In the the rolling hills of the southern Alberta prairies, there exists a perfect trout stream. A trout stream that starts along the divide, meanders through boulder fields, waterfalls, and rapids. A trout stream with the perfect amounts of riffles, runs, and pools; with several different species of excellent sportfish to pursue and abundant bug life. The best of these waters lie near the end of this streams course- a course which was cut short and forever altered by the damning forces of man. A place that is haunted by anglers, fish, and memories.
The anglers haunt is a place frequented by men and women who pursue trout; sometimes, you can hear their cries of exuberance, or pain, ring through the coulees. Their presence in the valley bottom is near constant; you can sometimes even find them pursuing trout in the dead of night, so long as there is a bit of moonlight. They are most common in the dim light of early dawn and late dusk, when the bugs are thickest and the wind is weakest. Yet even when the wind blows so hard that no sane man would venture outside, you can find anglers flailing their lines through the wind in deranged pursuit of trout.
Why do these anglers so obsessively haunt this stretch of stream? One only has to look at the other inhabitants of the river. The large rainbows, some 24″ and up, that are hard fighting and acrobatic; the migratory bull trout that prowl the depths on the hunt for small fish; the schools of whitefish, some of which are also impressive in size; and not to mention the odd brown trout, or lake trout, or even cutthroat trout. In fact, these species and the pursuit of them serve to remind us how much the river has changed, yet, how one thing has remained a constant- the presence of large trout thriving in the inviting waters of the anglers haunt.
The anglers come-and-go. Some return regularly; others may only return once every few years. Regardless, each angler is but a passerby in an angling story much older and longer than one mans life. People were fishing here well before the mountain collapsed in 1903. The river was famous by the middle of the century. Generations of anglers have walked it’s shores, waded its waters, and casted a line to it’s trout. Their stories are written on the hills, by the ever so faint fisherman’s trails; by the bits of fly-line and mayfly patterns that hang from the trees; by the bootprints in the mud at each juicy bend. Those who have been lucky may have caught the fish of their life here; or maybe the best day of their life. Maybe that is why they return so obsessively; for these trout also haunt the memories of those who have stalked these banks.
Yet the land is now haunted by much more than just anglers and trout. For much of the anglers haunt is now flooded, submerged, and lost forever. Now, this landscape tells a story more powerful than just the haunting pursuits of man. It tells a story of loss. For when the end of this river was flooded out by humans, so to were the stories the landscape told, and the memories of anglers who shared this place with us several generations before. We let them down, when we let a place as special as this disappear under water. So now as we anglers stalk these waters, we are haunted by more than trout; we are haunted by what was lost.
Why do places like this evoke such feelings in men and women? What is it about trout that enrapture us in such ways? To the angler, places such as this seem to be made specifically with us in mind. It feels too perfect to be real. The stream that is too good to be true, but is true. And no matter how far you are, that perfection calls you. Those memories call you. That is why we return time and time again- to add to the memories, and be reminded of the beautiful moments of the past.
That is why each time I return, I take a moment to really cherish my time spent in this magical place. It is why I bear no ill-feelings or disappointment if I must share this stretch with others- for I acknowledge their right to be part of the story, just as I am. As for the fish… I feel some guilt for the life they are subjected to. Yet, they are clever enough and numerous enough to persist in such a place, and despite the many threats that face them, I believe this will remain true in the decades to come. Their cleverness is an adaptation to living in a place haunted by anglers; for we are part of the fish, just as they are part of us.
The story of fishing here will continue, hopefully for many generations. Many more stories will be painted on the land, and many more fish will bring great thrills to their pursuant. Anglers will continue to frequent it’s shores, and their cries will ring through the countryside. The humans will haunt the fish, and the fish will haunt the humans.
And all the while, the memories of loss will live on forever. Let them serve as a reminder that places like this are more than rocks, water, fish and trees. They are our stories. They are our best memories. They are places that call us back, time and time again, and remind us what it is to be human. That is reason enough to preserve them, and stand up for them when we must. For if they are lost, it is our stories that disappear. Our joy that will diminish. And the fish that we so selfishly pursue that will perish.
Let us not take for granted what we have, and remember what we have to lose. Only then will the stories of this perfect little trout stream persist…
The stories of the angler’s haunt.
Check out the YouTube Video I made from a day spent sneaking around the Angler’s Haunt. Don’t forget to subscribe on YouTube!