Cast…Retrieve…Step…Cast. Repeat.

As fishermen and women, we’ve all read the above or maybe had it drilled into us at some clinic by a master Jedi fly caster. It’s the mantra given to all those who seek those shy steelhead or trout to make sure that when casting for fish, be it on the fly or with terminal tackle, you cover as much of the river as possible and don’t stay in one spot. Time spent on the water is precious, and it makes sense to make the best use of it. Don’t waste your time flogging the same stretch of water over and over again because there is no guarantee of success. If you’ve not connected with a fish after the first few passes over a stretch of water, it’s quite likely you won’t.

Take a minute to re-read that first paragraph. Think about it. And then realize, as I did, that it applies not only to fishing but many other aspects of life. Things like your career, your relationships, your families. Goals. Aspirations. Dreams. And yet we keep casting our lines over the same stretches in the river of life, hoping that we will get a different result simply because we are consistent. We think that if maybe we bounce it off the bank here, or drop in just behind that rock there, that the results will somehow magically be different.

The truth is that all of us get into routines. Ruts. We find ourselves walking along those well trodden, ankle deep paths that so many before us have trampled into the moss, like those well worn bear trails we’ve walked alongside our favourite rivers. We trundle along, doing what is expected of us, playing it safe, never colouring outside of the lines for fear that it won’t be accepted for us to do or be anything else. We take jobs that don’t inspire us, stay too long in relationships that aren’t working, maintain unhealthy habits that are easier to continue than change, all the time looking back over our shoulders wondering what we are missing?

I can confess to doing all the above.

I was in a marriage that should have ended sooner than it did, and I’ve worked many jobs I don’t enjoy because I felt it was “what I was supposed to do”. I drank too much and hid from dealing with my anxiety and depression. And I’ve had such an overwhelming feeling of “is this all there is?” for so long I can’t remember when I didn’t.

I’m in a better spot today than I was before. I have a great partner who understands my need to go fishing more than most and how it recharges my soul. I still drink, but in moderation and certainly not to get drunk. My anxiety and depression are a constant battle but one that I own and for the most part I feel I am winning (although somedays, I question that!). But despite all of that I still struggle with finding a way to make a living from the things I am most passionate about. But that last nugget I am working on and hope to share some information in a blog post that I hope (fingers crossed) will be coming soon.

So let me tie all of the above back full circle to what this blog is meant to be for – fishing!

Some time ago, I started to move towards becoming a fly only fisherman. I put away my center-pin and level wind rods, shelved all my lead weight, pink worms, gooey bobs and Jensen eggs, and announced that I was retiring them. I would be 100% fly fishing only and wasn’t going to swing plastic and lead through the river again. I was…reformed.

Hello old friend. Where have you been?

Now I don’t judge. I’m not a fly fishing snob. And I have certainly caught my fair share of fish on terminal gear and proudly so. But there is something more challenging to using fly gear especially in the winter time when you are battling high water and fast currents. It’s very easy to get discouraged when you can’t get your T16 fly line down to those resting steelhead! Cast, after cast, after cast….it can be discouraging. Much like life (are you following along?). You get into that rut, that mindset, that this is what I need to do even when it is clearly not working. Stepping out of that bear track after all might just trip you up!

Flash forward then to December 2021. Present day. COVID nightmare and all (hmm….I just had a thought for a new fly pattern called that….). I’ve made it a habit to go out fishing during my Christmas break from work just about every year, and this year has been no exception even with the unusual Arctic outflow Vancouver Island experienced this week and the snow it brought with it. As I considered what to pack for the day, I thought about the river I would be fishing, the conditions, the cold water, and the chances of catching a fish. I knew that getting a Steelhead to hit a fly would be…tough. Probably impossible. But I also knew that the likelihood of them being in that river, and at this time of year….was high. So I grabbed my box of terminal gear “stuff”, my center-pin and my level wind, and I hit the road.

Taking the road less traveled

If there’s one thing I love it’s a nice Vancouver Island Steelhead river in the winter time. The super clear turquoise waters contrast so brightly with the white covered cobbles on the riverbanks. The footprints of deer, elk, river otters, raccoons, bears, rabbits and squirrels pressed firmly into the fresh snow are such an amazing reminder that the amount of life all around is far more visible in winter than in the summer. I love the soft quietness that engulfs the trails and river banks when the cedar, firs and ferns are blanketed in snow. But most of all I love to soak up the solitude and peacefulness that comes from standing amongst this amazing scene and casting your line.

I’ll admit that my first few casts on the center-pin with a light jig on the end were not pretty, it looked a little rusty to say the least. It took me a few more to recall the muscle memory of casting that kind of rig but it soon came back to me. I spotted a seam of water just down from where the river was spilling in from higher up, a glassy section tight along a rock face and just abreast of the main current. Just the right depth of water and walking speed for a steelhead to be resting in. Whereas my first cast towards my target was just a little too far out from the opposite bank, my second one landed exactly where I wanted it to go. The drift was PERFECT.

Oh boy…this looks like the spot!

As I watched my float meander down the seam, my jig just touching the bottom slightly, it happened right at the end of the drift. The float went under, the tug hit, and I was on! Up and down the pool the fish raced, taking me for a ride more than a few times. It came to the surface, rolling and thrashing to show me it’s bright silver sides with just a touch of pink, before making two more runs down the pool, then back up, causing me to reel franticly to catch up. I knew where I was standing wouldn’t work to land the fish, so I carefully made my way to a slower section of river by the bank and keep working the fish gently in towards me. I tore off my woollen mittens using my teeth so as to keep the reel in check, not wanting to tail the fish with wool hands and risk injuring it. One more big run taking all the line I had recovered followed by more frantic reeling and finally the fish was within 10 feet of me! But with one final solid thrash and splash of water, it spat out my jig and was gone.

I was stoked, in fact I may have even fist pumped the air. I didn’t care that I hadn’t landed the fish or gotten a photo in fact I felt the opposite. I had been given a gift. A fish had come to me and played my game, and in return had left unharmed and untouched by human hands. In my opinion that is more than enough for me to feel satisfied. I fished the rest of the section of river I had planned for the day, and didn’t touch another fish. But I didn’t care. Not one bit. For I had stepped out of the rut and it had paid off handsomely.

As I write this post I am reminded again of the many similarities to life this fishing story has. It prompted me to ponder that sometimes you need to change things up even if only for a day, in order to see what could be. Rediscovering something old might be just what you need to put that motivational spark back into your soul. Or it may help you to decide to stay the course with what ever it is that you have been doing all along. There are times in life when you simply need to cast and retrieve, take a few steps, and cast again. To not give up just because your first attempt failed. To not stay doing something that doesn’t work, but instead take that “step” and cast out again. To maybe look at your toolbox and try something new or dust off something old.

A typical Vancouver Island freestone river. You can almost hear the water moving.

I won’t be giving up fly fishing and returning to terminal tackle. But I will say that I won’t throw any of that stuff away either. There is a time and a place for all types of fishing gear and tactics and to eliminate one doesn’t make sense to me if the conditions call for it. The same can be said for life choices. You do what you need to do and what works for you in the conditions presented. I hope that as I get older I get just a tiny bit wiser with my choices, but I am definitely taking a long hard look at how to make a living doing what I love. And I am working harder to improve myself and my own choices in life to make sure that as my time in this world runs on that I make the very best choices I can.

All I have to say…is that there is more to come. Cast…Step…Repeat.

Before Instagram…There Were These Influencers

A few years ago our household decided to do away with cable television, and just use subscription based services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Crave, DAZN, and Apple TV. Since that time, the only thing I can honestly say that I’ve missed out on might be some of the sporting events, such as Formula 1, Nascar, and some Baseball.

Some of the best television shows that we’ve watched recently were all on these channels, and not on regular TV. With little to no commercials to interrupt us, and the freedom to watch when ever we like without having to set up a DVR or schedule something, why on earth would we go back? This all got me thinking back to when I was a kid growing up in rural Newfoundland, where only “townies” had the luxury of cable TV and we had just three basic TV channels to watch:

NTV (Newfoundland’s CTV), the CBC, and of course PBS.

Now yes, I was jealous of my friends who were busy watching endless cartoons on their cable networks, and later on watching Much Music and MTV, but when I think back to those TV shows that I truly loved as a kid, there are a couple that come to mind and which really sparked my desire to explore the outdoors. Here are a few that I remember, in no particular order:

THE BEACHCOMBERS

What red blooded Canadian kid didn’t watch (and love) this CBC classic series, set in the idyllic vista of Gibsons, British Columbia. The stories of Nick Addonidas, Jesse, Relic, Uncle Jesse, Molly and all the other characters scratching out a living on the west coast of Canada salvaging logs from the beaches were iconic pieces of Canadiana that sparked the imaginations and fantasies of many a school kid. Who wouldn’t want to roam the high seas, dueling with rivals over salvage or saving the life of of someone aboard having an allergic shellfish reaction using a Bic pen for a tracheotomy! Or the time that Jesse was trapped under a log, with the tide come in….or the numerous times Relic would jump his jet boat over something and live up to his reputation as the cranky and scheming nemesis of Nick! Or watching the Persephone cruising home to Gibsons after some epic adventure. This show came on at 8pm on Sundays….right before the Muppet Show. Man, I loved those nights. 20 seasons later and 374 episodes from 1972 to 2004 the door was finally shut to Molly’s Reach and the Beachcombers.

If you visit Gibsons, BC you can go to Molly’s Reach, and see the Persephone herself. I was lucky enough to visit while on a work trip a number of years back, and felt the nostalgia as strong as ever.

NEWFOUNDLAND OUTDOORS

Now this show was one of the first “reality” type shows that I remember watching. It was a fishing and hunting show hosted by Lloyd Colbourne and documented his adventures with his buddy Bryce Walsh. Again a CBC production, that ran from 1979 to 1995 and I absolutely loved this show, as did many Newfoundlanders. In a recent book published by Lloyd in 2019, he talks about the show and the fact that it was in fact so popular in his home province of Newfoundland that some fish processing plants actually let their staff leave work early on the nights it was to be aired so that they didn’t miss an episode.

Lloyd’s show took us moose hunting, grouse hunting, fishing, and who can remember all the adventures. But there was one line that has stuck with me all these years, and in fact today I still get a chuckle. Lloyd and Bryce would be in the middle of some epic adventure, and Lloyd would suddenly say “It was about this time that I suggested to Bryce that this would be a perfect time for a boil up”. Work would stop, the fire or camp stove would be lit, and coffee and snacks would be produced. I love me a good boil up, and I never pass up the opportunity to have one.

DANGER BAY

Ah yes…Danger Bay. Shot in Deep Cove BC on Indian Arm this show was the campy newcomer that tried to replace (in my opinion) the Beachcombers. The show was supposed to chronicle the life and adventures of a marine veterinarian Grant “Doc” Roberts and his children, Nicole and Jonah. The show was positioned as a wholesome family experience and almost always showed video of the Vancouver Aquarium in each show. It was shot was back in the day of course when the Aquarium still had captive Orcas on display which I am pleased to see is now a thing of the past.

The show itself was never a big hit for me, but what I did watch it for was the scenery and the boats. The kids had a small boat with an outboard that they would take out and often get into some sort of trouble, but all I saw was the vehicle to adventure! As a young boy my fascination with boats came very early and to imagine even the possibility of having my very own, with a motor none the less, kept me coming back for more. The show never did get legs under it like the Beachcombers did, and so after 123 episodes (still an accomplishment in today’s world) it finally ended after running from 1985 to 1990, again on the CBC.

LAND AND SEA

I’ve saved the longest running show for last. Land and Sea was a locally produced Canadian documentary show once again on CBC and which ran for an astounding 45 seasons. Heck…that’s longer than Survivor which is currently on it’s 41st!

Land and Sea was a great show because it was focused almost entirely on the Atlantic provinces, with a focus on Newfoundland and Labrador and ran from the 1960’s until the early 1990’s. I learnt a lot about the island I was born and raised on through this show, and perhaps I may have been just a nerdy kid but personally I liked it. It was on Land and Sea where I learned about the tradition of the Mummers, the fishing industry and decline, life in rural out ports, and many other stories and history of life not only in Newfoundland, but all over the Atlantic provinces. According to the official Land and Sea website:

For more than thirty years Land and Sea has brought you stories from people who live off the land and the sea. We cover issues that affect people in rural communities which ultimately affect those in cities as well.

We bring you stories from those who celebrate life living close to nature, who promote and protect their culture and traditional ways of doing things. There are stories of success and sometime failures that portray the unique way Atlantic Canadians deal with the challenges and pleasures of living on the east coast.

The show looks to have been revitalized, and episodes can be found online as recently as 2014. The influence that this who had on me as a kid was that it inspired me to get out and explore the land around me, and it fed my interest in nature and my home province. Being a Newfoundlander is something that never goes away from you as a person, even though I have now lived more years on Vancouver Island than I did growing up in Newfoundland. But I still remember how hard it was to leave, and looking over the rail from the ferry departing Port aux Basques and feeling heartbroken to leave my home province behind.

What is the point of all this you might ask? Why am I talking TV on my blog? The answer is simple really. These are some of the many influences that brought me to where I am today as a person, as a fisherman, a photographer, a nature nut and in some respects why I write on this blog. They fed my love for the outdoors, along with many other inputs and people, and although these shows would likely be met with laughter and mocking comments if I was to show them to my step sons today, they were great shows in their day. I guess my hope is that if someone comes across my little blog that they read one or maybe a few of the posts, and get inspired themselves. That perhaps the imagery and the humour I try to insert into my writing will bring a smile to their face, and some warmth to their heart. And if nothing else, help to distract them from the craziness, fear, and worry that COVID has thrown us into over this past year and a half.

Please enjoy – and I would love to hear from readers what your favourite childhood shows were that influenced your love for the outdoors! And here’s a little gem from me, filmed recently while warming up in the rain, and a tribute to Lloyd and Bryce.

It can happen to the best

You know there really isn’t anything that a person can say is fool proof. And I am just the fool to prove that.

I’ve owned boats for almost 20 years, and consider myself a decent skipper and certainly no rookie when it comes to hauling boat trailers or launching boats. I’ve backed boats and trailers down some of the gnarliest ramps with ice, green slime, logs (yes actual logs) and seaweed in all types of weather and lighting. I’ve been there watching the rookies make their 20 point turns and their 18 attempts to back down the ramp. I’ve witnessed boats sliding off trailers, motors not raised and grinding up the ramp, and motors at full throttle trying to back a boat off a trailer without having released the tie downs. Not to mention those part time captains who think that the best approach to the trailer is at a decent speed so that you don’t have to “waste time” cranking it up onto the trailer. After all, that would cut into their beer and smokes time right? And I can say with pretty good confidence that some of the most entertaining sights can be found at your local boat ramp. Don’t believe me? Go there with your lawn chair on a weekend, and just sit back and enjoy the show. You won’t be disappointed my friend.

So, here I sit all high and mighty never being “that guy” who makes an ass of himself at the boat ramp. Right?? Well as we can all attest even the best of us can be dumbasses. Take this example as a lesson learned.

It’s Saturday and I’m taking a buddy out in my drift boat for a trip down a local river. It’s a beauty day with the sun shining, and the boat ramp where I am launching is wide, clear, deep and easy to access. Piece of cake. When I get to the parking lot to unload I see a fellow drift boat fisherman with a wheel off his trailer and looking like he would rather be on the river than in the parking lot.

“What’s up bud, get a flat tire?” I helpfully ask.

“Nope…wheel bearing is shot. Completely screwed. Had to cancel my charter today because of it” he says.

Recognizing the guy, I introduce myself to him having seen him on the river at the boat take out a few weeks ago, and realizing we have a mutual friend. We bullshit a bit, talk about the fishing and what to use, and then I go about my business. I load all my stuff in the boat, along with my buddy’s gear (he has now arrived) and get ready to launch. I maneuver the boat and trailer expertly down the ramp, stopping just about 1/2 way into the water and then step out to unhook the boat and launch. It’s then I realize that I have forgotten to put in the plugs. Enter mistake number one.

Not to be the Googan at the ramp, I hop back in the truck to pull the boat out a bit so that I can put in the plugs. Once in the drivers seat I go to accelerate slowly up the ramp but as it happens my wading boots slip and I accidentally hit the gas a little harder than planned. Enter mistake number two.

Upon hearing (and feeling) weird noises, I nonchalantly flop out of the truck in time to see my beautiful drift boat floating majestically away, now free from the trailer and completely untied. I had forgotten to attach the bow line.

“She’s gettin’ away on ya man…better run up the dock and grab it’! the guide says from over by his one wheeled drift boat trailer.

I jump over the trailer tongue, up the concrete abutment, and onto the floating dock and rescue the boat. I hook the bow line securely to the bow eye, and guide the boat around the end of the dock and tie it off, looping the bow line around the dock rail, and then attaching the loose end to the rear casting platform.

“Disaster averted!” I say jokingly, already feeling like a tool. What an idiot I must look like. I gather up the last of the items to load into the boat, and then head back to the truck so that I can head to the take out some 14km away, with my buddy following me to bring us back here. I call out to my new friend in the parking lot as we leave and confirm that he will stick around to watch our stuff.

“No problem Adrian” he says “I’ll be here for a bit waiting for my buddy to come help with this trailer.”

“Great!” I reply, “we won’t be too long”.

“Hey..is your boat tied up?” he says, pointing over to the end of the dock, which I might add is located at the end of a lake and marks the start of the river. This is also located about 50 feet away from a weir and a lock that I need to pass through, which has (as expected) quite a bit of flow going through it.

“Oh yeah of course” I say, wondering what the heck he is on about. And then…glancing over…I see my boat gliding gracefuly away from the dock. Enter mistake number three.

“Holy shit she’s not tied on!” I say, now running down the dock but already realizing that it has drifted too far away to reach “God damn it I might have to go for a swim!” Watching the boat slide away, my heart was sinking fast not only because I felt like the biggest loser but because it was happening in sight of others.

“I think you’ll be able to grab it” my buddy says, “she’s drifting towards the bank a bit”. Now running up the dock I can see he is right, and it looks like my boat will hit the bank before it is sucked into the weir and down the river. Scrambling through some of the nastiest blackberry bushes ever and down a steep bank I made it to the water just in time to catch the boat. Now breathing hard and feeling a throbbing pain in one of my shins where I must have unceremoniously whacked it on something I walk the boat back to the dock, and tie the SHIT out of it.

Now I won’t pretend that I never laugh to myself when watching boat ramp follies and the gallant efforts of the weekend warrior. I’m as big a critic as the next guy. But I never expected to be the source of comedy at the boat ramp and to be honest things could have gone a whole lot worse. I could have smashed the boat on the ramp. It could have been sucked down through the weir and ended up who knows where. It may have even been sunk. Instead, all that happened was that my pride (and leg) was suitably bruised and I have learnt yet another set of valuable lessons.

Thank goodness for small miracles, the boat lives to fish another day!

When I looked at the dock, I realized that when I had tied up the boat originally the railing I tied it to was open on one end. So as the current pulled a the boat, the rope simply slid off the open end of the rail. As for the incident with the plugs and releasing the safety chain when I wasn’t ready to launch, well that was just plain stupidity on my part and a desire to “just get going”.

If you’ve read any of my older posts on “It’s a Guide Life”, you might recall the term “Stupid Ticket”. Well…fair to say that on this day, I earned a few of them. The point of my story I guess is that even rockstars can have an off day and you just need to take your lumps and learn.

4 Dark Thirty

It’s December on Vancouver Island. The days start and end dark, dreary and wet for the most part this time of year and likely for the next month or more. Sure we don’t get much in the way of snowfall around this unique rock on the west coast of Canada, but we make up for it in rain. Lots, and lots of rain.

And it’s cold. Not the minus 40 kind of cold where your contact lenses freeze to your eyeballs on the way from the parkade, or your snot freezes in your nose though. You won’t find anyone here throwing cups of water into the air to capture the water droplets freezing mid-flight. But it’s a damp “chill you to the bone” kind of cold that most new arrivals to Vancouver Island laugh off when they first arrive here until they’ve acclimatized. We’ve all met those people from the Prairies who tell us how lame we are because we aren’t skating on the local pond in minus 25 with 60 km/h winds. I guess we all have our war stories, right? But, on the plus side of things I do tend to wear shorts even in the winter and pants seem…restrictive.

So what does any of this weather related noise have to do with the title of this post? Well, it’s more a reflection on why I recently got up at 4:30am the day after Christmas when I was already wiped out from all of the family activity. Followed up by a long winding drive in the darkness and pouring rain, barrelling down highways and then logging roads that were so bad with potholes and washboard that I swear there isn’t a tight bolt left on my truck or filling in my teeth. And to top it off, a struggle through soaking wet forests so thick that you would swear that darkness was falling. Oh and did I mention the very steep and very slippery slopes that you need to descend without losing your footing and tumbling headlong over a cliff and into the a raging cold river? Yeah. You love it.

High water..raining hard..not ideal conditions

For those who aren’t afflicted with the Steelhead bug, the above seems ridiculous, unwarranted, unwanted, and maybe just plain stupid. But I assure you that those with the disease that is Steelheading and the search for the illusive unicorns this is nothing more than a typical winter Steelheading trip. It comes with a combination of eternal optimism and hope mixed together with the inhuman ability to endure wind, snow, rain, dampness, darkness, slippery rocks, fast cold water, and the risk of certain death if you screw up. You have to be passionate about these fish to put yourself through this wringer especially considering your options are low when it comes to finding and hooking one (let alone landing it). I recently heard John McMillan, the voice of the OP Fishing Podcast, biologist and Steelhead junkie, talk about a statistic called Catch Per Unit of Effort, or CPUE. It refers to a measure of how much time elapses between hooking a fish, a statistic that if most Vancouver Island (or anyone in the PNW really) were to calculate based on their Steelheading experiences could result in a glut of centerpin, spey reels, rods and tackle offered immediately for sale followed by mass intake at your local mental health clinic for depression. But I digress.

So there I was. Waking up from far too little sleep to the sound of my alarm clock going off at “4 dark thirty” in the morning and trying not to wake up my partner while she slept. I had my clothes laid out in the bathroom (multiple layers of long johns, fleece and wool), got my contacts stabbed with fat fingers into barely open eyes, and blood stream preloaded up with ibuprofen prior to the caffeine blast. With meds and caffeine onboard, light up the truck engine and roar out of the neighbourhood to meet your buddy, also afflicted with the Steelhead bug. Do I dare say STLHD-19? Hmm…might be too soon for that. Oh well, too late.

Every trip starts out this way in the winter. You wake up, both excited about the possibility of catching a fish and having a new adventure on the water and also thinking about how nice it would be to just fall back into bed with the one you love and go back to sleep. You have all kinds of excuses ready of course:

“Water’s too high/too low”

“The moon phase is all wrong, those fish won’t be holding anywhere”

“Water was really dirty last time, why bother?”

“My buddy says that there are no fish this year, so this is stupid right?”

“Kids were up all night, I can’t see straight”

“Celebrated too hard last night, shouldn’t be driving really..”

“Have you seen the dismal DFO returns and the forecasts?”

You get the drift. When it comes to going fishing and getting up early in the morning let’s face it, most people would rather go when it’s light out, sunny, and calm. But the weird thing is I must be the opposite because even though I love my sleep, I actually LIKE getting up early to fish.

Consider the early morning wake up call as your offering to the fishing gods. Your sacrifice of sleep, your exertions hiking in and the physical uncomfortableness of being wet and cold are just the price you must pay to hop on the bus that takes you to Steelhead nirvana. The ride there is often long and frustrating, and some trips the bus takes you to another destination (also known as Lake Disappointment or the River of Crushed Dreams). But sometimes if you’ve punched your ticket just right or have ridden that bus on just the right day you are rewarded and it’s well worth the trip.

As this god awful year that has been 2020 ends and this new one begins we as fisherman should reflect back on how many people have been affected by the global pandemic and take a moment to think about those 4 dark thirty missions. Think about why it is that we all do them and the fact that we CAN still do them. The world might be gone to shit, but the things that are important like family, friends, and fishing are still there to remind us why we do many of the things we do. It’s for the pure love and joy of it. For the promise that today could be your lucky day. For the simple fact that being with friends and family sharing your passion for fishing is what makes you who you are. For your health both physical and mental. For your soul.

So how did my 4 Dark Thirty mission go on Boxing Day you might wonder? Was it worth getting soaking wet and freezing cold?

Hell yes it was.

I ended my season in 2020 with a good friend and two nice steelhead that will feed the addiction until I hit the river again in early 2021.

See Ya Later 2020!

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