By NEIL WAUGH
I was having a beer in the De’d Dog Saloon the other day when I ran into my Jasper buddy Bert.
He said he was gearing up for the rigours of the Camino de Santiago, the St. James Road.
Whether it’s boxing or pilrimaging, to survive you have to put in the necessary road work and Bert said he’s been pounding the trails around town to do the hundred or so klicks necessary to reach the Cathedral of Compestela from a start in the Pyrenees. Where they say St. James’ bones are buried.
A healthy hike in the Spanish spring sunshine sounds like a cosmic way of re-booting your faith.
Although I’d probably take a side trip to the Rio Irati to fish Ernest Hemingway’s little Basque Country trout stream he writes about in The Sun Also Rises. But that’s just me.
Way off we saw the step bluffs, dark with trees and jutting with gray stone that marked the course of the river.
“This is country,” Bill said.
Fishing is nothing without good country to back it up.
St. James in one of his epistles has some wise advice about keeping her goin’ and getting’ it done.
“My brothers, consider it great joy when trials of many kinds come upon you,” he wrote to his flock. “For you well know the testing of your faith produces perseverance.”
Iago must have been talking about Bert’s upcoming pilgrimage. And my JasperNational Park bull trout fishing.
The Weather Network had predicted showers. Turns out they were one letter too many and what was supposed to be on-again-off-again sunshine, ended up in a day-long, bone-chilling drizzle as I dredged the choppy pool below the mouth of the Maligne River with my spey rod. Without any result.
The Maligne means the BadRiver in English and it was just as relevant today as when the wandering Jesuit Pierre-Jean De Smet passed up the AthabascaRiver drainage in 1846.
Where he spent a few days saving souls and enjoying Hudson Bay Company clerk Colin Fraser’s company at collection of log huts on the river flats known as Jasper House.
At the end of his stay the inhabitants of the post performed a little ceremony “to prove their attachment.
“Each discharged his musket in the direction of the highest mountain,” De Smet wrote. “And with three hurrahs gave it my name.”
The name stuck.
There’s a school of thought that says bull trout, when placed on the International Scale of Trout Cunningness, are considered easy money.
I’ve always found Alberta’s top-of-the-food chain cold water predator the opposite. Like steelhead and Atlantic salmon they’re a “fish of a thousand casts”.
The next morning snow squalls still obscured the face of Mount Edith Cavell. But down the valley the mountains shone in the soothing April sunlight.
I made a couple more trips down Maligne Mouth. First with one of BowRiver guide Barry White’s Marilyn Monroes. Then with a chartreuse Lefty’s Deceiver on the theory that bull trout like the colour even though I’d originally tied them for striped bass in Long Island Sound.
The big, two-handed rod was armed with a pair of sinking heads to depth charge the flies to the bottom.
But all I got were hang-ups and lost flies.
My Camino de Bull Trout had a way to go.
As I rolled down the Yellowhead Highway a long, ragged ridge loomed to the northeast beyond the SnaringRiver canyon.
Roche De Smet was still “covered with perpetual snow” just as the priest described it.
I parked, assembled the long rod and make the short hike to the river. Many AthabascaRiver bull trout pools are closely-guarded local secrets. And although this one has a well-worn fisherman’s trail leading to it and a name, for personal preservation purposes it will remain anonymous.
I picked my way across the river-bottom rubble to the blue streak of snowmelt, walked to the top end of the pool and loosened the Deceiver from the hook keeper.
Then pulled line off the reel, loaded up the rod and shot it across the run.
It must have been the thousand-and-first cast because the fly had only begun to swing when it stopped with a vigorous strike.
Not the biggest bull trout in the Athabasca, but the pink-spotted beauty that posed for my picture before being released was the end of a long, hard road to redemption, trial, perseverance and “great joy.”
This column originally appeared in the Edmonton Sun