek, which I had fished so often with my Dad.
It would have to be spin fishing hardware from the bank. It will be four years in September since I have last been physically able to get into and safely wade and fly fish any trout stream. On the way out West, I stopped at Sportsmen’s Den in Red Deer to treat myself to the professional installation of fresh six-pound line on one of my now antique Mitchell spinning reels: it casts out so coil and tangle free that I’ll never again install my own.
With the support of my cane and Ken’s strong arm I hobbled along the rough bank without falling down, or in, until we reached the level shelf beside the Haystack Pool, so named because, once, long ago, there was a haystack beside it.
In the course of my stay, one trout of some proportion in the middle of the pool, and two smaller ones along a log near the tail each rose, once only. We could see nothing in the air, or on the water that they might have been eating, certainly no big, lumbering salmon flies.
May 16th is the earliest I have ever “caught” the Prairie Creek salmon fly hatch.
Before I started fly fishing I would cast small spinners to rising trout, which would occasionally hit it. But that wasn’t working today. Maybe today’s trout are warier, or, more likely, my spin casting isn’t what it once was, after a 50-year fly fishing sabbatical.
But now, just being up, out and casting is enough. Back at the rigs, the clouds rolled in for a brief cloudburst which boded well for the earliest and most abundant morel (mushroom) emergence I and other pot hunters out here can remember. From a few miles up the creek, one angler was reporting some dry fly fishing activity to a few very small and dark flying and floating insects, possibly March brown, blue-winged olive, or maybe even callibaetis mayflies.
The whole family arrived at the Stump Ranch for lunch and half a day during a May long weekend that was much quieter and a little earlier than usual this year. All the signs and portents — besides the morels — seem earlier this year. Banded purple butterflies are flying everywhere. In the woods the wild clematis is blooming (meaning March brown mayflies should be hatching) and down in the dark swamp the shy, showy calypso orchid is blooming.
Aside from the ladder to the sleeping loft in the cabin and the bi-level biffy, the grandchildren are generally attracted to the wonders of the unspoiled woods and the sand bar beach at the swimmin’ hole on the creek.
In the woods near the cabin, four excited grandchildren and four parents construct a standup lean-to from found materials. Two of the grandchildren explain to me that the lean-to is a shelter for the deer.
As always, I have to go on a short drive-about to take the temperature of the neighbourhood on the first and usually most riotous long weekends of the summer. Quiet, would be my verdict, surprising considering the unusually finer weather than on most May longs. There were people random-camping near a gravel pit on Crown land, but fewer that usual. Could it be that fine weather is no fun?
The only sign of a long weekend in progress was a mindless family cavalcade of seven ATVs riding the shoulder of the pavement; dangerous, stupid, but apparently fun . . . for some.
Sadly, for the first time I can remember on a May long when water and weather were clear, not one vehicle was at the bridges and other usual places where anglers park to go fishing on Prairie Creek. Apparently the word has finally got through that the fishing on Prairie is not longer up to much.
Any day now anglers may start to understand that it is the mismanagement by their government that has ruined one of Alberta’s finer trout streams.
Bob Scammell is an award-winning outdoors writer living in Red Deer.