By NEIL WAUGH
On the west bank of the coulee near my house – where the morning sun catches it and spring comes a little earlier than the rest – the cherry blossoms have arrived.
The pin cherries first, followed by the chokes and somewhere in there their cousins the saskatoons will be flowering too.
For a couple of weeks in May my morning walk with the dog turns into a flower show. Except it smells a heck of a lot better than any stroll through a commercial greenhouse.
My colleague, Red Deer angling writer Bob Scammell, wrote a book about blossoms a few years back where he attempts to match the occurrence of wild flowers with the emergence of trout-loving insects like mayflies and stoneflies.
Unlike the Japanese, who have transitioned the beautiful and aromatic “sakura” into a cosmic occurrence and TV news programs track the transitory cherry blossom peak north with the weather, trout don’t cherish and admire the insect hatches. They ravenously eat them. And thus become easy pickings.
Or as Scammell writes in The Phenological Fly, “the trick to entering fly fishers’ heaven is being present when a super hatch is occurring.”
Bob would readily admit, this is easier said than done.
For this thesis and a lifetime of writing and good works for fish and wildlife conservation Scammell was recently inducted into the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame. In Bob’s situation, the nominating committee definitely on their game.
Bob links cherry blossom time with the emergence of a stubby-winged sooty stonefly called a Skwala which, when on the water, is said to drive the Red Deer River brown trout wild.
When my buddy Emmerson eased his boat trailer down the launch ramp beside the village pier in Wabamun, we were not exactly channeling the insect-eating preferences of trout – despite what ever flower was blooming back in the Paul First Nation tangles on the far shore.
We had rigged out 8-weight flyrods with gaudy streamers trailing tails as long as your hand and toothy critter shock tippets of woven wire.
As well as the shakedown voyage of Emmerson’s shiny, Explorer Industries jet boat, it was opening day on the big pike lake an hour west of town.
The rigours and pleasures of the spawn were over, it was time for Lake Wabamun’s predators to eat their way back to fitness and health.
Not on Skwala stoneflies necessarily, but on anything that is unfortunate enough to swim through their cone of vision.
Whether it be a tiny perch, a young-of-the-season whitefish, or a colourful combo of synthetic fish-hair and marabou feathers tied to a 2/0 tarpon hook, pike logic says if it gets within striking distance it will be eaten.
The tricky part, of course, is getting the big flies into the strike zone.
Big water and Alberta’s Big Sky weather can quickly turn chaotic. But for once Lake Wabamun was living up to it’s Cree name which means “mirror” as the jet skimmed across the placid water.
Lake Wabamun at rest reflected the sky castles, the raged cattail beds and the greening aspens beyond like burnished pewter. A quixotic scene to say the least.
All it needed now was some cherry blossom pike.
Things were slow at out first set up across from the golf course pump house. But when we anchored a little further up the shore in the big, northeast bay just outside the weed line and slowed down the retrieve to little more than an exaggerated twitch, we found fish. Or did they find us?
Chartreuse and white – with a hint of scarlet built into the tail – was the colour. And the feisty five-pounders were all over it. A jaw spreader and needle-nosed pliers became essential equipment.
Where ever we anchored up we found pike and went we stopped at the top end of the bay Emmerson hooked the first of Wabamun’s big fish – a spawned out hen a little shy of 40 inches. Five more would follow.
We cruised to Sundance where we found pods of jumbo whitefish rolling.
A squadron of starched, white pelicans watched nervously from the power plant canal while we tried to figure the whites out. But when they didn’t respond to our bloodworm imitations suspended under strike indicators we returned to the Paul Band shore.
The pike attraction was compelling.
They had moved into the skinny water as the sun settled low in the west, slashing aggressively as the shoals of minnows scattered among the broken bulrushes.
The fly at first was a black and purple. Then they switched to a chartreuse bunny strip.
Nobody was counting so just say we caught many. Maybe too many.
Violence, mayhem and cherry blossom time at Lake Wabamun.
A fly fisher’s heaven. With teeth.
This column originally appeared in the Edmonton Sun