When Opportunity Knocks, You Better Answer!
It’s early May, the fishing is picking up, and I am unemployed.
Don’t let the first line of my latest blog post fool you…yes I am “unemployed” but only for two weeks time as I move from my old job to a new one! Living in Victoria, unemployment can be a daunting event, as the job market here is very tight indeed. Seriously, who wouldn’t want to live in our fair city, with it’s remarkably mild winters, affordable house prices (in relation to nearby Vancouver) and less rainfall than our big sister city across the Haro Strait. Sometimes events come into your life that present you with an opportunity that previously didn’t exist, and for me a change in employer meant an impromptu mini vacation and a chance to escape to the river.
With spring in full swing (all be it a dry one so far), and winter run steelheading season well past, I pulled out the map books on the morning after my last official day at work and started working up a plan for the next 7 days. Eventually I settled on heading to the north of Vancouver Island, where I would spend some time fishing some familiar rivers looking for trout on the prowl. On my list were the Tsitika, Marble, San Josef, Taylor, and lower down..the Cowichan. I packed up my truck with enough clothes and equipment to last me a week, piled all my fly fishing gear and materials in, and headed out early on Monday morning. There was something very satisfying indeed to be heading in the opposite direction of all the suits and skirts heading to work.
My first stop was in Campbell River, where I made the obligatory visit to the River Sportsman outfitter store, located along the banks of the mighty Campbell.If you’ve never been you really should! I always make a point of stopping here on my way up island, as it’s a great store for shopping and always has a great supply of flys. I generally tie my own stuff for steelhead and salmon, and to some degree for trout as well, but I have to admit that my patience for tying small nymphs or dry flys of the size 12-16 is really just not there. I would much rather pay the couple of bucks each and avoid the frustration of working with such tiny implements.
Fueled up, rich with new flys, some food and drink, I headed out for the Tsitika River, about an hour and a half further north from Campbell River. Along the way I stopped in Sayward, where my plan was to eat lunch at the Cypress Pub, but to my dismay it was closed for renovations (although exactly what renovations could be done to spruce up the place is questionable…I mean how can you improve on a life size deer head on the wall that sings and moves to the lyrics!). Looking for a quick alternative, I started following some promising road signs to the Salmon River Inn, where promises of “Excellent Pub Food” were made, I kept driving into the village of Sayward until I came across the Inn. I wish I had stopped and taken a photo, because words simply don’t do it justice. Let’s just say that the advertising was more than a little generous with it’s description, and I decided to forgo the food poisoning and carry on. After a brief leg stretch in Kelsey Bay to watch the loggers work at the dry land sort and booming grounds, I was back on the road.
At 3:30 pm on the nose, I rolled into the Tsitika River Crossing Recreation Site, a spot I have camped before on numerous occasions. Upon arrival, three things were sadly evident immediately:
- Loggers were living at the site. A full on travel trailer was parked on site, with a generator, water trailer, and sewer line running directly from the trailer, into the river. Strike 1.
- The road I had planned on going up to access a lower section of river where Catherine Creek meets the Tsitika was posted for active logging and required permission to access. Strike 2.
- The river itself was lower than I have ever seen it, allowing me to walk across sections that I had previously never even attempted. This surprised me as I was not expecting low water given that it had been warm for the past two week and there was quite a large snow pack this winter. Strike 3.
The long and the short of it was that this river would not be worth fishing, so after just an hour of prospecting around the very skinny water, I packed it in and decided that I would spend the night, and head out in the morning to the Marble River which is lake fed, and bound to have water. Disappointed and hungry, I got the fire going and had a hamburger feast to soften the blow.
The following morning I woke up early after sleeping in my truck at the Tsitika, after a very restless night indeed. Since I knew I would be leaving in the morning, it didn’t warrant the effort of setting up a tent so I just slept across the rear seats of my pickup. Not too uncomfortable really, a bit short for my body, but OK none the less. This was the first time I have slept in my truck, near a river, since the great flood (Read my post “Surviving a Harrowing Night on North Coast of Vancouver Island” for perspective). As expected I guess, I kept waking up every hour, convinced I was flooded out again. In fact there was even one time where I physically put my hand down to the floor to see if it was wet. The other thing I am now discovering is that I have grown afraid of the dark! It has never really bothered me before, but now when I wake up in the pitch blackness of a remote spot with no moon, I wake up in a shear panic. Suddenly I am back in the water, thigh deep in cold muddy water, with a flashlight that is on the blink and no help nearby.I guess it is safe to say that a little PTSD has made it’s way into my world.
With a clear sky overnight, the temperatures dropped pretty quick, and I ended up sleeping in all of my clothes, including my sweater, and still felt a chill. Nothing compared to the chill of waking up in a truck that has become a mobile swimming pool mind you, and let me tell you that had a very distinct feeling. That night I had a great view of the stars above me, and if only my neighbors had shut down their generator I would have had a very peaceful evening. When I awoke the next morning, I had a quick breakfast of cereal (Captain Crunch is the best!) packed the gear up and headed back out on the road on the way to the Marble River.
As I departed in the early morning, the loggers next door had just gotten up and were starting to prepare for their day. Once on the logging road, about 5 km out from camp, I came across a massive off highway logging truck, loaded to the hilt with old growth trees. He let me pass, and thank goodness because it would have been a very dusty ride behind him for the remaining 20 km until he would have turned left onto Taltlos Main, heading for the log sort at the mouth of the Adam/Eve rivers.
I made good time to my first stop on the way, Port McNeill, stopping just once before that to change and wash up at a really awesome rest stop on the highway. Upon arrival in McNeill, I spent some time in the fishing and hunting store and chatted with the dude manning the counter in the store. I made some inquiries about possible places to go fly fishing for trout, and he told me that Keogh Lake was good, and he had been there yesterday and spotted two cougars. He showed me the photo of one, a real skinny and emaciated looking cat. Now, I am no expert, but I am thinking that a guy by himself, probably should stay away from sick and hungry cougars, or else be subject to looking like a nice snack on two legs. The guy confirmed that the Marble was still producing good fishing, and that the rest of the local rivers were really poor right now due to low water conditions. He did mention that the sockeye would soon be in the Nimpkish River, which was interesting. although not enough for me to go and take a look. Having heard all the local fishing gossip there was to hear from the guy, I packed it in and went off to the Marble as planned.
After a sunny drive, I soon arrived at the Marble River Recreation Site, where I had hoped to spend the night as the campsites there are quite nice. Sadly, when I got there it was still locked up, and not open yet for the season. Crap! When I pulled into the parking lot I saw a guy in waders, just getting ready to go home. Always looking to gather a little local intel, I chatted a bit with him and he claimed to have caught 5 fish, in a just a few hours of effort. With promising information like that, it was time to get dressed..and hit the river!
With my gear on and rod rigged and ready, I stomped my way down the to river bank after walking through the empty camp site. I have only fished this place two or three times in the past years, and pretty much always in the same spot. Deciding to change things up a bit, this time I started a little higher up the river than I normally do, as I could see fish rising to surface bugs in the shallows. A hatch was just getting underway, mostly small gray to white midges, plus a scattering of mayfly flitting about in the calm air. After dragging a prince nymph through the little spillway riffle and pool with no luck, I switched over to a march brown dry fly, with similar results. Nothing. Feeling a bit frustrated, I fished for another 30 minutes and then headed further down river to were I had fished with success in previous years with hopes of hitting it big again. The Marble is a beautiful river system, with vibrant colors, clear waters, and lots of hungry rainbow trout waiting for you. It’s a river that I have never been skunked on, and I was hoping that trend would continue on.
On my way further down river, walking along the wooded banks along a trail, I spotted some rather large tracks in the soft pine underfoot, that looked remarkably cat like, and from the looks of them they were very fresh. I took a few minutes to take a good look around me, paying attention to the trees above and around, to see if there was anything sleeping nearby, with the images and the words from the fishing store clerk earlier in the day being far too fresh in my mind. Since I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary, I cautiously continued on, making more noise than I had been up until that point. In a few minutes I had made it to the river, and got set up in the honey hole. Having had no luck on small nymphs,and seeing a tonne of fish feeding at the surface, I threw on a fly donated by my friend Bruce a few weeks prior, a famous deer hair fly that some old timer had passed on to him after a random discussion a the grocery store he works in during the winter. I ran it through
the pool two times, and on the third time I got smacked! After a lively but quick battle, the stink was off and I had landed my first fish of the trip. After a few quick pics I let him go and he headed right to a rock about 2 ft from me, stuffed his head under it, and just sat there for 10 minutes. He didn’t move and inch, so I had time to take a quick video, and felt a bit
concerned that he would die from the stress of being hooked and released. But after throwing some casts for about ten more minutes, I turned to look for him and he had vanished. Perhaps some hardwired instinct had taken over him, reminding him that as a fry he had hidden in the river gravels from predators. Once he felt the danger had passed, he silently swept out to the safety of the fast flowing water and the cooler depths below.
The next fish I caught was a fat little rainbow, hooked up on a bead headed black stone fly nymph. The little guy scooted all over the place and kept me in line, and when I was finally able to handle him in the water he self released and darted away. So fun! I ended up with 3 or 4 more hits, but nothing stuck on the hook. Seeing as I was using my 8 wt two handed switch rod, I believe that had I been using a lighter rod I would have caught more and missed less. Lesson learned.
After a few more hours of brilliant sunshine and fun fishing, I hiked back to the truck where I cooked up a mess of hot dogs, had a nice cold beer, and sat down to decide on my next stop. Since I wasn’t able to stay at the Marble Recreation Site as planned, the next option was to head further northwest to the small logging community of Holberg, and from there onward via logging roads to camp at the site of infamy, the San Josef Recreation Site, where I had been subject to my horrible experience before. I thought about it for awhile and questioned..why? Fishing would most likely be poor due to low water conditions, and I would have driven a heck of a long way for nothing, not to mention a guaranteed bad nights sleep from worrying about a repeat performance of my flood disaster. So instead, I figured I would go reverse my direction and head back down island, to Port Alberni, and stay on the banks of the Taylor River near Sproat Lake.
With the afternoon slipping away it was a long drive but after stopping once for a hour long nap at my now favorite rest stop (at Keta Lake on highway 19), I made it to the Snow Creek Recreations Site on the shores of Sproat Lake at about 9:30 pm. It was dark now, and so I had trouble figuring out where to park as I navigated old campfire rings, deadfalls, and rocks. In the end, since the sites were all empty, I simply parked alongside the beach, sparked up a happy little campfire, took some pics of the moon and then laid my head down for a long rest. Tomorrow I would be out targeting trout making their way from the lake to the river to spawn. Two weeks prior I had been up here, and observed fish in the river. And two weeks prior to that, my friends Bruce Milne, Paul Zozula and I had been up and we saw just one lonely fish. Certainly by now, things must have improved. When morning came, I would find out if I was right, or if my long drive had been a gamble that rolled snake eyes instead of a seven. But that is another story.