Ironically, it was when the river pushed at my knees that I felt the most grounded; when the road lead me to mossy overgrowth that I felt the safest; when I’d forgotten where I was that I felt the most found. In those days the mornings never came soon enough, and only the black of night stopped me from leaving the house any earlier. Even that may not have been enough of a deterrence, if it hadn’t been illegal to fish for salmon and steelhead before dawn.
My love affair with the sport wasn’t nearly as romantic as one might like to think it should be for a fly-fisher. Starting as a bait-fisher, I would rely on the use of treated eggs to tempt fish to bite. Bits of crusty roe nestled themselves into the curvatures of my thumbnails, and I would habitually grate my finger tips down the leg of my waders in an attempt to fade the cerise stain of pro-cure and borax from my hands. It wasn’t until several years, fishing buddies, and books that I came to own my first fly rod and box of handmade flies. But equipment does not make the angler and it wouldn’t have made a difference to me if I was fishing a dew worm, or a Victorian-era featherwing. I was there for the fish, not the methodology. The “fish”. Just the simplicity of the word seems to cheapen the significance of an animal many of us devote our lives to pursuing.
My first guiding job was hardly glamorous.
A sturgeon and Pacific salmon guide on the Fraser river, I spent my summer mornings motoring through swirling back-eddies, and gaffing floating, rotten salmon.
I cringed at the soft, furry flesh that tore under the dulling prong, the light meat plump and glistening with water-bloat and bacterial rot. Sticky roe balls wrapped in women’s nylons were almost appetizing when compared to such “salmon stink-bait collections,” as we called them.
Throwing carcasses into the bow of my boat, I let their pungency thrive and flourish in the heat of the sun before baiting bits of them onto a hook and assuring my clients that the smell would, “grow on them — not literally, though it might feel like that by the end of the day.”
Promises of winter steelhead trips kept me in the game, after several seasons of Fraser river guiding under someone else’s license (which is the professional way of saying “thumb”), as many guides do, I left to begin my own company as an independent outfitter.
I’d gotten used to the vacant expressions and slow polite nods.
An unsure, “hmm” or furrowed brow conveyed an utter lack of understanding — not only for my occupation, but for the person I defined myself to be.
“A fly fisher?”
Through the years, uncomfortable silence hung off airplane tray tables, taxi headrests, and restaurant chandeliers. I left a morbid trail of stillness everywhere I went, and had come to accept that while fly fishing was my world, the sport was mostly unfamiliar to everyone else’s.
As a teenager, on one of many solo river explorations, I pushed and ducked my way through a game trail — partaking in a tiring retaliation of ‘slap’ with branches that struck at my limbs, and I at theirs. Alone and wary, my imagination ignited as it did so often in the untamed forests of British Columbia.
I remember my first experience behind a fly-tying vise.
Excited, I pushed an old VHS tape into the VCR — squirming as it wound and whirred until the faded image of a smiling white-haired man appeared. He sat behind a desk with various odds and ends in front of him.
I sat back anxiously waiting to determine whether or not I had the necessary tools to proceed to tie my first trout fly with him.
Vise? Check. Bobbin? Check. Scissors? Check. Thread? Ummm…
I looked around. Nope.
Pressing the pause button, I ran downstairs to dig through my mom’s sewing station until I found a spool of black thread.
I watched the man carefully, my finger hovering on the rewind button while he explained the basics of fly-tying. I spent the morning pausing the tape, running around the house digging up old fur coats, toys and anything else that might suffice as reasonable substitutes for the materials he was using.
It was the start of what would soon become a complete obsession with fly-tying; its history, materials and possibilities.
April explains how to use the rhea feather in fly tying.
In 1948, Richard Waddington teamed with several biologists to write a revolutionary book titled Salmon Fishing – a new philosophy.
I stumbled across the book during a conversation with Topher Browne: salmon enthusiast and author of Atlantic Salmon Magic, who had kindly given me his reading list to review and study.
But as biological books do, the “printed in 1948” stamp served as an expiration date and it was important that I resurface the book to several biologists and specialists in the field to examine if Waddington’s information still held true.
In this blog, I will identify and summarize six viewpoints from Waddington’s Salmon Fishing that piqued my interest (some of which have worked for me on both steelhead and Atlantic salmon). I have asked Topher for his insight and reasoning as to why or why not these theories have any sort of bearing.
I’ve had a love/hate relationship with sharks for as long as I can remember.
When I was a girl, my parents took me and my sister on frequent outings to the Vancouver aquarium in Stanley Park.
I vaguely remember all of the exciting features: people feeding pigeons by the entrance doors, white belugas smiling through the glass of the underground viewing station, small unsuspecting tanks teaming with glow-in-the-dark fish.
I remember the squeals we made as sea anemones danced and entangled our fingers, and the disappointment I felt when I couldn’t swim with the whales as the trained professionals did.
The entire experience was captivating, but there was one aquarium feature in particular that rooted itself into my reminiscence. It was a well preserved shark jaw, complete with layers of teeth and tourists posing with their heads carefully placed in the middle of it all.
As my delicate fingers traced the jagged fangs, a youthful curiosity and puzzling admiration transfixed me.
The shark; the king of the ocean; the animal who could swallow me whole…
Grease lining was a 1903 revelation that Wood stumbled upon one day while observing the behaviour of salmon and their disinterest to the deeply sunk fly.
Across the world, anglers actively used water-absorbing lines and heavily gauged hooks with the desire to fish their flies deep in the water column.
Mr. Wood soon perfected and popularized a revolutionary change. He learned that if he could coat the material of the line in a substance that would stay afloat, he could then swing his fly in a subsurface and somewhat drag-free presentation.
At the time, the best flotation materials were variations of grease – mucilin, lanolin, and animal fat were all thought to be suitable.
As I personally own and fish a silk line on my single-hand rod, it is in my experience that silk lines cast as seamlessly and effortless as the fly lines of today.
But maintenance can take its toll on the most patient of anglers. I know that for me, having to remove the line from the reel, dry itout overnight, restring it in the morning, grease it, apply felt, cotton, paper towel, stay busy until it dries, fish for four hours, and then have to do it all again… basically ensures only occasional use.
I am the owner of a 50 inch plasma television that sits perched on a storage unit shelf in a cardboard box. At least I think it’s still there – I’ve never taken the damn thing out of its wrapping.
I’m just not a television girl and, honestly, up until I got married I vowed I would never own one. An old movie theatre is one of my favourite treats to indulge in and the internet pretty much serves all my other curiosity.
So when the time came to write a television series, I would be bold-faced lying if I said that I wasn’t intimidated through to my core. In fact, the last fishing television show I watched was Mark Pendlington on one of his first seasons (I’m aging myself here for you.)
Truthfully, the dull lodge promo was hurting my head, the bikini babes just made me want to starve myself, and the “fish porn’s” flashing images edited to loud music just didn’t seem so cool anymore – I casually chalked it up to me becoming a grumpy old fart who would rather read and let my mind create accompanying images instead.
We took the show to New Brunswick to try and gain a better understanding of fly fishing’s tradition and history.
In the 1800’s, Scottish loyalists and Englishmen brought their knowledge of Atlantic salmon fishing with them to the maritimes…
They were shocked at what they found and proceeded to shape the sport as we know it today in Canada.