"who could make up something like that? And there were no planes..."
In the late 1990’s my wife Bev and I both got quite serious about fishing. We had always fished – it was part of the many outdoors activities that we did, but at one point we began to do less hiking and more fishing. Fishing is one of those things in which you have to pay your dues. I would catch the odd fish or two and sometimes have a good day, but as I began to spend more time fishing I began to consistently catch more fish. As I became a better angler, it became something I wanted to do more of. It was the proverbial vicious circle and verged on fanaticism.
One of our favorite places to go was near the forks of the Livingstone and Oldman Rivers. In the fall we would pull our old Boler trailer west through “The Gap” into the "Old Man’s Playground" and camp near the forks for two weeks. A familiar pattern would begin. Every morning we would have breakfast, pack our lunch, sort out our gear and we were off...
The area west of the Livingstone Range presents many fishing opportunities. Our trips would usually begin with a warm-up day catching small cutthroat trout above the Oldman falls. We would fish the area between the falls and the forks for larger cut-throats and bull trout. There were massive bull trout in the Livingstone River and in the Oldman below the forks, along with larger cutthroat/rainbow trout hybrids. Fishing “The Gap” (where the Oldman River cuts through the Livingstone Range) can be especially challenging and rewarding. It is difficult and dangerous wading, but the cutthroat and rainbow are larger and feistier and the rocky scenery is amazing.
We are not fly-fishers, but we use lightweight 5’6 rods with small reels and light (4-6lb.) line. Our technique is to present small spinners and plugs (fashioned to look like minnows or small rainbow trout) to our quarry. We often wear neoprene waders and felt soled boots, with fishing vests and ball caps. Polarized sunglasses are also indispensible accessories. This isn’t the placid angling most people expect. We would walk miles of river every day. Those of our friends, who say they like to go fishing, would only come once. Most evenings we would return to camp, eat supper and retire to bed. Even we would tire of this pattern of living and every so many days would take a break. This would often consist of doing some "lazy-man fishing" at our favorite Arctic Grayling fishery; Bear Pond.
One particular autumn we drove north along the trunk road and then turned east, passing south of Plateau Mountain and over Wilkinson's Summit to Bear Pond. It wasn't the electric blue fall day that we expect in Alberta. Instead it was gray and overcast. We walked the half mile up the hill and found the pond shrouded in fog. The weather didn't stop us. We had a fantastic day, chucking oversized spoons to the voracious grayling. Between the two of us, we caught (and released) nearly 40 fish. I won't say who caught the most, but her name begins with Bev. It was one of the best days of a wonderful two weeks of fishing. We couldn't resist stopping to fish a pool full of cutthroat near the Livingstone River Bridge on the way back to camp. I tried to tune-in a radio station for a weather report, but all I could get was one endless stream of country music with no commentary. The sky closed in on camp and it began to rain. We warmed up in the trailer, cooked supper and went to bed...
The next day was a beautiful day. There wasn't a cloud in the sky. I notice a couple of people in the campground and I got chatting with one of them. He was an ex-navy man from Seattle, which didn't surprise me. I seemed to meet many Americans there in the fall. He said they were supposed to drop their son at the Calgary airport that day, but of course there was no need for that now. When I asked him why not, he looked at me strangely and asked "you don't know, do you?” The things he told me after that left me disturbed and incredulous. It was September 12, 2001.
The first thing he said was "have you seen any planes overhead for the last day or so?” I thought about it and realized that I had not. He went on to tell me about all the things that had happened on the previous day, while we fished. We went down to the Livingstone that afternoon. As we walked the river, I couldn't get the things he had told me out of my head. I could scarcely believe them, but who could make up something like that? And there were no planes... When I got back to camp, I found a copy of the Calgary Herald on my picnic table, with a front-page picture of the towers and the plane. After a week of pondering what had happened, I got home and turned on the television. The images I saw were still shocking.
Ten years have come and gone. Next weekend will find us camping in nearby Kananaskis Country. On Sunday, September 11 we will make the drive south to Bear Pond for a day of fishing and remembrance. I will never forget the day we fished, while the world around us changed forever.