I’m not a religious person. Far from it really. But I swear…there’s someone up there who really likes to mess with me.
Two weeks ago, after a few missed attempts over the months, I finally got a chance to accompany my fishing buddy Steve Ford in his shiny aluminum drift boat on a full days drift down the upper fly fishing only section of the Cowichan River, here on Vancouver Island. As we prepped for the trip the river was sitting at a nice level, with just the right amount of flow and colour in it to make a person dream that the possibility existed of catching a nice chrome winter steelhead on the fly.
Gear loaded, hopes high, and the lunch I had so painstakingly made the night before left in the fridge at home (not the first time) we hit the river early in the early morning and spent a full day fishing with fly rods and boxes full of magic gear that was “guaranteed to work”. Over the course of the 8 hours on the water, we saw hundreds of spawning trout pairing up in the gravels, and a few steelhead that were extremely wary of anything floating near, above, or beside them. Super nice to see so many fish, and equally super frustrating to watch them ignore fly, after fly, after fly.
Out of the three experienced fly fisherman aboard, and despite valiant efforts by all of us, only one trout was landed for the day, and another one caught for a very brief moment before spit the fly out.But a day wasted? Hell no. I made a new friend, saw some new stretches of the river, and spent some quality time with a good friend.
After that trip, I started thinking about drifting the river again….and soon. With the trout soon to finish spawning, their focus would be back to eating and replenishing their energy, and it would be a bonanza of opportunity to catch multiple fish each day. The weather is also starting to warm up, and hatches of mayfly are starting to become more frequent. So with all that in mind I committed to taking another shot at it the following weekend.
Skip ahead now to the following Sunday, 7 days after the original trip. Not having Steve around meant the aluminum drift boat was out of play, so instead I packed up the Water Master raft, and committed to a solo trip instead. It was my first time with the Water Master, having previously only drifted using my Water Skeeter River Guide pontoon which while larger, is considerable heavier and more cumbersome for one guy. With the boat set up and loaded with two rods and more variety of flies than I would ever need, I set off to duplicate the drift from the week before.
As soon as I got settled in the boat and underway, I saw the same large numbers of spawning trout flitting back and forth below me, jockeying for the best position, best mate, and most promising gravel reds. But as I headed down the first few kilometres of river, stopping at the same spots we had stopped 7 days prior, I noticed that the river had significantly more volume moving through it, and that the spots I had previously comfortably stood and cast from were now difficult for me to maintain my balance in with the increased flow and depth. Once again the fishing gods had played their games and dealt me a bum hand. God damn it! It never fails.
So what do you do when faced with this? Stomp your feet and get grumpy? Or blame Donald Trump for his lack of protection against Global Warming (fake news apparently)? I did what any fisherman does when faced with adversity. I stood back, soaked it in, and decided that the worst thing that could happen to me that day is that I had not tried. So, with a good 12 km of river left to drift before the takeout point I put on a heavy T17 sink tip, a weighted egg pattern fly, and flogged the fast moving water the best I could. I knew that it was unlikely to produce anything, but honestly I didn’t care. I was just happy being out on the river and enjoying quite time amongst the mossy trees and cool clean water.
When I had started my day, there had been two inches of fresh snow on the ground and a damp chill in the air. But as the morning became afternoon, the sun came out and took the snow away, giving rise to a crisp spring day with patches of warm sun that reinvigorated the soul, not to mention my cold and wet hands.
With the increased river height came larger rapids to deal with, with bigger and heavier standing waves to maneuver around and over. Being the first time out on the Water Master, and being used to sitting much higher above the water level in my pontoon, I’ll admit to being a bit nervous at first. But after running though some of the heavier sections of water and feeling how stable the raft felt, I quickly gained confidence in the little boat and soon felt right at home. My only complaint was that being closer to the water meant I got more water in my face than normal. Who needs Disneyland..I had my very own private Splash Mountain! But overall, I was very pleased with the raft, and I’m keen to take it on some new adventures this year.
As I came to the last few kilometres of river, I came across a slow moving section with deep green pools of water that just begged to be probed with rod and line. I fished a long stretch of the this section, quartering my way down the entire run hoping to get that tug on the leader at the end of the swing. As I cast and waded, the air was suddenly full of swallows, swooping and whirling through the air like mini fighter jets in hot pursuit of their prey. There were so many at one point that I stopped and watched, amazed at just how these tiny birds are able to not only spot mayflies and other insects on the wing and catch them mid air, but also pick them off the surface as well.
I must have stood there for a good 15 minutes, watching some of them dip into the water, and then miraculously “fly” our of it. As I observed the swallows, I heard the familiar streaking call of a Bald Eagle, and soon spotted him sitting high atop a big Maple, overlooking the whole stretch of river. With the leaves still not out on the trees, I was also able to spot his nest, just a hundred meters or so from where I was standing. It was a massive structure, having been built and reused by the Eagle year after year. How cool would it be to climb that tree and take a look inside!
Having soaked up the scene, I hopped back into my little raft and made the run the last few km to the take out point, where my friends would be waiting to pick me up and take me back to my launching point and my truck. I hadn’t caught any fish, but who cares. I had been serenaded by huge fallen trees hanging down into the river and drumming off the bottom of the river bed in a rhythmic beat. I had heard the soft whispering of a cedar tree’s fronds being brushed by rushing water as they dangled gingerly against the surface. I’d gazed dreamily at slow flying brown mayfly spinners as they made they way through the air, as if in slow motion, as their singular day of life took flight. I had watched more trout than I’ve ever seen dance amongst the boulders and the gravel, as they courted their mates and their hopes to pass on their genes to the next generation. And I had felt the warmth of the sun on my face as I lay down on a dry gravel bar to enjoy a snooze after lunch.
So my advice to you all is this. The fishing gods can be cruel and fickle and Murphy’s Law will apply more times than not. But do not despair…simply sit back, and enjoy the ride.