It was a Rubik’s cube of calendars; a six-sided complex puzzle and I’d become a major part of the scramble. Matt Jennings from Fishing BC was trying to organize a fishing trip between me, Katy Watson of Northern Outback Adventures, photographer Jeremy Koreski, videographer Brandon Kelly, a helicopter pilot and, of course, the fish themselves. At the rate we were heading, we’d all be in alignment by 2019.
Matt’s pitch was almost impossible to decline. In short, Katy had contacted Matt about a northern B.C. bull trout fishery she’d heard about that had little to no foot access in its upper stretches. She’d received her information from a biologist who’d flown in to do some studies on the species (via catch and release methods with spoons). More specifically, “large, up to 40 inches, and unlikely to have seen a fly before”, is how it was presented to her.
“We have to go”, was the response.
I don’t know why I was so surprised to hear Dubai has good fishing. For years I assumed the city to be a major dustbowl of wealth, high-rises, restrictions, and layovers — a pretty ignorant depiction coming from a girl who’d only ever experienced Dubai’s international airport (which is, admittedly, rather impressive).
I’d flown through Dubai several times on my way through to the Seychelles and similar highly regarded fishing destinations, but I’d never thought to break up the travel by exploring the fishery there. Looking at it now, it shouldn’t have been such a foreign concept…
It was four years, one marriage, a shit-ton of paperwork, and an unhealthy amount of saltwater fishing earlier when I replaced winter steelhead with marlin; white snow soon to be forgotten by pale yellow sand. Splitting my life between both countries — a “summer chaser” as they called me — I had the best of both worlds and I knew it.
It’s a simple enough puzzle to piece together if one understands fish migrations and seasons. Permit don’t only live in the western Pacific, marlin are creatures of habit, milkfish frustrate more than just the Seychellois, and giant trevally inhabit all sorts of islands — even the big one we call a continent.
Then there’s the rest of the species…
Q) What is the general idea of the study?
This study is focused on evaluating how steelhead on the Bulkley River response to being caught and released in the recreational fishery.
Q) How did the study come to be (whose idea, etc.)?
A few years back I was chatting with a friend about the type of science my colleagues and I do, and he asked whether catch-and-release research had been done on steelhead. I started digging into the literature and found that most of the work on steelhead had been done on hatchery fish, and at that point nobody had combined the detailed quantification of the angling event with stress physiology and post-release tracking…
“Exactly how many kilometres from the Russian border?”
The road spat our Cruiser into another slop of mud, my head narrowly missing the window. Not necessarily the sort of fishtail I was looking for.
Mongolia had been on my list of fishing destinations for as long as I could remember. Several plane rides, two overnight stays, countless permits, a twelve hour truck slosh… The tricky travel only added to the appeal; clearly a sickness prone to the adventure seeker.
When I decided to move my winters to Australia, part of me knew that I was sacrificing my love for one of the most special fisheries in the world. British Columbia’s winter steelhead migration was more than just recreation for me — it was a way of life. For as long as I could remember, I’d planned my work, free time, living arrangements, conservation efforts, even my relationships, around when and where the fish would be. It seemed unfathomable to miss a week of the season, let alone all of it.
I found comfort knowing that I still had summer steelhead available to me for the other six months of the year, but for so long I had defined myself by the persistence and patience it took to pursue their cold-weather counterparts, that fishing for summer-fish almost seemed like cheating; no suffering in snow-drenched gloves, no sink-tip loop-to-looping, no purple lips waiting to be thawed by a steaming dark roast. But I knew it was either sacrifice or divorce, so winter steelhead took a backseat to my vows, with the compromise that I would visit them every second Christmas.
As published in Trout and Salmon magazine.
I steadfastly refused to troll for gamefish. An avid steelheader, the idea of casually lounging in a gas-guzzling mini-yacht, trusting deckhands to help me catch fish, all while sitting in a chair that I suspect my dentist designed… I was beyond disinterested.
In my mind, bill-fishing was for one of two sorts of people: the fat, rich kind who need their egos stroked, and IGFA record-chasers desperate to see their names in print. I felt about as much connection to either party as a magnet does to plastic. So, in my travels to saltwater destinations, I instead chose to stalk permit, bonefish, and other species on the flats. Flats fishing seemed to be the saltwater equivalent of steelhead fishing. The patience of a hunter is a necessity. You need an awareness of subtle movement and a willingness to work tirelessly for a single shot at success. Loud engines and a team of people relying on my coordination just didn’t seem to fit the bill.
As seen in Salmon and Steelhead Journal:
I felt my temper flare just slightly. My oars dug a little deeper, my raft pushed a little faster, and my polite smile began to look forced. My dog Colby just slunk behind me in hopes that we would be back to our homestretch soon.
It was September on the Bulkley River, and I was technically the new kid in town. As I rowed past anglers who’d launched earlier in the morning than I had, they picked up their pace with the assumption that the over-anxious angler pushing by them was in a hurry to “poach” their upcoming water. Hell, I just wanted to go home.
I counted fifty boats that afternoon. More than that, there was a person at the head of every run, anglers forced into spots that don’t hold fish, illegal guides chucking spoons, and illegal guides chucking flies who still had the nerve to frown upon the gear guys. Not a single one of these guys was smiling. Myself included. As heads turned toward the sound of my rapid rowing, I soon tired of explaining my intentions. Instead, I wished for a fluorescent sign tacked to the front of my boat reading “done for the day (and forever if it stays this way).”