By NEIL WAUGH
A few years back on a visit to San Francisco I rolled up John F. Kennedy Drive in Golden Gate Park until I hit the buffalo paddock.
Then climbed the trail up a low ridge to a modest arts and crafts structure set among the cedars and rhododendrons.
The worldwide headquarters of the Golden Gate Angling and Casting Club.
Below me were three concrete tanks around which clusters of fly anglers gathered, talked and sometimes cast a fly at floating targets out on the green water.
Or rolled out big, powerful spey casts at imaginary steelhead lurking somewhere on the far side of the pond.
For the hour or so I was there nobody caught a fish. Or ever has.
The place was built in 1938 as one of the last Work Project Administration jobs – a money-spinner under Democrat President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal.
Don’t get me wrong, the club does organize outings to iconic western states fly-fishing destinations like the McCloud River or Pyramid Lake.
But they’re a long drive from the Bay Area.
So, from my observations, they mostly just hang around, complain about the government and cast.
I can think of a lot of worse things to do on a sunny spring afternoon.
And there’s no doubt renewal is in the air these days.
There are even a few rivers – which still operate on the old April 1 angling year – open.
(Consumers’ Warning! I use the term “open” in a strictly regulatory way.)
Some are still frozen and nobody from government has yet figured out a way of informing the trout and whitefish it’s now legally OK to eat a #16 Pheasant Tail nymph.
Still this separation between pent-up demand and reality had my fishing dog Penny and I heading west on the David Thompson.
Not unlike the Golden Gaters who keep coming back despite knowing there’s zero chance they’ll ever catch a fish in their Portland cement ponds.
There was a flock of tundra swans right where they were supposed to be on Cygnet Lake.
Or at least what’s left of it after the railroaders drained it at the beginning of the last century. It’s now a Ducks Unlimited property.
We were making for the Clearwater River for no other reason than it’s spring and it’s open.
In his wonderful book, Alberta’s Trout Highway, the late Barry Mitchell didn’t just pick off the low hanging fruit and hype the blue ribbons.
But dug down deep into the minor leagues to eulogize some of our lessor foothills streams.
The Clearwater River, which flows out of the mountains and into the North Saskatchewan near Rocky Mountain House, is one of them.
According to Barry there are brown trout and bull trout. Some big ones.
“But like a lot of rivers in this part of the world, the Clearwater is an infertile freestone,” he added.
“Where the picking are slim and the trout spread far and wide.”
Anything, I guess, is better than the alternative.
At the Ricinis bridge I set up my 5-weight with a Pheasant Tail under a strike indicator with enough split shot pinched on the tippet to get the fly down to the pay-zone.
Then pulled on my waders and headed upstream looking for holding water.
The Clearwater was living up to its name, running pure and transparent as a lead crystal wine glass.
I found a promising pool under a high crumbling bank.
But after several dozen casts, a fly change to a Gold-ribbed Hare’s Ear and two lost flies in the submerged timber I caught exactly nothing.
I fished up a ways with the nymph then switched to a sinking line and a black Bead-head Woolly Bugger and retraced my steps.
On the way home I made a quick stop at the little tin arena named after the great figure skater Kurt Browning in Caroline. Respect.
Like Barry warned, the pickings were mighty slim on the Clearwater this day.