Sometimes, the most amazing places are the most unexpected. You set out with your friends for a fun day of fishing, exploring spots that you haven’t tried before. And then, you find it. Paradise. A stretch of river so clear and clean that you swear that if there was no breeze you wouldn’t have believed that water even flowed there. And surrounding all of this moving glass, a carpet of incredibly rich green moss so vibrant that even your camera has a hard time capturing it.
These amazing spots can produce fish, and sometimes not. But in reality they are so beautiful that even if they turn out to be unproductive fishing destinations, does it really matter? After all, you are out with your friends sharing laughter and breathing in the good life. Moist air fills your lungs, the sound of water soothing your soul, and for a short time you forget what troubles are on your mind. You focus on the immediate, the challenge of finding those special places where wild BC Steelhead live. A depression here, a rock or riffle there, some nice walking pace slicks of emerald green water just begging for a fly to be tossed and swung. These are the moments that recharge me, and make all the torn waders, scuffed boots and breathless climbs up steep unstable shale slopes all worthwhile.
Welcome….to Vancouver Island.
Any dry fly fisherman worth his salt knows that spring time on the river can produce incredible hatches of mayflies that swarm the air like snowflakes, creating a magical atmosphere of energy and frantic feeding for the local trout that forage on these unpredictable feasts. For the dry fly enthusiast, these are golden moments where matching the hatch becomes of utmost importance. Nymph, emerger, dun, spinner..what part of the cycle to hit! There’s nothing more exciting than watching a trout come to the surface to sip a dry fly, or hammer a nymph on the swing. The tug on the line, the sudden bend and jerk of the rod tip, and the stripping of line off the reel. Even if your target fish are small rainbows, cutthroat or brown trout, does it really matter? With a 5wt or 6wt rod, these smaller fish feel as aggressive as a big fresh salmon or steelhead on an 8wt or 9wt double-handed spey rod.
I was lucky enough this year to spend some fantastic evenings on the Cowichan River, on those warm May spring evenings where the setting sun casts golden light on the clouds of spinners hovering low over the river, preparing to start the next generation of mayflies. It’s a good hour and a half drive from my office the river, so my time there was limited, but it was worth every second of time. As the sun finally set lower and the light faded, that hour and a half seemed like only a few minutes and the tranquility was worth it.
I’ve never been one to follow Hollywood celebrities, professional sports players, comic book super hero’s or rock stars, so when I suddenly developed a little hero worship as an adult, it was a bit of a surprise. By definition a hero is “a person or character who, in the face of danger and adversity or from a position of weakness, displays courage, bravery or self-sacrifice”. This covers off your standard Superman, firefighter, NFL quarterback type, but what if your hero doesn’t leap from tall buildings, rescue people from fires, or throws the winning touchdown at the Superbowl? Is he or she still worthy of the definition of hero? Well in my books…yes.
Dec Hogan is my hero. He is to his credit an accomplished writer, spey fishing pioneer, teacher and guide. He is also a world class photographer, master fly tier, full time firefighter EMT and overall top notch dude. Most of you reading this won’t have a clue who Dec Hogan is, but I’ve been following Dec for a number of years and I was lucky enough a few years ago to attend one of his spey casting clinics in Forks WA (many thanks to Troy Dettman of Grande Ronde Angler!). I was nervous to meet him because like most people, I didn’t want the image I had in my head of him to be shattered. So when I got the courage up to introduce myself to a living legend, I was humbled.
Dec was exactly who I thought he was. Humble, down to earth, passionate about his craft, modest, and a kindred spirit. I’m sure that most who have met or fished with Dec would say the same. Dec is always quick to smile, eager to share his knowledge, and very patient with those of us still learning to walk in his shoes. For those of us afflicted by the steelhead bug, it forms a universal language that needs little communication. A nod of the head when telling a story, a thoughtful pause when analyzing a run, an unspoken understanding that catching one of those prize fish is actually just a bonus. The hunt for steelhead is like no other fishery, bonding those of us who have endured months (sometimes years) of searching but not finding one, suffered dark cold mornings in snow and rain on slippery rocks, and launching thousands of casts over the water waiting for that one lucky chance. If you’ve done it, you get it. If you’ve just started to, you can’t get enough. And if you are like Dec who has probably swung more flys in his lifetime that I can ever hope to, just having a chance to see a wild steelhead up close and personal erases all of the frozen fingers, cold feet and iced up rod guides.
Dec’s book “A Passion for Steelhead” is a must read for any steelheader, and I highly recommend it. And if you’re lucky enough to meet Dec, perhaps you’ll develop a case of hero worship too.
When my sister and I were kids, the most exciting part of our holiday calendar year was not always Christmas. There. I said it. For us it was Thanksgiving, so I suppose that makes us big turkeys.
Don’t get me wrong, we loved the Christmas presents, the time off school, and the good eats and the holiday spirit, but what we really, really loved each year was Thanksgiving. More importantly, we loved what we did at Thankgiving. Growing up in Newfoundland was a time that I will always hold dear to my heart because it was during those years when life seemed simplest. Almost effortless at times. Family strife felt insignificant, personal differences had not yet crept into the fabric of our family and vacations were a guaranteed good time. And Thanksgiving was special to us because it was the time of year when we went with my god parents and their two kids (our besties) to Terra Nova National Park.
Terra Nova Park was (and still is) a beautiful park on the east coast of Newfoundland that not only had tent and RV camping, but cabins for rent. These cabins, set up high on stilts, were side by side duplexs which meant that our two families always had adjoining homes. During the day the grownups would have their cabin, and we had ours to play in. Our time there was spent exploring the woods, kicking up huge piles of alder, birch and maple leaves, running along the beaches, but by far the most important activity of all…was FISHING.
Each day our little troup of kids would trundle off down the trail, fishing rods and tackle boxes in hand, with left over turkey or bacon for bait, down to the park wharf. Hooks were baited and tossed over the side, bringing up fish after fish. While sometimes these fish were scrappy, rough scaled fish called cunners, we also got the odd tomcod or codfish. One year we even went down at night an jigged for squid, using a powerful flashlight to attract them to the dock. These times were the very best of times, and I miss them dearly. Over the years, the fishing got more and more difficult, and in hindsight we now know why with the decline and decimation of the Newfoundland cod stocks. By the time we left Newfoundland in 1986, the fishing was pretty tough.
When I think of those days, and of those memorable Terra Nova trips, my senses often bring back the story. I smell the tar and creasote from the wharf beams, and the bouquet of the slowly decaying leaves on the trails.When I close my eyes I see my family and friends, at a time when everyone seemed so honest and innocent. My skin remembers the comforting warmth of the cabins and their forced air heat, and the taste of delicious Thanksgiving turkey and Pop Shop Pop. And I think of my friends, and the bonds we formed while casting simple hooks into the water with much anticipation of the next big catch. So when I see my stepchildren doing the same now, I only hope that they get that same feeling when they are older. You just can’t get that from a video game.