April Fool’s Day stays put, stands pat, keeps the faith.
It is the first day of the new fishing season, when the new licence is needed and the new regulations are in force.
Appropriately, in France, the victims of the day are called Poisson d’Avril (April Fish).
Each April first I zig-zag up or down the North Raven River, or Stauffer Creek, on county roads, in search of signs of spring, and maybe even the odd April Fish, or fisherman.
Easter is all about faith, but it neither stands pat nor stays put: it can take place between March 22 and April 25, inclusive; this year it ended immediately before April 1st, and somehow I think that close juxtaposition contributed to one of the more memorable of my Stauffer slaloms.
Readers had been assuring me that spring had arrived because the canny crows had arrived.
Easter Sunday, a pair of robins was ransacking our mountain ash for any fermented fruit missed by the recent drunken hordes of starlings and Bohemian waxwings.
As I drove west, the only murders of crows were squabbling over the best parts of two deer road kills already murdered by humans driving too fast in the dark.
One mule deer stood in the borrow pit, shaggy, shedding, sleepy-eyed and blinking in the bright sunshine
The deep blanket of snow was unbroken, every pond still frozen, some with Canada geese stomping around on them, hoping for a breakthrough.
The Red Deer River was open (but not legally to fishing) and flowing at the Penhold Bridge.
The valley below Dickson Dam on the Red Deer was a-honk with geese about spring business and many pairs were browsing newly uncovered grass, or lounging on the shore ice.
From about there and west on Hwy. 54 commenced the most remarkable voyage into spring I can remember, and it got steadily more pronounced as I drove west.
Obviously there had been less snow to start with than back to the east, and there were now huge snowless tracts in every field and every low spot was full of water and waterfowl, other than geese.
Two minor detours to favorite spots on the South Raven River seemed essential.
One that should still have been frozen solid was open and running with tannic-tinted muskeg tea.
The other, where I caught my first two brown trout ever about this time of year 50 years ago, was in perfect fishing shape, but the shore ice ledges under which the trout like to hide will not last long.
A mandatory detour-destination for me is Caroline Supplies.
It lives up to the same motto as the amazing Allied Hardware in Blairmore: “If we don’t have it, you don’t need it.”
I no longer need a licence, but Caroline Supplies had them right on time, plus the free, government-issue 2013 Alberta Guide to Sportfishing Regulations, which I did need, and also Barry Mitchell’s 2013 Alberta Fishing Guide, always a sure sign of spring and a goad to get out and enjoy it while it lasts.
The store has everything a hunter, angler, trapper, archer and camp cook didn’t even know (s)he needed, plus a big rack of hook and bullet magazines including ones you rarely see anymore, such as Sporting Classics and Sports Afield.
The South Raven situation dictated a detour to check out Prairie Creek on its legal opening day.
The ice was still “in” at the top end of what once was the so-called “miracle mile,” but water was flowing over the ice in some places, indicating ice-out and the brief burst of good fishing that can bring is any day now.
The Clearwater River was open and flowing, at the Hwy. 22X bridge, just south of where I turn back east to start driving the 40 km. down the North Raven River to Hwy.54.
Immediately on entering the warmer micro-climate that proximity to spring creeks, like the North Raven, seems to inspire, signs of spring increased: barer fields, more murders of crows, even an unkindness of ravens or two, near a roadside fence post nesting box there was the brief electric blue spark of a bluebird checking out accommodations, pussy willows bloomed on their red-barked bushes in standing water near the creek, but, strangely, the gophers were gone from their usual places.
On a perfect day for them, anglers were scarce, perhaps because the creek seemed erratic as to which stretches were flowing and which still ice-bound.
Finally, midway down, there were three anglers’ rigs at the Buck for Wildlife lot, and one angler, who either fell in off his ice shelf, or just vamoosed before I could get his picture.
The rest of the way down to where the little creek joins the South Raven, there were no anglers at any of the usual “hot” spots. Maybe the absentees know that they shouldn’t get their hopes up because one great day does not a spring make, and more snow is predicted.
Bob Scammell is an award-winning columnist who lives in Red Deer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.