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Maybe Next Time

You have to appreciate fishing buddies who don’t take any real convincing to go on a trip, no matter how brief the notice is.

I rang up Tim Tchir.

“Want to go?” I asked

“How’s the weather supposed to be?”

“Decent.  In the high teens anyway.”

“Sure,” he said.  What time?”

“I don’t know, five o’clock maybe.  Is that alright?”

“Sounds good.  See you tomorrow,” he said.

June 16 is opening day for the cutthroat trout streams I had been dreaming of fishing for months, and Tim and I were heading to Southern Alberta to fish a favourite creek or two before the summer droughts, that were becoming much more frequent than they used to be, kicked in during July, and subsequently making the fishing a little slower than it otherwise should be. 

June 15 finally came around.  I’d been ready to go for a couple of hours; I was anxious, as fishermen often are near the beginning of the season, and I couldn’t wait to get out of the city.  I had a significant nagging, one that told me, Just get the hell outta here already.

All my gear was packed early and I was reading some old fishing magazines on the couch while waiting for Tim to show up.  After what seemed like an eternity but what really more like twenty minutes, I heard the hum of his diesel pickup truck, so I looked out the window, got my shoes and jacket on in a hurry, and locked the door behind me.  All it took to catch up was a quick, “Hey.  How’s work?  Think we’ll get any dry fly?”  Then we threw his gear into the back of my Explorer and we hit the road.

“We should be there by ten,” I said.

“Sounds good.”

On the drive down we talked how we always talk when going fishing.  It is usually pretty light-hearted, and always ends up coming back to the topic of fishing.  Naturally.  Serious talk just isn’t supposed to take place when you’re out fishing, unless it’s about quitting your job, or maybe about when to take vacation time so that your days off sync with some prime hatch times on streams that one of you is more familiar with than the other guy. 

Such is the limit of insight we dwell into while on the road.  In the event that we do get onto a more ominous topic, it better as hell be over and dealt with by the time we hit camp.  Deep talk while fishing, if it has to happen, should also include a bottle of booze, a big fire to play with, and no witnesses.

Nothing unusual or out of the ordinary happened on the drive down to the campground.  I did have recurring questions about sanity and commonsense popping into mind after a few hours on the flat, uninspired highway.

Dealing with some rainy weatherOn the way down south we listened to some music, consisting of old rock and roll, some newer rock bands and country as well.  It really wasn’t all that long ago that Garth Brooks’ “The Hits” was the must listen CD on just about any fishing trip, but recently, with the advent of iPod’s, we usually just hit random and let technology tell us what to listen too. Just some background music to help fill in the silence, perhaps, but other times it’s superstition and in the end might be as important as what hat I have on and how I hold my tongue while I cast.  We try not to let the music get too intense though, because head-banging and teeth gnawing has been known to happen when you forget that someone may be looking.

Tim and I are good friends and good fishing buddies too, which is an important distinction, because the same person doesn’t always cover those two jobs.  How do you know when you found a good, reliable fishing buddy?  Well, when the conversation can go from “you arrogant prick,” to “I just got a fish on a #16 Adams. Do you need one?” with true sincerity, and without batting an eyelash or holding a significant grudge, you’re probably on the right track.  (Just for the record, we don’t really fight like that, it’s just an example, alright?)

 When you do happen to find a good fishing buddy you should be good to them.  He can understand you as a fisherman in ways non-fishers don’t. 

It doesn’t really help that fishermen can’t explain the reasons anyway. 

Just imagine the last time you attended one of those socially awkward, uppity and hip parties your soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend made you go to.  Sooner rather than later some wise-ass will (usually at about eleven thirty, once the booze has been flowing for a while) ask you why you waste your time and money on something that is, often enough, deemed as just plain dumb by those Wall Street types.  And that’s ironic, because that is often what you’re trying to avoid by going fishing in the first place. 

Apparently your girlfriend told them you simply ‘fish,’ instead of whatever it is you actually do for a living, but you let it go and don’t correct her because it is, after all, how you would have it if it was possible to pull off, or even if it were just a tad more socially acceptable than it is at the moment.  Either way, you try to be nice.

Non-fisher: “Why do you fish?”

Fly-fisher: “I love the outdoors, the smell of the pine needles, the fog off the stream, the fish themselves…”  *you could easily have said ‘to avoid assholes like you,’ but you’re playing nice, remember. 

Non-fisher: “How big do the fish get where you like to go?”

Fly-fisher: “Maybe twelve inches.”

Non-fisher: “How much did your fishin’ pole cost?”

Fly-fisher: “About six-hundred bucks, and it’s not a fucking ‘pole,’ alright?”

Non-fisher: “Do you have some kind of condition I should be worried about?”

Almost everyone I’m close with understands that I have to spend a lot of time fishing –like every real fisherman.  I’m not sure about the general population, but the last time a girlfriend asked me, “Why are you going fishing again?” I made a quick judgment call, turning around and leaving, and fishing nag-free for the rest of the summer.  It was a good year, too.  God was it worth it.

Fly fishing is beautiful.  Like most good things in life, you don’t really have to search for it.  One day “it” just dawns on you, usually with no warning and little justification, but it sure feels right.  The events in your life from that point on reflect your new way of looking at things.  But that might be just a little too poetic to be legitimate, and it sure as hell doesn’t cover the entire fly-fishing community, many of whom are nothing more than rednecks who probably don’t even know the definition of poetry, let alone how fishing of all things can qualify as it. 

Just for the record, it’s fishing’s beauty, emotion, elegance, and insightful qualities that make it poetic.

Fly fishing for me seems to describe a large aspect of my spiritual self, for no other time do I spend as much time praying as when I need help to catch a certain fish, or sometimes just any fish.  Hell, sometimes it’s just to make sure I get back to the truck without getting myself killed.

….

On the drive south we both looked at every creek we crossed and pond we speed by, and we dreamed of someday getting around to fishing all of it.  We know full well that we won’t, but for some reason even if we do manage to get around to most of them we will probably never fish them for a second time. 

At least I won’t.  I already have my favorite places to fish, and I’m stubborn enough to make most shrinks cringe and think of an early retirement.  At the very least they’d probably have to write themselves a prescription for a strong dose of Valium.

“Ever fish there?” he’d ask as we crossed another bridge, knowing that I’ve fished a fair number of odds and ends around here.

“Nah, I’m always going too far to take the time to try this stuff.  If I fished all this, I’d have never have gotten to where I was actually heading,” I said back.  I’m currently trying to loosen up some about where I fish, and I’m slowly getting over my preoccupation with compulsiveness.

“Yeah, I’ve thought of it too, but there are countless places, too many even, to go to ever fish them all.”  Tim would typically cross these streams while en-route to British Columbia, even further than where I usually go.

A couple of these creeks are spring-fed, most are freestone streams, while others are only seasonal creeks and tend to dry up completely after the end of June.  Some flow through meadows, others through bush and shrub, and the rest thick forest.  There is one tiny creek that is crossed by the main highway, and while we heard it could be good fishing if you hit it right we usually cross it five hours into our five and a half hour drive to go fishing, or a half hour into a five and a half hour drive home. 

It is pretty inconspicuous to look at, especially once you’ve been on the road for a while, driving in a daze and at breakneck speeds that become far too commonplace during a long drive.  Besides, no honest-to-god fisherman would fish a creek that small on purpose, especially within earshot of the highway.

I did stop and look at it once or twice in the past.  It is a beautiful stream flowing through everything from valley to forest to meadow reaches and it hosts different species of trout, from cutthroats, bulls, brookies, rainbows, and I’ve even heard rumours of browns, depending on where you fish.  Or so we were told.  However, we hadn’t ever given it more than a glance from the road and this time it was no exception.  We blew past it at 115km/hour and figured what we did every time –next time. 

“Ever fish there?” Tim asked.

“Nope, maybe next time.  You?”

“Nope.”

It seems to me that when you fish a stream you have done plenty of research about, you rarely seem to get much of anything, save for bruised elbows, mosquito bites, ripped waders, and probably pissed off, too.  And when you fish a stream on a whim you are generally pleasantly surprised by the outcome.

Yeah, I know.  I haven’t figured it out either.  But each of us should start doing it more.

It happens to me more often than I care to admit, and I’m sure a psychologist could explain this to me in some manner of defects that relate to my own expectations, but I’m not about to ask, and I don’t really want to know.  That alone might say something about the answer, but I won’t be arrogant enough to sit here and try to preach about psychology. 

Besides, for me to tell anyone about that type of condition would make me seem just a little pretentious.  I’m not a doctor.  Mostly, I’d just sound like an asshole.

….

Nick has a drink by the fireWe ended the long drive to the campground with a dashboard rattling finish down the all to familiar dusty, gravel road.  It was just short of 10pm when we arrived –right on time, and good fortune was looking at us; we got one of the sites right neat the creek and that meant we would fall asleep to the sound of the gurgling creek water. 

We took at peek at the stream when we went to stretch our legs, and there was quite a bit of it.  The water was much higher than usual, but in the slower pools I knew of on some of the smaller tributaries, I figured we’d be all right.

We awoke the following morning to that hypnotic sound all fly fishers love: bubbling waters, with no raindrops hitting the tent fly.  We struggled out of warm sleeping bags and into cold clothes, and had a quick, cold breakfast that consisted of our typical camping/fishing breakfast we eat when we’re in a bit of a rush to hit the water (ie. Opening day of cutthroat trout fishing): a juice box, a piece of fruit, and a muffin.  Unquestionably, breakfast on the first day of any fishing trip will have nothing that has to be cooked, or that requires dishes we’d have to clean later.  After catching a few fish we’d probably have a proper meal of bacon and eggs of course, but that would only be when we feel uncharacteristically luxurious.  Maybe for celebratory purposes on day two.

On this particular day it was all about efficiency.  We only had a day and a half to fish before we had to leave for home, so we were trying our damnedest to make the most of it.  The weather report (which we decided to ignore as of a year or two before this trip because it always ends up changing, anyway) told us it was supposed to be mostly sunny with some cloud coming in on June 17.  The day we left from home the forecast was changed to “rain,” of course, beginning on Day One of the trip, which we never found out about until later. 

….

It was clear and sunny that first morning, so we were on the water just before eight o’clock.  A little early in the day for that time of year, maybe, but we got into fish straight off, even though we could see the steam from our breath break through the cool air in the creek valley. 

Beautiful colours!We were catching fish, too.  The beautiful post-spawn colored cutthroats went anywhere from dinks all the way to a trophy of maybe ten or twelve inches.  We were fishing a stimulator of some sort (one of the best cutty flies to use) and a bead-head TNT pheasant tail dropper fly (the other best cutty fly to use).

“Just got one on the dry!  Nine-incher!” I yelled.

“I know!  I just got two in this little pool on the nymph,” Tim shouted back.

“It’s already worth the drive, man,” I said when he eventually sauntered up to where I was fishing.  “This spot is incredible.  I haven’t even touched that left side of the pool yet.  Go for it.”  As best as I could figure, the fish were still holed up in some of the deeper, slower sections of water they used in the winter.

He walked over the softball sized stones that made up the streambed, stopping just to my left, made a couple twenty-foot casts and joined the dry fly club.

“I love it,” he said.  “I love it.”

.

The creek Tim and I were fishing that day gives the idealist’s image of fly-fishing.  It is a small creek at the nastiest of high water, so we can use our light fly rods –the rods we truly love using.  It has at least one or two tributaries worth fishing, so there is always somewhere new to discover, and it is full of native cutthroats.  It also has the occasional bull trout, rainbow trout, cuttbow trout and even a smattering of mountain whitefish, so you are never quite sure what the next cast could bring.

The stream has diverse surroundings, which makes for great photo opportunities and interesting walking.  Anything from a deep and tight valley to true canyons, meadows, forests and, well, any and all combinations of the aforementioned can be found.  The vegetation overlooking the stream is made up of different grasses, shrubs, sandbar willows, firs, lodgepole pines, white spruce, and white and black poplar.  Some areas along the creek have thick stands of brush, others are relatively open, allowing the sun to break through, which feels wonderful on cool mornings.  Oppositely, the shade of the forest is refreshing on a hot afternoon.

The creek is inconspicuous to the eye on even the most detailed map, so most weekenders write it off before they ever get there.  It is drawn in straight lines without meandering a whole lot, indicating relatively few deep corner pools, but lots of gushing whitewater; on the map anyway.  It is joined by just a few dotted-blue lines representing trickle-creeks, which add water to its flow, and it stays much the same size from start to finish.

The straightforward walking and lack of obstacles on the bank makes the stream as enjoyable to fish as any other stream with similar character I know of.  I can think of only one section of the creek that would cause a dilemma for anyone, and there are waterfalls involved, so it comes to be expected.  I avoid it.  After all, I’m a fisherman, not a rock climber, and the last thing I need to do is crawl out of a goddamned valley on my hands and knees with a broken five-hundred dollar fly rod in my mouth.

Last but not least is the fact that not many people fish there.  While a lost soul or two can sometimes be found on stretches near the road or at the end of the two quad paths, if you hike for as little as twenty minutes, you are almost guaranteed solitude; something that isn’t as certain if you fish most of the other streams in the area. 

A nice westslope cutthroat trout going backTim and I fished for several hours with no delays, and we were having a whale of a time alternating fish, switching sides of the creek when one of us was catching too many fish for the other guy to tolerate, and giggling a little too much for twenty-something-year-old guys on a fishing trip.  If one of us happened to be getting too many fish, the other would cast ahead, catch a fish, and send a grin to the other guy that said, “Yeah, I can do it too.”  It was a beautiful system.

As it stands, the reasons men do certain things when we’re fishing are some of the great, unanswered mysteries, so we didn’t question ourselves any more than usual.  Other fishing-trip-mysteries include why fisherman can’t remember anniversaries but can remember the open and close date for waters they fish, and to buy a license every April 1st, not to mention why we have an easier time talking to ourselves, trees or squirrels rather than our wives or girlfriends.  I think that maybe it’s because we somehow always manage to translate the squirrel’s chatter into a compliment.

“Why thank you, Mr. Squirrel.  I like this shirt too.  Can you believe it only cost me five bucks?  Yeah, me neither.”

Without the squirrel life would seem pretty bleak.

….

We fished into the afternoon, enjoying the sun and landing some wonderful looking fish.  I even got a small bull trout that gracefully rose up from the pebbled stream bed to my dry fly and tracked it for a few feet before gently inhaling it, and I was privileged enough to witness the whole event in the then clear and shallow water. 

It was pleasant fishing a dry and dropper, with most fish on the nymph, but enough on the dry to keep you excited, including a trout that hit my dry five times (yup, zero for five).  Then I let good judgment get in the way and I told Tim come and catch it. 

He did.  First cast.  And he didn’t even rub it in, which I appreciated.

Spring in my home part Alberta tends to be a lake fishing affair, which is fine by me because lakes are where the truly big fish live anyway, but after a couple of months of shamelessly catching feisty rainbows, thoughts of moving water and a bit of solitude mixed with pretty, little fish get a touch more appealing.  True to form, the fish we were catching on that trip were nothing to write home about size wise, but it was a relief to be able to cast to creek fish again.  The fact that the fish were often taking dry flies, looked like rose tinged bars of gold and that we didn’t run into any other fishermen made it just that much sweeter.

Tim hunkered down in the trees while the rain poured downAs luck would have it, we found out about the new weather forecast the hard way –when it started raining on us during mid-afternoon.  Luckily, we actually carried our raincoats (we usually don’t, and end up getting wet and damn near hypothermic) in a light backpack “just in case,” so after a brief hiatus when we stepped into the trees to layer up we were again in fighting condition and we still managed to fish for a short time longer, but the stream was rising the whole time the rain was falling.  Eventually it was un-fishable.

The last two fish I caught that day were beautiful, big (fifteen inches or so) males that rose to the dry fly, one just before we hunkered down in the bush and one right after.

To be fair, Tim and I caught at least a couple dozen fish each over the course of the day, maybe more, so we did what we had to do.  We drove to all the other streams in the area to see if there was another creek in fishable condition.  There wasn’t. 

So we drove 30km to town for a hot meal.

….

We woke up the next day with no real plan, simply hoping that the swollen creeks would have gone down overnight due to the absence of rain, and that they would be in decent enough shape to fish.  They weren’t.  The stream was getting noticeably worse the day before as the day went on, and it sure wasn’t any better today.  In fact, it looked like a beaver pond or two blew out and dumped a load of silt in the water, painting all the crap floating downstream a shade of dark gray mixed with dirty brown.  There aren’t any beaver ponds on that stream, but it looked like that.

Nick landing a cutty in the rainHad the rain come later in the season it may have been okay because the stream level would have been lower to begin with, but it wasn’t later in the season and it wasn’t low water conditions.  The water levels weren’t necessarily the problem because there were many sections of slow water we could have fished, but the upper section of the creek has a lot of shale that washes into the stream during periods of rain, so it got quite grey. 

We packed up camp in a rush to either hit the water or hit the road, and quickly made a game plan.

We looked at the sky. 

“It’s getting pretty socked in,” Tim said.

“Yup.”

“What d’you want to do?”

“Lets just head out and see what the streams on the highway look like.  We might be able to race the storm and get some more fishing in somewhere,” I said.

So we took off down the same bumpy road we had taken to come in.  We were going out a little faster than we did coming in a couple of nights before.  It’s easier to go fast when you can actually see the turns in the road, especially along a section of road that goes along a few streams and over some rolling hills, where you really don’t want to make a mistake.  The motivation to outrun weather helps a bit, too.  And as soon as we got to the pavement I looked behind us; the storm was behind us, and I put the petal to the metal.

It only took maybe forty minutes to get to the creek we both said we’d get to “sometime.”  The storm was at least a couple hours off, so we pulled over and parked in the ditch, had the deciding conversation, and got out.  Now it looked like “sometime” was here.  There were already three vehicles on the side of the road, but the stream was clear, we couldn’t see anyone fishing, and couldn’t think of anything better to do, so we suited up. 

I got rigged up (and dressed up in raingear for the inevitable storm) first, mainly because I didn’t pack my 4-weight rod into it’s tube that morning, so I started fishing the bridge hole with the same stimulator and dropper rig I’d used the day before.  I made a couple casts to the deep current seam behind an old, wooden bridge pillar, about half way up the run.

“I got one!” I yelled up to Tim at the truck, as I fought the first fish.

Tim looked up as I landed a little nine-inch rainbow.  I held it up to show him.  He looked back down at his fly box and quickly finished re-rigging, victim to the “rush” we all get when our buddies are catching fish and we’re wasting time tying on flies, taking pictures, or taking a leak in the bushes.   (Word of caution: This “rush” has resulted in several burns in my mouth and on my hands  from chugging, then spilling, hot coffee, so leave the rush to cool, non-food type things).  Neither of us is hell bent about catching every fish in the river, but, being near the beginning of the season and all, priorities are priorities. 

Tim came down to the bridge hole and started casting a few feet upstream from me. 

He pretty much repeated my performance, shortly followed by cleaning house.  Not surprising.  The water was warm for June and the fish were stacking up in the riffle water at the heads of pools and in mid-stream runs, making the actual act of catching them pretty damn easy. 

….

This creek is perfect.  Maybe not the amount of other people fishing there (about ten that we saw) that day, but pretty much everything else was.  It was likely only crowed because it seemed to be the only option because of the rain, and like we were doing, other people were only being diligent observers and clever fishermen. 

Nick drenched in rain, but happy to be having some good fishingThe stream is big enough that it has potential for some really nice fish, but it definitely isn’t big enough to cause any issues for people fishing there, and even a novice caster would be able to reach the obvious lies.  There aren’t many truly deep pools, but fishable run after run seemed to be the rule on the creek.  Most of these runs don’t look like much if you don’t take the time to really look, but there is usually a drop of a foot or two in the streambed, and these types of drops are absolute magnates for fish.  With runs thirty to fifty yards long you can picture the numbers of eight to ten inch rainbows that would be stacked up.

There aren’t any trees to hang your back cast in, but the wind can blow like hell, which can make your line and fly pile up in your face instead.  Hopefully you won’t hook yourself.  Perhaps consider using a crisp rod. 

The stream flows out of the front-range then out onto the bald prairies, offering a variety of water types and fish species to boot.  We fished the water right where the surrounding land begins to flatten out; rainbows dominate there.  The water was fairly warm for mid-June, and in a few short miles downstream the number of trout likely dwindles until it eventually disappears.  But before that there should be a few pools with big, lonely trout. I guarantee I’ll go back.

….

I reached the next run (maybe twenty yards above Tim) and proceeded to clean house on little rainbows for myself for a spell before Tim came up to join me.

“Anything?” he asked.

“Do you even have to ask?”

A small fish, but one of many rainbow trout that dayHe took a cast, caught a fish, and then I said some wise-assed remark about fishing my water.  We fished like that for a couple hours, covering no more than two or three hundred yards of creek, and never going more than three or four casts without a hit or fish landed.  The fishing was so constant I think I can truthfully say that I’d never had fishing that easy in my life, and still haven’t.  Best of all, when the rain caught up and dumped hard on us, we each said, “Last cast,” then promptly caught a fish each and got the hell out of there.

What makes fishermen pass up on gorgeous water while on the way to another destination is beyond me.  It’s like the saying says, “If it feels good, do it” except in this case it is, “If it looks good, fish it; And stop messing around, okay?”  After taking the time to actually give this stream a chance, I’ve realized that I have probably passed up first-rate waters a few too many times, and after this I’ll try not to do it again, which is impossible, so I’ll settle for doing it less.

“Why the hell didn’t we fish there before?” I asked.

Tim shrugged.

“So, Tim, next time we say, ‘We should try out that creek,’ we should get around to it a bit quicker,” I said as I started up the truck.

“Yup,” he said.  “Turn the heater up.”

 

Nick Sliwkanich, WesternSportfishing.ca

Written by: Nick Sliwkanich

Email: nick@westernsportfishing.ca