September 2015

September 2015
September 2015


 When my buddy and I left Campbell River Marina in his 17-foot Hurston, we were heading for the Green Can. Shortly after rounding light house on Quadra we spotted gulls diving off the Red Can, so swung in for a closer look. The depth sounder suddenly indicated bait below, and within seconds of stopping and dropping a Mack Deep over the side I was into a frisky Chinook. It went through the entire repertoire of sizzling runs, flip-flop jumps and strong, bulldogging dives, which makes the breed popular with anglers, but fate was on my side.
 After Brad netted the 18-pounder and swung it aboard, I killed it and we snapped a couple of photographs. As Brad started cruising around to locate the bait, I frisked my pockets for a pen in order to fill out my Chinook card. Nothing. "Got a writin' stick?" I asked.

 Brad went through his own pockets then crouched down to check out the compartments at each side of the boat. Nada. So there I was…a potential lawbreaker for want of something to write with. Brad suggested I slash my wrist with his filleting knife and use the point of a straightened hook to fill out the card in blood.
 "I have a better idea." Although there wasn't another vessel in sight I suggested, "Let's go find a boat and borrow a pen."

 "What happens if it's a DFO boat?" he asked.

 "Then I'll do the honourable thing and tell them you caught it."

 Fortunately, the first boat encountered contained two friends; unfortunately, they had only one pen on board. While this solved our immediate problem, we decided our wisest move before wetting our lines again would be to hunt down a pen or pencil. It took another half hour of prime fishing time before locating a boat with a spare pen on board.

 If someone ever decides to organize an association for absent-minded anglers, I will probably qualify for automatic life membership. Behind me is a lifetime plagued by forgetful acts which made multitudes of fishing trips difficult, uncomfortable, embarrassing, frustrating, expensive, dangerous, or assorted combinations thereof. In extreme cases, entire trips were trashed before really getting started. Like the time I headed to Gold River for some winter steelhead fishing. After the 100 km drive from Campbell River I found the big river in perfect shape and, wonder of wonders, no vehicles were parked near the trail leading to my favourite stretch of water. I quickly pulled on my chest waders, shrugged into my heavily-laden steelhead vest, then reached for my long casting rod, which was still propped in the corner of my basement.

 Last fall, Ryan telephoned to suggest we check out the Campbell River for some early coho. I took a long, hard look at my growing pile of unanswered correspondence and pending writing deadlines. Being the publisher means keeping my priorities straight -- if I don't stay at the computer depressing keys, the jobs don't get done. Thus, it was with a heavy sigh of resignation that I gave Ryan my answer, hung up the phone, grabbed my waders, fly vest and 8-weight Sage, then bolted for the door.

 My buddy’s pick up was already parked by the river when I arrived and I found him fishing downstream from the Canyon Pool. After stringing my line through the guides and tying a fly on the leader tippet, I discovered the small pliers usually carried in my vest were missing. A search though assorted pockets revealed that my manicure scissors, clippers and twin-bladed jackknife were also absent. All were in my steelhead vest, where I had put them for a previous fly-fishing outing when I needed a vest with more carrying capacity (for equipment, not fish).

Experience has taught me that my pearly whites won't sever monofilament, and I didn't fancy wading downstream to borrow Ryan's clippers. No problem -- I improvised, and quickly discovered how inefficient two rocks are at separating a piece of eight-pound-test monofilament, and how painful it is to whack my thumb between two rocks. I finally held the tag end across one rock and rubbed through it with the other, leaving the frayed end as long as the fly itself. No matter. By the time I was ready to make my first cast, Ryan had waded back upstream to inform me the river appeared devoid of coho.

Being absent minded means never being lonely. I once watched Frank Armeson skillfully knot his green and white "killer hoochie" to a leader, measure it, loop the opposite end at precisely the right length, clip it to a flasher, then toss everything over the side to see how it looked in the water. It looked fine as it sunk from sight, for none of it was tied to his line.

 Frank once told me of waiting in a long lineup at a launch ramp in French Creek. The fellow ahead of him got impatient, so hopped out of his truck and busied himself undoing the tie-down straps on his 26-foot cruiser -- a standard operating procedure during any launch. Later, upon reaching the ramp, as the wheels of his trailer went over the crest the driver stepped on the brakes to slow his descent. His boat continued rearward on the well-greased rollers, then tilted nose up, sending the stern and twin inboard/outboard legs crunching down onto the concrete. The expensive lesson taught was that one should never, ever, undo the bow cable until the trailer is submerged and the boat's stern is floating.

I have also been told about a chap at the Comox Marina who neglected to set the parking brake on his pickup before getting out to push his boat off the trailer. Onlookers still talk about how long the truck floated before finally submerging.

 More recently, friend Jerry Brook told me of a trip to one of his favourite North Island trout lakes. "After making camp, I put on a performance that just absolutely dazzled some nearby campers. I set up a small electric generator, then hauled out a vacuum cleaner and plugged it in. That made them sit up and take notice. Then I laid out my rubber inflatable, started the generator, hooked the vacuum cleaner hose to the raft, and inflated it in three or four minutes. I tell you, the looks on their faces was priceless! Then I hauled the raft down to the lake, packed down my 30-pound-thrust electric motor and the battery, hooked everything up, and went back for my tackle. It was beautiful -- less than a half hour after I arrived and I'm on the water, all ready to fish -- except for the dead battery."

 Stories like this lead me to believe that if someone does take the initiative to start an association for absent-minded anglers, there is a massive, untapped pool of potential members from which to draw. Many are friends and acquaintances, but they'll have to line up behind me.

Huxley’s Run: 

Tick, Tick, Tick…

My perch on the rocks gave me a clear view into the ocean pool below. A mink scurried in and out of the riprap, taking quick glances at me before disappearing again. It was a fine summer day in Campbell River; the sun was high and the tide was coming in well. The busy highway behind me buzzed, but couldn’t break the quiet and solitude of that most wondrous of waterfronts.

I had seen pinks jumping here the previous day. There was not beach, just a rock embankment that formed a pool when the tide was full. Nothing had shown yet, so I sipped a pop and checked the knot on my fly. Then, from the corner of my eye, I saw a huge, dark shadow creep in from the ocean, passing right in front of me. Initially, it looked like a whale, but then the mass separated into hundreds of individual salmon. It was simply stunning.

I watched the school pass for a half a minute, and saw that they came into the pool, circled it, then headed out before turning and repeating the process. The next time they came around, I was ready.

I cast just as the mass became visible. After three short strips they were on my fly, but they simply scattered, leaving it completely alone. I tried three more times, but to no avail. On my fifth try the fly line developed a nasty little tangle that took 10 seconds to get out. When I started retrieving my fly through the school, three pinks banked away like jet fighters and homed in on it. The first one turned at the last moment, but the second one took my fly on the turn.
 Fascinated, I repeated this process. How many years had I fly fished for pink salmon and never taken the opportunity to actually watch them take? Every time I pulled my fly in front of the school they passed it, uninterested. But if I let the school pass and then retrieved through them, the fighters broke formation and attacked. It was simply the most stunning fly fishing for salmon I had ever experienced.

While fishing for pinks on the beach, every now and then I would feel a light tick on my line. No matter how quickly I attempted setting the hook, nothing every came of it. I put it down to a sculpin for some similar creature nibbling on my fly. But on those rocks that day, wearing sneakers and shorts, four flies and one spool of six-pound-test tippet material in my shirt pocket, a curtain lifted, revealing the cause. I was retrieving my fly when a pink came at it quickly. Then it slowed and seemed to nose the fly. In a split second its mouth opened and closed, then opened again of the fly. And I felt that tick!

Even having seen it I was too slow to set the hook. After a few more tries I finally got it right, setting up whenever I saw a fish’s white mouth open. While it worked fine, I realized that on the beach I would be afforded not such visual luxury and the ticks would continue unchecked – as they probably should.
Due to the hatchery program the pinks now come back and school up along the shoreline, making an excellent fishery for the family. Best of all though, it solved a mystery that had perplexed me for years.

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