A big part of fishing is exploring new wilderness. Discovering a new river that you look forward to revisiting again and again. The lore, history and people endear you to an area. The prospect of catching more fish, and bigger fish helps to bring you back time after time.
The Kitimat airport is only accessible by small jet. The big planes can’t negotiate the hard left bank and steep decent necessary to find the strip. Terrace is protected all around with white mountains, like a deep popcorn bowl. The one room airport was packed by family and friends, eagerly awaiting their loved ones. It felt a bit like crashing a wedding reception, as they all new one another except for us. I ‘m sure they wondered who we were and what we were up to.
Soon, Lou had his hand outstretched to greet a young man in a fish motif shirt and ball cap. This would turn out to be our guide Andrew. He seemed to know everyone in the airport and soon they knew we were with him.
Going into a new camp requires a little more thought and at times, makes you a little anxious. It’s hard to know what gear you will need and what the water and weather conditions will be. Andrew’s car was just large enough to accommodate us and our gear. I sat in the back seat, (uncharacteristically quiet) a little unsure of it all. It was very dark and quiet. A total contrast from the large city we had left behind that morning.
Not losing any time, our first stop, the fly shop. The store had a carving of a giant Chinook out front, and they were just about to close for the night. We managed to get our licenses, and of course we were interested in some local flies. Ravens and fishermen share an attraction for shinny bobbles and a curiosity for the new and unusual. A short visit to a fly shop is therefore impossible. Undoubtedly someone will start with a fishing story….. a little grander in the telling each time. The husband and wife team stayed after hours to accommodate us. They had an extensive inventory, and as I perused the store, they shared advice and pictures with Lou. They showed him news paper clippings of record Salmon caught by worthy opponents. Latter at camp, Andrew would re-enforce our expectations with videos of big fish. There were Chinook, some as large as 90 pounds. They were being tagged by the fisheries department.
These giants made a good size man look like a boy. It took two men to wrestle the fish into position for a tag to be secured into the gill plate. We were excited over the prospect of the next few days. At the very least we were well equipped with our egg sucking leaches and double egg patterns in #6 and #4’s.
The Kalum River Lodge is some twenty minutes from the airport. The mountainscape acts as a backdrop for the sprawling lawns and flower beds that are best enjoyed from the view from a second level deck that runs the length of the lodge. The rambling sound of the river below the camp is ever-present. We enjoyed organically grown vegetables from the garden at the lodge. We fed some of these tasty treats to the pet Imu “ookie”. The British Columbian rainforest acts as an incubator that encourages growth. Cedars, Chinook and the timber wolf to name a few. Andrew explained that the pelt on the floor in the guest room,was one of three timber wolves that he shot as they attacked his beloved lab not long ago. The wolves head was so large, that I thought it was that of a black bear.
We would go to bed that night unable to sleep. In part because of excited anticipation for the day of fishing ahead. But mostly because the eyes of the wolf rug seemed to glow from across the room, punctuated by a chorus outside our window from the pack.
It was still dark when Andrew called us to breakfast. Perfectly cooked, free range eggs from his hen house and fresh brewed coffee. The lunches were packed as we talked over the best course of action for the day, taking into account the weather and water conditions.
It seems to take a little longer to get ready the first morning out. Sorting out gear and familiarizing yourself with the camp routine can feel like a bit of work first thing in the morning. We had missed being on the river for first light. As we plodded our way to the river, Andrew answered our questions as we walked. I stayed close to Lou as we made our way along, making sure not to step in any droppings the wolves left behind the night before.
We could see other fishermen were already fishing as we launched the fiberglass drift boat into Stumble Run Pool. We had six miles of river ahead of us to cover and we were happy to exchange greetings with other diehard fishermen and their dogs as we drifted by. It was a cold day, third week in March, only the most dedicated to the sport would be out. We counted over twenty anglers that day. They looked like crocuses peppering the bank as we went past, they remained un-wilted by the cold swirling wind, drizzle and snowy grey sky. We dead drifted our egg sucking leach with the current as we went, casting every here and there. Andrew explained ” that fishing in his area is popular because of the diversity of species, and the diversity of methods used to catch them, complemented by five major river systems.”
We were the only fly fishermen that day, and we new our guide felt we would have more success using other methods. Never mind….we had two strong takes on Lasagna Run, we landed a couple of Cutthroats and a Dolly at the Portuguese Log Jam and our timing felt pretty good with that always challenging sink line. It was an eight hour drift and with every bend we were rewarded with something new as we were discovering this area for the first time. An eagles nest; an enormous bleached sculptured log jam; fantastic scenery and fishy looking water.
The next day, the water was up and fast. It didn’t take any time to revisit the pools. In fact we covered the same water as the previous day in half the time. Lou and I are comfortable fishing two rods at once in close proximity from a boat as we do often as fishing partners. We like to have both rods in the water as much as possible to maximize our chances of catching fish as we cover the water. This was not to be on day two. We had traveled a long distance into this remote area and I ended up with gear failure. No choice but to share a rod; at least for the moment. My Battenkill 8/9 weight rapid retrieve had been damaged in transit by the airline. Lou tried to make the best out of the situation and he seemed to enjoy the opportunity to use his leatherman tool and executed a successful temporary repair to the delicate workings. Lesson learned. It is as a result of this, that I carry a rod, reel and spare gear with me as carry-on in the sorry event of damage or loss of equipment by the airline.
Andrews local networking contacts would pay off. A guide is invaluable when it comes to knowing what’s happening with the fish and where they have ended up on a given day in his/her area. We reworked our strategy. Instead of fishing the water below the camp, as we had been, we would head upriver to Canyon Pool. We walked through old growth forest for the better part of twenty minutes. The walk warmed me up again. Even more amazing, I had forgotten all about the Timber Wolves. Suddenly we were there. A bowl shaped Basin with emerald green water,spectacular. The water was deep. It was slow moving thirty feet offshore with a faster current cutting through the middle of the bowl, picking up speed toward the tailout. The windward bank was too far to cast to and inaccessible by foot because of a steep shale slope. We opted for the lee shore with a gravel bank beach. There was just enough room for a comfortable back cast. The tall canopy prevented any ground cover from growing and causing low shrub snaireups.
I enjoyed watching Andrew float fish. It was new to me, but very common on the west coast. Without effort, he was able to lay out 150 feet of line. A cured Salmon egg sack hitchhiked a ride on a 3/0 barbless hook. His bait would land with a “Gloop”, in the middle of the lagoon. He would then jam the rod butt between three large boulders. The boulders were too large to have been placed there by someone, but to perfectly placed to have been an accident. I figure Sasquatch.
We were making a reasonable dent in a bag of assorted cookies as we watched for Andrews rod to bend. It would move every so often like someone tugging on the rope of a church bell. Up and down up and down….then nothing as Andrew scrambled to remove the rod from its cradle and do a hook set. Time after time, no takers.
A soft rain began to fall, and every so often Andrew would put on a fresh bait sack and announce… “one more cast and then we’ll go”,..as fishermen do. Lou in agreement, standing on the highest point on the gravel bar putting out beautiful line, would echo back something similar from time to time. He would take time out to eat a cookie in between sorting out line from snare ups on sunken logs.
It was raining a lot harder…more bait, one more cast….more bait one more cast. The bag of cookies almost gone. Something had to give. At last! Lou had hooked up on a Steelhead with the fly rod. His first. It was a little on the small side,( a little larger perhaps if he were telling the story) but it had all the usual characteristics and fighting traits of a big fish, down to the gator role. We were soaked and cold, but strangely content.
I sat in the front seat on the return trip to the airport with Andrew, taking in the scenery for the first time that had been cloaked in darkness on our arrival. This place wasn’t strange and quiet anymore. It was in fact a busy hub for Northern communities. I replayed the weekend in my mind and wondered about the really big fish we had heard about. ” You should have been here this particular week, you should have been here that particular week”, Andrew recounted catches of notable size and number.
In the airport we began to recognize some familiar faces. They were fisherman we had met on the river. We sat together while waiting for our flights, drinking coffee and sharing similar stories. After a quick study, we concluded that wet or dry fly fishing is the favored method, while spinning or drift fishing are a close second. More to the point, Steelhead and a few species of trout are the only fish you will find in the river in March. The Chinook, Coho, Sockeye, and Steelhead runs over lap in full force July and August. This is when anglers catch large fish and many fish, as the stories go.
The lore, history, beauty of the place and the people we made friends with during our stay, endear us to the area. All of this and the prospect of catching more fish, and bigger fish will bring us back next year…….in the summer. Part of discovering an area, is finding out when not to visit.