NEIL WAUGH OUTDOORS: It's no, nay, never

Neil Waugh/Edmonton Sun Edmonton

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Any outfit with a Bohdan drum, button accordion and ugly stick in the band is also pretty well committed to having “The Wild Rover” on their setlist.

I think there’s a law somewhere.

The free spirit who “spent all me money on whiskey and beer.”

Then returns home to his long-suffering parents to “confess what I’ve done.”

And “asks them to pardon their prodigal son.”

Ironically it started out as a temperance song.

But I can’t recall a time when Wild Rover was sung in my presence that a free flow of beer wasn’t around.

With its world-renowned hook “It’s no, nay never.”

Most often as not followed by an unprovoked audience response “right up your kilt!”

It’s is, of course, just a Celtic knock-off of the Parable of the Prodigal Son as told by St. Luke.

Where Jesus recounts the story of a father with two sons, the younger of which “squandered his property in dissolute living.”

But the father, over the objections of the older boy, slaughters his best-fatted calf and welcomes him back into the family.

With the memorable biblical line:

“Because he was lost and has been found.”

So I guess you can go home again.

Although I was beginning to doubt the Good Book as I rolled west on the Yellowhead.

The Pembina was high and dirty. Brule too. As was Lobstick, Cold Creek, Carrot and Wolf. The McLeod was a maelstrom at the Crossing on the Coal Branch Highway.

There had been much West Country rain and I began to worry I’d blown a tank of gas chasing wild geese. Not the first time.

But at the junction where the West Branch departs and turns abruptly into familiar 1950s gravel again the Embarras looked tempting.

That was Plan B.

Meadow where the coal mining camp of Mercoal once stood. Neil Waugh/Edmonton Sun Edmonton

I pushed on up the ridge we, as kids, called the Mile Hill and down the other side to where Mercoal Creek flows under the grade.

And I was home.

Although despite the rains the creek looked smaller than through 10-year-old eyes half a century or so since.

Global warming must have shrunk it. Or maybe Liberal politicians.

I drove through where the camp once was, trying to figure out where the Legion and Roger Conger’s store stood.

Then visualized where the doctor’s house (where I spent five formative years) sat above the water meadow.

Sadly the dynamic little community where I learned to fly fish in the diminutive creek running through it ceased to exist when Old King Coal died in 1959.

All that remains of the McLeod River Collieries mine tipple is a concrete anchor block.

Anchor block for the Mercoal mine’s hoist. Neil Waugh/Edmonton Sun Edmonton

The little impoundment that provided water for the turbine boiler has now been re-purposed by a beaver.

It was in the riffle above the cooling pond where the Athabasca rainbow trout came up at dark to rise to the caddis that I had some of my finest hours.

I rigged my 3-weight cane rod, tied on a Variant dry fly and my fox red Lab Penny led me to the water.

When the dam didn’t yield anything we crossed the railway embankment and entered the tangled willow-flat below.

It was hot, muggy and buggy and we had to make a lengthy detour around a busted beaver complex.

I soon realized why we never ventured down here.

Instead of golden gravel the creek flowed over deep, boot-sucking silt. Wading wasn’t an option.

Bank-casting tightens the targets exponentially and the down-stream wind gusts didn’t help.

I saw a bubble where the current brushed against an undercut.

One cast down the run later I found out what made it.

Athabasca rainbow trout in Neil’s net. Neil Waugh/Edmonton Sun Edmonton

The trout was big for an Athabascan – which isn’t saying much – and after a brisk battle lay gasping in my net.

I hadn’t given myself as much creek as I wanted and was too soon back at the dams where the fishing ended.

Sweaty, muddy and bug bit.

When it comes to Mercoal Creek, unfortunately it’s no, nay, never.