Mike Drew: You’ve gotta dress for success
Probably shouldn’t have worn a black, long-sleeved shirt.
Black isn’t the best for such a warm day but I was headed to the back country, gaining a bit of elevation, so I was thinking more about bug protection than temperature.
Sure, the forecast called for highs in the upper 20C range, but that was down in the bottom lands and out on the flats. Up where I was going, the mountain ridges and high valleys south of the Crowsnest Pass, mosquitos and horseflies would be more of a problem.
Flopped down in a patch of clover that was pretty much bug-free, I was regretting my choice of garment almost immediately. The temperature down at Blairmore had already exceeded the forecast high and passed 30C. Up here, another couple of hundred metres higher up the surrounding mountains, it was at least as hot as that.
Tack on the humidity coming up from the clover patch and the half-acre or so of my black-clad back aimed up at the sun and I was sweating so badly that I could barely see the viewfinder of the camera through the torrent. The only advantage that my foolishly-chosen shirt gave me was that I had sleeves long enough to wipe the stinging sweat from my eyes.
I was on my way to Lynx Creek to annoy some trout and I was taking the road south from Blairmore to get there. Though there are a couple of other ways to get to the Lynx Creek valley, I chose to come this way because the road runs right through the middle of the Lost Creek Fire burn zone.
The forest fire that burned through here back in 2003 started just across the ridge in the Lynx Creek valley and then spread over here and down toward Blairmore. It roared through the forest here in the valley and threatened the town — as well as neighbouring Hillcrest — but fortunately it was held back before it could reach there.
I actually photographed the fire as it was burning and I well remember the lung-searing smoke and the flames in the night sky.
So whenever I come down this way to do some fishing, I like to take this road to see how the forest is regenerating itself, how it’s bouncing back.
The scent of clover was thick in the air as I drove slowly along, this non-native flower having taken advantage of the spring seeps and open landscape exposed by the fire. Ten years ago the slopes would have been covered with native fireweed. Now, clover and oxeye daisies — another non-native — seem to have taken over.
It is undeniably pretty. I mean, that’s why I was flopped on my belly and perspiring freely taking pictures of it. And the scent of the clover, at least in small doses like I smelled as I drove along, was pleasant.
At first, anyway. But as I lay there sweating in the heat and humidity of the clover patch, the smell reminded me more and more of those plastic porta-potties you see at outdoor festivals. So much so that, in fact, I started to feel a little bit nauseous.
A big drink of water back at the truck helped that.
The higher up the mountain I went, the more the native flowers began to dominate. There were still oxeye daisies but now there were blanket flowers and paintbrush, fireweed — though not much — and bluebells.
And new lodgepole pines.
Thousands of new trees are growing up among the dead ones, filling in the spaces between the islands of trees that somehow, miraculously, avoided being burned all those years ago. That wasn’t much of a surprise, though.
Lodgepole pines need fire to release the seeds from their tight, resinous cones. Though devastating to us, the forest fire that burned through here gave this forest a new lease on life.
The moon was hanging in the afternoon sky as I crossed the ridge and headed down to Lynx Creek. With the windows rolled down against the heat, the air circulating through the truck carried the scents of pine and willow, the cloying clover not quite as prominent on this side.
Down on the valley floor I could smell the water flowing and the mixed odours of crushed grass and grazing cattle. I expected to see a lot of campers down here but there were actually only a few. The incredible roughness of the road may have had something to do with that.
The creek itself was burbling along like it always does, twisting its way back and forth across the gravelly floor of the valley. Thanks to the fire, it runs mostly among fallen trees and open, flower-filled meadows, a far different creek from the one I first fished in probably 40 years ago. But it’s every bit as pretty in its new clothes. And the fish are still there.
I pulled off to the side of the road, grabbed the stick and started flinging my line toward the water.
At the first little pool there was just a single flash as a trout took a swing at the floating fly but at the second run the fly disappeared below the ripples and a minute or so later I had a tiny jewel-like cutthroat trout in my hand.
It was small, about as long as my palm, and its tiny scales shimmered as it quivered. The back was olive green, the sides black-spotted and splotched with faint splashes of blue and red. The fins were amber. And the undersides of the jaws were slashed with orange, the characteristic which gives the cutthroat its name.
I bent down and slipped it back into the current, blew the water off the fly and made another cast. And caught another fish.
And so it went as I walked up the creek, one, two, sometimes three fish from each run, all small, all feisty. I stopped counting after a dozen but over the kilometre or so of creek I fished, there were certainly more than 20. What fly was I using? Honestly, it wouldn’t have mattered as long as it floated. But for the record, it was a size 14 Green Drake.
The sun was baking me. That black shirt I had so foolishly worn multiplied the effect as it sucked up the sun’s radiant heat and I had to stop and sit with my legs in the current wherever I found shade. Tiny blue butterflies lit in my footprints in the mud, their long tongues probing, I guess, for nutrients my shoes had kicked up. Warblers and sparrows flitted around the willow patches and Bohemian waxwings chased bugs in the air.
Footsore from walking on cobbles, wet with both creek water and sweat, I made my way back to the truck. Taking a big swig of warm water as I rolled down the windows to let the heat out, my pores opened even more and sweat absolutely dripped off me. I put the truck in gear and started rolling, if for no other reason than to get some air blowing by.
I headed downstream now, passing patches of unburned forest that were mossy and cool and went all the way to the junction of Lynx Creek with the Carbondale River. I thought about maybe heading up the Carbondale to fish a little more but decided to head back up Lynx Creek again.
Glad I did.
As is often the case, the scenery looks totally different when you see it coming the other way. I’d completely driven past Lynx Creek falls, for instance, but coming back the same way, there it was. I’ll fish it next time.
And seeing the banks and the forest with the sun now backlighting them, I found lovely floral scenes shining bright against the shadowed banks of the creek. True, they were were mostly populated by clover and daisies but there were lupines and geraniums there was well. Higher on the slopes where the cattle were grazing, the dark browns of the ripening grass made a nice contrast with the fleabane blooming among them.
I stopped at a rock shelf that overlooked the creek and gazed down into the water below. It made the rocky bottom shimmer as it tumbled along upstream of the deep, green pool and magnified the trout I watched rise from its depths to dimple the surface as they snagged floating insects.
Across the creek, a yellow-rumped warbler chased bugs in the air and perched on an outcrop above the water to pant in the heat. A momma harlequin duck paddled by below me with her four ducklings surfing in her wake. A raven flew up and landed in a tree. It croaked a couple of times and then took off again.
I thought for a few minutes about parking by the creek and setting up to stay the night but then decided, no. I was sticky with sweat, dusty from driving with the windows open and still wet from the knees down. The thought of setting up my tent or — more likely — stretching out in the back of the dusty FJ just wasn’t appealing.
So I headed back across the ridge, back down the valley toward Blairmore. I rolled past the ghost trees in the Lynx Creek valley, stopped to photograph Crowsnest Mountain catching the last rays of the sun and spent a few minutes among the horsetails, bog orchids and monkey flowers by a spring seep that, although cooler, was alive with mosquitos.
Against which the shirt was no defence at all.
I continued down into the valley and out past Burmis and the open country across the broad valley between the Livingstone Range and the Porcupine Hills and headed toward home as dusk turned to dark.
I’ll be back to Lynx Creek again, maybe next year, maybe the year after. I don’t expect it and the burn area will have changed much by then. But it will still be fascinating to see and as long as the little cutthroats are there, I’ll keep coming back to annoy them.
Next time, though, I’m bringing a change of clothes.