"If there was a fish there, we walked our flies through their front doors, down the halls, around the living room and out the back door" -Kate Watson
I asked again slightly skeptical, slightly astounded, “sorry, how big are they?” It was about mid conversation, talking politics of conservation and deforestation in British Columbia’s northern interior, when I interrupted our local biologist talking to me about his latest project, tagging bull trout in the headwaters of a remote river. Questions began to pour out of me, asking if anyone has ever guided on it, or if it was even sustainable to allow for guiding, where are they spawning, how far up do they go, and could I be involved in the tagging project? We began to talk logistics; he assured me this system was stable and sustainable enough to expand our guiding outfit, Northern Outback Adventures, and that the headwaters had potentially never seen a fly before, unless of course someone flew in on their own dime. My mind raced, stirring with excitement and anticipation. Bull trout have typically been by-catch whilst steelheading, but this was a different fish, these were not just Bull trout, these were monsters, lurking in gin clear pools.
What felt like an eternity of emailing, coordinating schedules from across British Columbia, and Australia, and planning everything from transportation to flies, for fish who have possibly never taken a fly; what could be better than exploring new interior territory with three friends, April Vokey, Jeremy Koreski and Brandon Kelly. Arriving at the lodge, it is easy to see that we live life simply, but enjoy it to its fullest. Moose sheds hang off the sides of cabins, the smoke from the wood fired hot tub plumes into the setting light and the loon’s chorals echo across the lake.
That morning, filling our mugs with hot coffee and our plates with a full breakfast, we get the call; the fog hadn’t let off yet, forcing the pilot and us to wait it out. We put on a another pot and waited as nervousness, apprehension and the sanguinity of adventure lapped at the clock.
As the fog broke, we were greeted with the helicopter landing in the drive. This was the first time any of us had explored these headwaters, so the fear of disappointment loomed underneath our fervour. As anglers, we can be stubborn but we can also be dogged, so after trying several clear pools without success we reverted to the only way we knew how to catch Bull trout, find the deep glacial troughs lower down river. Sure enough, as soon as we found that dark water, Jeremy caught two Bulls. Albeit, not the monsters we were praying for, but beautifully aggressive with their intimidating profiles. Hiking down river, one of us six months pregnant, two of us carrying heavy camera equipment, we fished strategically, switching fly patterns, alternating through runs, fishing every pocket, every dip, in, around and under structure, boulders and logs. If there was a fish there, we walked our flies through their front doors, down the halls, around the living room and out the back door.
As the day lead on, the more unconvinced we grew, but the harder we tried, covering as much water as we possibly could. We were at a possible defeat; did these fish not want to take flies? Were there as many fish as we hoped in the system? Maybe they were’t actually in deep troughs? With the pilot’s command, we were told we had time for one last run. Collectively, we decided to go back up river, with the hopes to redeem ourselves in those clear gorge waters. With twenty minutes to go, we walked up to a small turquoise-hued pool with clarity so precise, it felt like spot and stalk fishing for brown trout in New Zealand. Suddenly, a large crimson tail pushed slowly up into the pool, there was the monster. The girth of the tail alone, alluded to its size. April casts, once, twice, twitches and she's hooked. Working together, angler and tailer, I gently slid her fish back into her hands as we admired soft pink and orange spots, and its strong jaws. After a quick release, we look back into the pool; there was a second fish, and a third. Both being even larger than the last. Our pilot, patient as he was, waited above the pool watching with anticipation, and the extra stress of his ticking watch, “five minutes,” he called out. Months of planning and dreaming came down to five minutes. I cast, although, I can feel everyone watching, everyone feeling that same pressure and same desire to prove ourselves to this system. I can feel a knot in my line catching in the guides every cast I make, but now theres only two minutes left. I continue making casts, some sloppy due to pressure and some perfectly in front of his big bullish mouth, when all of a sudden a smaller fourth bull attacks the fly from underneath the monster we had been hoping for. Quickly landing him, our minds were persistent on catching that monster. Feeling the pilot’s watch ticking, as storm clouds started to roll in, it was time. Reeling in, the four of us walked back to the helicopter and we unconsciously speak a few decibels quieter, looking back over our shoulders at that pool. Although, this left us on one hell of a cliff hanger for next year!
Videos to come!
Thanks to Jeremy Koreski Photography for all the beautiful photos, Fishing BC for partnering with us & Brandon Kelly for the videography