Southern Alberta Backroads: A Fly-Fishing Photo Essay
Friday, August 26, 2016
First light on a southern Alberta tailwater. Coyotes yelp along the ridge and a nighthawk swoops overhead. A fish rises. And another. And then ... that's it. Nothing else shows on the surface or anywhere else. The sun rises. The cows cut in. You shrug your shoulders and confer with the client. He knew the deal. Four o'clock in the motel lobby for a crack at the biggest rainbows in the region.
Only it's not happening this morning. You're not sure why. That's fishing. That's the deal.
Back to the truck. Full blast on the heater. The day is early, after all. There are options. You might be discouraged at this point, or you might be encouraged: it's bright, the sun is warming nearby waters, the clicking grasshoppers are starting to stir.
Another river, an hour's drive. More activity this time. The browns are co-operative. Several crush grasshoppers - like linebackers taking out tailbacks - and a few come to hand. They glow golden in the late summer light, tilted like the spinning blades on the windmills. The wind picks up the harvest chaff and blows the hoppers onto the water, and the trout take notice.
The clients that gravitate to this corner of Alberta are a special breed: they don't mind dusty roads and muddy trucks; long drives and fishing until dusk; the ever-present wind ... the A&W pit stops. They're a hardier breed, for the most part, and they know the deal.
The trout aren't always large. But they're wild. And beautiful. And caught in foothills' streams and rivers running out of the Rockies and into the imagination. Into the dreams of cold winter nights and imaginary wanderings at the fly-tying vise.
Bees can recognize differently colored hives and avoid traffic tie-ups; or so I'm told. They're working the purple clover frantically in preparation for fall. Bees are social creatures, like the anticipatory anglers on fly shop porches.
The first of the bluebird boxes have been vacated. Frosty mornings. Seyanora - we're outta here. South America here we come. The Patagonian Snowbirds won't be far behind.
But frosty mornings also bring on blue-winged olive hatches. Tiny mayflies that attract big trout. Trout gorging in preparation for winter. It's ironic, the smallest mayflies attracting the biggest rainbows, but it's an autumn ritual on the Oldman River tailwater east of Pincher Creek.
I suggest gorging on the baking and sandwiches at Harvest Coffeehouse in Pincher Creek. The coffee is roasted in the Crowsnest Pass. A double Americano to start the day. The Breakfast Sandwich with eggs and ham that probably originated the next farm over. Fingertips still greasy when the morning's first fly is tied on.
'Keep Calm and Carry On', says the sign behind the barista - wise words for the fly-fisher or anybody else, for that matter. Another day. Another four o'clock pick-up at the Pincher Creek Ramada. Maybe it will happen this time, out on that prairie tailwater. Maybe not. That's fly-fishing.