By Jim McLennan
On a late September day in 1974 my mind abandoned
the University of Alberta lecture theater in search
of water. I was trying to follow that the Ed. Psych.
prof was saying, but it wasn't working, and before I
knew it I had a plan: I'd bring my tackle with me the
next morning, cut the afternoon classes and be on the
stream by 3:00 P.M..
Shortly after noon the next day I pointed my Dad's old
red pickup south on Highway 2, turned right at Innisfail,
crossed the Red Deer and Medicine rivers and turned again
onto gravel. It was a fine all day in the western
foothills. Frost had turned the aspens yellow, the
sky was sapphire blue and everything was washed in
the pure amber sunlight of an Alberta autumn. The
little creek sang like a child while I put on waders
and rigged a fly rod. On the water a few mayflies
drifted among aspen leaves that had dropped from a
tree leaning over the creek. Tight against the trunk
of the tree was the occasional blip of a feeding brown trout.
This particular stream and this particular fish had
been distracting me for weeks. I had seen and fished
for the trout before, but without success. A friend
who had showed me the spot and caught the fish, had
named him the Tree Hole Trout. I had even seen
photographs of the fish, taken when my friend had
caught and then released him.
It was a tricky place requiring a downstream cast from
a kneeling position. A tall spruce stood right behind
the only casting spot, and my first two attempts became
two more donations to the tree's growing collection of
flies that had formerly belonged to me. Eventually my
Adams drifted nicely past the trunk of the tree. The
fish ignored it and took another mayfly. The real
flies looked pale, so I traded the somber Adams for
a gingery Light Cahill. It bobbed along to the base
of the tree and disappeared in the wet wink of a rise.
The fish jumped when he felt the hook, entering the
September light and shattering the quietness of the
moment. I fought and landed him from my knees and
then took my own photograph of the Tree Hole Trout.
Then I did a most peculiar thing: I went home. I had
driven over two hours to fish one pool, and having done
that I was content. Nothing could have improved the
moment, and for once I was smart enough to realize it.
In the years since, the leaning tree has fallen, beavers
have built a dam nearby and other changes have come, but
this stream, this pool and this fish have come to symbolize
all that is good about the trout streams of west central
Alberta. This was my first sizable fish from this region,
and its capture became a defining, watershed experience
that drew me into a lifelong love affair with the small
trout streams of the West Country. ~ Jim LcLennan
Credit: This excerpt, part of "The Red Deer and North Saskatchewan River Systems,"
is from Trout Streams of Alberta by Jim McLennan and published
by Johnson Gorman Publishers, Red Deer, Alberta, Canada. We
appreciate use permission.
Our Man In Canada Archives