Our Man In Canada
February 15th, 1999

And it came to pass that I went fishing
Season Opener, 1999

By Clive Schaupmeyer

See? It pays to whine.

Last week I went on and on about not getting out fishing all winter. Well last Saturday I managed a day on the Crowsnest River. And it was mighty fine. Not a whole lot of fish were caught, but it was just great to get away after four months of sitting behind a computer at home or at work, driving or talking on the phone.

We are fortunate in Alberta to have a few rivers that remain legally and physically open all winter. All we need is a day when air temperatures will be above freezing; warm clothes; Thermoses full of hot tea; and a likewise crazy fishing partner. And that person this Saturday was Nigel Semour. Oh yes, we also need a day when all the forces of the cosmos are in alignment and we can get away without jeopardizing family lives and careers. We left my house at 8 AM and were wading by around 10:30 or so.

Winter Fly Box

As is the norm here in winter, we landed only mountain whitefish in the morning. They are native and presumably naturally adapted better to the cold water than the rainbows. The bows don't seem to start feeding until the water warms up later in the day. That's the way it usually happens every year, so there may be some scientific basis in this observation. And that's what happened on Saturday.

I had to wait until around 2 PM before I hooked my first rainbow--possibly the prettiest bow in my whole life. (Geez . . . maybe I was away too long.) It was a bright silver and red, 16- inch female with no hint of spawning darkness. It also had no hooking scars and was plump. Of course, the Nikon was in my truck. I landed one more larger and darker male rainbow on a hot orange SJW, although seven rockies ate my Crow Midge and Black Mink. Nigel landed four rainbows and a rocky, all on the Black Mink.

For me, and most of my friends, these two flies (and a variation on the midge) have accounted for more rainbows in fall, winter and early spring than any other two flies. Drop the midge on about 8 inches of tippet tied to the bend of the Black mink.

Maybe we didn't hammer 'em, but it was February 6th and we dun good. A great day on the river.

I must be getting old and inattentive. This is the third or fourth article I have written about winter fishing over the years. And every article has included cautions about walking on ice shelves and wading in ice-cold water. You'd think I'd learn, eh?

Well I took a terrible spill on an ice shelf on Saturday. Only by the grace of God I did not break any bones. My full 230-pound mass landed on my shoulder and elbow from an uninterrupted height of what seemed like several feet, but of course was about 2 feet.

I had been walking gingerly along a shelf of bank ice and the traction was fairly good. But I was not attentive, and slick sections of ice went unnoticed under the skiff of early morning snow. The surface ice was as slick as oil on steel. I stepped onto the slick and in a flash I was on my back on the ice.

As I laid there determining if serious injured had occurred I realized that an error may have been made the night before. All last summer I had worn my lightweight mesh fly-fishing vest adorned with a bear whistle. It's a 40-year-old Boy Scout whistle that is incredibly loud when blown hard. Of course it's another matter whether ir not I could actually give it a blast if confronted my a drooling, snorting grizzly. I did test it on a black bear last July (ironically just 200 metres from where I now lay), and the bear, unfazed, got up off its butt and walk toward us. It was not funny at the time.

But now I had no whistle to call for help. The night before last Saturday's trip I had scoured my mesh summer vest and moved all of the gear to my heavy cotton vest--everything except the whistle. For an instant I thought, if I'm really injured I can give Nigel a whistle as he was only 400 metres or so around a bend in the stream. But the whistle was not there.

After determining that I would likely live and I had no call to summon help, I crept on my knees to a rougher section of the shelf as I could not stand where I had fallen.

With great embarassment here is an exact quote from the winter fishing article posted here in January of 1998:
 Be careful crossing bank ice sheets as they can be treacherous on warm days as a water film forms on the surface.
    Some day I'll learn. ~ Clive Schaupmeyer

Closing thought: To make a man happy for an hour, get him drunk; kill a pig and feed him, and he will be content for a day; marry him to bring him pleasure for a few days; but, for a lifetime of happiness, teach him to fish. Old Chinese saying.

Our Man In Canada Archives

Bio on Our Man In Canada

Clive Schaupmeyer is an outdoor writer and photographer. He is the author of The Essential Guide to Fly-Fishing, a 288-page book for novice and intermediate fly anglers. His photo of a boy fishing was judged the best outdoor picture of 1996 published by a member of the Outdoor Writers of Canada. He fly-fishes for trout in Alberta's foothill and mountain streams and for pike near his home in Brooks, Alberta. For information on where to find, or how to get a copy of Clive's book, Click here!

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