Our Man In Canada
June 9th, 2003

The Memory

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.

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