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Ronan's report

Tuesday 18th October, 2011

It was a cold morning, the first that required frost to be taken off the car window. I had taken the day off work because I thought it would be the last of the nice days this year. I missed the nice days.

The diesel complained as the cold oil slowly made its way through the engine. My hands were numb from packing the gear bag that I had left outside over night. Two layers of jackets to stop the wind and chill. I don't think it really was that cold, but winter was coming and I was still used to wet wading. When the hot coffee started to course through my veins, I kicked the engine into drive and turned the truck south.

The road to the river had scenery verging on mind blowing, but definitely extremely spectacular. This road goes straight from a prairie flat land into a steep mountainous landscape, with no pesky tree covered hills to block the view. The end of the season was apparent in the golden leaves and the brown grass. I honestly had expected an indian summer this year, with good dry fly fishing to push into early November, but I wasn't disappointed in the oncoming autumn.

That day I had decided to fish a spot I hadn't been to in years. The landowner was a grouchy old fart, always getting into trouble for using too much dynamite to get rid of skunks under buildings, or enforcing his ethics with a rifle on folks that wander down his river. We got along great!

I pulled the wrong-hand drive diesel into his yard and hopped out to chat. The landowner had aged since I'd seen him last. His wrinkles had grown wrinkles and more of his teeth had succumbed to his gum line. Despite his advanced age, he still had that mischievous sparkle in his eye and could recall every aspect about my wife and her career. Me, I was just the one married to Farrah. After waxing eloquently about how my wife helped him with his water license and how he told others to talk to her, he off handedly mentioned that he had kicked some anglers off of his property for camping at a trout staging pool. "Those bastards were just filling the freezer with those browns, so I kicked them out!"

I gotta say, he cares about the fur and fins on his place! In fact, he is from one of the original ranching families in Alberta, and he recently has sold his land into the Nature Conservancy to prevent it from ever being developed.

After listening to a few fish handling tips, I left his yard and headed across the field to the river. It is a beautiful location, sheltered by a cliff on one side and forest on the other. I parked the truck and started gearing up. The chill had lifted from the air, but it was still refreshingly crisp. The water was ice cold as I eased in from the rocky bank.

Cast after cast, I bombed a streamer into each lie, behind each boulder, and along the undercuts. Not a brown, not a rainbow, not a fish to be seen. I was getting desperate, and then I made a decision that I normally wouldn't. I walked up to the pool at the mouth of the creek coming in and I tossed in a streamer.

Wham, a big brown slammed the fly from the depths. Quickly to hand and release. Another toss, this time a few fish fighting over the fly. Another quick release. At that point I was feeling really guilty. There was no skill required, no challenge in fishing here. And ethics- these fish weren't spawning but they were staged, waiting for a rain so they could get up into the creek.

With a re-started moral compass, I headed back downstream looking for some other fish to target. There was nothing left in the river, all of the piscatorial subjects were preparing to spawn or hiding from the big brown brutes. The wind was completely gone from my sail.

With leaden feet I headed back to my truck, fired up the engine and drove north along the mountains, before turning east, away from the sun, away from the hills, and away from the trout. I could have stopped and fished some great rainbow streams on the way east, but I was too deep in my head, thinking too much about those big browns waiting for the rain.

I knew I wasn't going to get any satisfaction in casting at those staging fish, even though I hadn't been sure they would be there. I knew I pushed my comfort boundaries, especially when I caught more than one- just for my enjoyment.
At what point did it become unethical to fish? All fish are collecting energy to reproduce or to overwinter. Migratory fish are all technically staging to spawn. I will never target a fish off a redd, but are there other taboos?


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