“Suddenly things got a little western and the water was buckshotted with shot gun shells, as we came around the corner in little green inflatable rafts.”Autumn in the north is an assiduous time; a time when daylight is a precious commodity and mornings are crisp with thin layers of frost and ice impinging the land in seemingly inconvenient ways. It is not a time of idleness nor fallow. The trees talk of change and the stiffness begins to settle into our bones from the cold. It is a time when we are busy stockpiling wood for those cold nights and upcoming harsh winter. It is a season for hunters and gatherers and a time of prosperity and abundance, with salmon filling the rivers and forests scurrying with wild critters.From across the continent in New York State, Jared Zissu, founder of Fly Lords landed in north-central British Columbia, ready for two days of fishing on one of my favorite trout rivers. I had hired a local woman from this small community to shuttle us and our boats up the river. She greeted us in true northern fashion; immediately asking if we could make room amongst our gear to collect a fox that had just been hit on the side of the dirt road so her and her husband could make use of the fur; “welcome to the north,” I grinned. As we began to pump up the boats, the wind howled down the chute creating waves capped in white and forcing us to continue layering on down jackets. The water was low and clear and speckled red with tens of thousands of sockeye salmon.Our bodies acted as sails sitting low in our Watermasters, with the wind pushing us back up the river, fighting the natural currents pulling us down. Nothing seemed to be in our favor, the wind, the cold nor the fish. I knew if we could get down river, we would find shelter from the wind tunnel and we would start finding fish, so we paddled, with the skin on our knuckles exposed to the air, white and beginning to crack under the cold front.Passing what seemed to be hundreds of thousands of sockeye salmon below, we floated over what Haig Brown described as “the last true sample of immense natural abundance of the North American continent.” Sockeye salmon flood the river, with large rainbows following suit to gorge on eggs; compelling the trout angler to follow their suit as well.Targeting large rainbows, and watching for flashes of silver amongst the red, forces precise casts and alert eyes. Finally, out of the wind chute and the with the natural warmth of the sun, the fish started to turn on.With trout finally chasing flies, we made our way down river navigating through thin waters and large boulders; not the most comfortable combination for any skilled rower. Layers started peeling back and I was down to one vibrant purple Patagonia puffy, and thankfully it was bright. We could hear gunshots in the distance, all a few seconds apart, which was comforting as I remarked how hunting season had just begun and that sounded like a successful harvest. More shots rang out-closer this time and suddenly things got a little western; the water was buckshotted with shotgun shells, as we came around the corner in little green inflatable rafts. “Rednecks,” I sputtered-“we are in the north.” I am pretty sure my jacket was the first thing the two men who were standing on the edge of the river bank saw, as we pulled our boats to the edge of the river sussing out the situation.I am quite comfortable around guns, however just like Clint Eastwood, “I have a very strict gun control policy: if there’s a gun around, I want to be in control of it.” Canada has a very different gun philosophy than our neighbors below, however, I was raised with rifles around the house and developed a very healthy respect for them. These guys were harmless, just a couple of rednecks shooting fish in a barrel. “Are you guys fishing?” one called out as we rafted past, with multiple rods and gear strapped down and my furry little pup, who was shaking in a ball behind me. “Yes,” I called back, wondering where his peripheral vision was, seeing all the rods sticking out the sides of the boats. “Probably not a good place for target practice hey,” he replied as we drifted by. “Probably not sir.” It really was quite a polite conversation, however, the feeling of drifting past someone who is holding a rifle while being in a blow-up raft isn’t the most comforting. We fished the rest of the day, with multiple fish to hand, still looking for those big rainbows hiding behind the sockeye. This river has up to class 4 sections, however with it being so low we didn’t see any big water, and we took the precaution of portaging the falls rather than running them with all the gear. The last leg of our float was several kilometers of flat pond water, but just before we reached that section, there was one small chute over now-washboard gravel with a hard-right hairpin corner and a micro-log jam of willows and rotten wood- nothing I haven’t rowed through before, but without enough water below the boat, I had no leverage to back-pull myself out, combined with my poor judgment of not leaving extra room between the two rafts. Trying to move rods, back paddle, and trying to stop the dog from freaking out and back paddling even more. I grabbed the rod, which pulled the tip section away from the rest of the rod, and as my raft was starting to be pulled into the log jam, I was being pulled from my seat into the water so I reached out and grabbed the tip, which was still attached by the line and held the rod now in two pieces as I was being pulled further into the jam. With one hard kick against a log back onto my seat, and a clear path to row like hell, we popped out into the flat pond water with one frazzled pup behind me.After that it was one good arm work out paddling down the river through the frog water to arrive at the takeout just as the sun was setting. No big couple-pound trout were caught this day, but a good day nonetheless in the north.
Thanks to Fly Lords & Fishing BC for some great shots
*no egg flies were used during this trip…because I know that will be asked haha!
Words and inspiration from Kate Watson, a fly fishing guide, casting instructor, competition caster and steelhead dirtbag. But more importantly, a passionate steelhead/salmon conservationist, be sure to check her out on Instagram @katywat!