By NEIL WAUGH
Talk all you want about your honey bees, brag up your alfalfa bees, go nuts about white maggots if you have to.
Hey, it’s a free country. I’ll always respect your democratic right to be wrong.
Alberta’s MVB – Most Valuable Bug – is, in fact, none of the above.
The title goes to the mercurial little mayfly that fly fishers call a Blue Winged Olive.
This is not just my humble opinion either.
In his voyage of discovery down the Forestry Trunk Road, called Alberta’s Trout Highway, Red Deer writer Barry Mitchell declared the diminutive BWO “the bread and butter hatch for Alberta fly fishermen” and “as close to a sure thing as you will find.”
Colorado angler John Gierach committed a full chapter in Another Lousy Day in Paradise to his “favorite” mayfly.
“There’s a feeling of permanence to it,” Gierach wrote. “I’ve caught trout on Blue Winged Olive hatches in psychological conditions ranging from cocksure insolence to emotional wreckage.”
Longview fly fishing writer Jim McLennan ranked Olives as “the first important insect of spring.
“It’s a very prolific insect that hatches best on cloudy days,” McLennan noted in his Bow River guide book Blue Ribbon Bow.
It had gone beyond cloudy when I turned off the QE2 and headed west toward Trout Country. The Jeep’s wipers were hardly keeping up with the downpour and the Front Range of the Rockies was more fiction that fact.
It had been raining off and on for five days now and the fields were hemorrhaging run-off.
The Environment and Sustainable Resource Development stream flow website revealed that Prairie Creek was running at 20 cubic metres per second. Normal at this time of year is 5 CM/S.
The Red Deer was in similar shape jumping from 50 CM/S to 200 CM/S in town. What’s more they were dumping water over the Dickson Dam spillway.
Finding feeding fish in that muddy rampage is an impossible mission.
In the cold, clinical world of a stream gauge, the Raven River appeared a similar sad situation, jumping from 3 CM/S to 30 CM/S.
But there are two Raven Rivers, which co-join just above the metering station. The South, a spring-water influenced brook more susceptible to rainfall.
And the North, which Jim McLennan nominated as “the best of a very few” Alberta spring creeks.
“But don’t be fooled,” McLennan warned. “Beneath that bright, bubbly smile lurks a cruel, unforgiving heart.”
Spring creeks, because their volume derives mostly from constant aquifer discharges, are not as susceptible to blow-outs.
Although I was not exactly exuding cocksure insolence when I drove to an upper section, let the dog out of the truck and did a reconnaissance under a gun-metal gray sky that threatened to begin leaking again at any moment.
Despite the unrelenting rains the North Raven River was still wearing her bright, bubbly smile. Fat but clearly fishable with a hint of tea stain. But would the brown and brook trout agree?
There were a few, egg-laying mayflies – known as spinners – about as I worked up the golden gravel scours, under-cuts and trailing willow branches.
First with a March Brown dryfly. Then a stripped-quill Sulphur which I reckoned resembled the insects on the water. Apparently the fish didn’t.
It looked like the cruel-hearted lady was about to sing when a new bug came dancing down the pewter flow and got airborne. A hatch. But what hatch?
After a few evasive attempts I captured one. Slate gray wings, abdomen the colour of an avocado, a Blue Winged Olive and there were now more coming along the foam line.
Not exactly in the traditional early-spring-late-fall time-frame, but I wasn’t about to complain.
I dug through my fly box for an imitation.
A fish rose in a bucket between two willows. Another showed further up.
I covered the first – a fine brookie with blue halos around its red spots – took as soon as I located it’s feeding lane.
I missed the next one. But caught the next riser above. Another brook trout. I blew off a trout with a bad cast. But a little brown ate the fly next.
Then, like somebody flipped a switch, the Olives disappeared like campfire smoke. And my MVB hatch was over.
On the walk back to the truck through purple violet clusters on the water meadows a Wilson snipe boomed his flight of love overhead.
This column was originally published in the Edmonton Sun