*Kate is a guide for Northern Outback Adventures, but shares her off season adventures with us*
With Google Map- saved screen shots, road food (granola, apples, peanut butter, coffee and slightly too much Baileys) and a mound of gore-tex piled in between us, we stuffed our bodies into a Ford Focus, half exhausted from the work week, but fully giddy for the planned (but unplanned) adventure ahead of us, and headed west into the heart of Skeena country.
We had been hit with the steelhead virus-the Mykiss Virus; but, instead of us withering away from an ailment, it was our wallets withering, our 'real' jobs taking a hit, and our conversations, Intagram accounts and daily life suffering from a steelhead dream. The Skeena stole our hearts, enamoured our lives with flashes of chrome and filled our eyes with salmon-filled rivers, bear-lined banks and bouldering back-country. We were in love. We were in love with the river, in love with every other person we met after hiking in, crawling and clambering over fallen cedars and skirting around steep embankments, grasping at twigs, thistles and other semi-hypodermic needle-like plants (because they must have been awesome to go anywhere off the beaten path) and in love with the wild anadromous fish. We fell in love with Steelhead.
We both (an East-Coaster and I) sat waiting by our respective mail boxes for the postal worker to deliver our new dry lines. His came, mine didn't; so I was forced to create my own tapered dry line (which I stubbornly blamed for not allowing me to land a fish). We loaded up the Ford Focus, which was full of classic flies dangling from the roof like some sort of beach-based Mexican cantina, full of merino wool, sleeping bags, a stove top espresso maker, possibly bootlegged moonshine (he is a Maritimer after all) and a tent. We hit the road far later than we should have, (I was on the phone with the post office begging for my line to come), because we arrived at midnight, in the pouring rain, with a tent that I can never seem to figure out how to set up because you need a degree in physics and structural engineering. Why did we set it up? I have no idea, but it took us two hours in the rain, cloud covered darkness and a headlamp that wasn't bright enough. We got it up, and it didn't collapse, but we didn't sleep in it again.
a pathetic attempt at setting the tent up
At day break we woke, I stumbled up, no coffee, no breakfast, just straight into waders, lining our rods and examining our fly boxes in respect to the water clarity, volume and overall fishyness. We stumbled down (me still lacking coffee), to a pristine gravel bar with golden trees touched by autumn, freshly snow capped mountains from the night before and thick morning fog rolling and weaving between mountaintops. When we walked to the gravel bar, standing there was a young timber wolf staring at us, thinking probably exactly what I was thinking, "it's too cold and too early to fish," but I want to see that steelhead delicately slurp my fly, bend my rod, and take me for a ride of a lifetime. I need that. I dream of that.
Cast, mend, step, swing. Repeat. Cast, mend, step, swing. Repeat.
We fish the run, each feeling a little bump, but nothing more. We fish the river, acclaimed for steelhead rising to a dry fly, and fish it hard. Bar after bar, mile after mile but nothing more than a few taps and no hook sets. Dismayed, we pack up our wet tent, and head to the next closest steelhead river. Looking back, I do really think we should have stayed at our first river, but water charts weren't looking great and we were frustrated. It really should be noted that casting, mending then stepping before ending in a full dangle really increases your chances of covering more water. Casting, mending, swinging and then stepping three or four feet down will not only get you hung up in the rocks on your dangle, but it will inhibit the amount of water covered as well.
At our new river, we have a special run, which doesn't see much foot traffic, except for the rafters going by, but for the East-Coaster it is near and dear to his heart. The week before when we did a very similar trip, he caught a huge buck. A handsome, dime-bright buck. This time he was ahead of me, and in the exact same spot his rod twitched, as a slight forshadow to the next hit, and within seconds his rod arched beautifully, and his reel sang the most beautiful buzz a fisherman could hear on an old school Hardy reel (To any normal person, this sound would be acquitted to nails on a chalk board). I think the word "seriously" escaped under my breath, because it was all too familiar with the week before. With a great fight, and my camera ready, his rod went limp, and the line slacked with the unbuttoning of this beautiful fish.
Realizing I have to work Monday, we drove a few hours closer to home to fish the another steelhead river. Same story though, a few taps, no commitment. As we were about to travel home, we crossed a bridge on some gravel back road. Peering down the creek, eyes saddened as we realized we had to go home, and we hadn't landed any steelhead, we Google- Mapped the creek. It appeared to be roughly a twenty minute hike in. Me being the more semi-responsible one, knew we should leave to make it home at a decent time; however, the East Coaster coaxed me with the chance of catching a fish of a lifetime, a silver dollar if you may. But, if I know anything about living in the North, the two places you do not want to be is: downwind from a bear, or in a loud, over grown creek. This was the only time I have ever been fishing where I unhooked my bear spray from my pack, and held onto it, gripping it like a Bible walking through an unholy land. Everything screamed bear-country, including the wet paw prints on the sand. We made it, unscathed (thankfully our waders did too). When we hurled our bodies through the last stretch of willows and falled logs, we walked onto a bar that screamed fishyness. I felt it in my bones. There was structure, walking pace water, soft seams and a stretch that was nestled in between a small fjord of trees. We assembled our rods, and just as we were eyeing the water, mentally arguing who gets first pool rotation, a raft came by us. He asked where our boat was, and when we said we hiked in, he gave us that seal of approval all fishermen share- that notion if you risked your waders to get here, you can join the brotherhood of steelheaders worldwide. We fished this run for two hours, mending our lines, swinging flies behind boulders, watching and waiting for the mouths to rise. Right before dusk, I had to call it; do we risk walking out in the dark, where our chances almost double running into a big fat boar, or do I break the East-Coasters heart and start to pack up. Broken hearts heal a whole lot quicker than claw marks.
It’s been two days now and I still haven’t unpacked my gear bags. They sit on my stairs in my mudroom, waiting to go out again. My wading boots, still damp and coated in mud, sit by my door begging to go back out. And here I sit, at work, in my desk typing up this post, and telling my students what crucial times we live in, how important our fish are, and how fortunate we are to live in such a province with salmon filled rivers, and bear lined banks. They sit in their desks, discussing the latest Xbox games, and perfect their social image. That might be the worst part of the Mykiss Virus, that those who don’t know, don’t understand.