Harold passed the rodeo grounds. The yellow of the cottonwoods, their tops still shrouded in fog, was barely visible. He looked down as he crossed the Bailey Bridge. The walls of the canyon were wet and iced, the river below them was black. He turned toward the fishing camps and pulled over the run named after the Cottonwoods.
Pulling on his waders, getting the rod and staff from the back seat and putting on his vest seemed to take ages. When he was finally finished, there was enough light to see the river.
With the welcome support of the staff, he crept down the rocky path to the water. Here and there a gnarled and toothy dog salmon carcass, turned to leather and partly buried in the sand, stared at him through empty sockets.
Harold scanned the familiar contours of the run: the fast riffle at the head spilling over a piece of ledge rock; the two swirls at the top of the slot where, ten years earlier, he found a twenty-eight pound buck; the quick, flat tail where he’d never done well.
A fish rolled.
Harold was sure it was steelhead, perhaps one of those few bright winter fish that show up late in the year. The boiled was a large one. A dog or king salmon couldn’t have made it. They were finished ages ago.
Had to be a steelhead, he thought out loud.
Another fish rolled. A different one, closer to the far bank and nearer the tail out. Minutes later another fish breached, and after a short wait another.
Harold shook his head. He couldn’t believe it. He’d seen Morice fish chasing mayflies. Once he’d watched steelhead rolling on the surface like pink salmon in the riffle just above the spot where the Walcott Walk Bridge that spans the Bulkley, but never in his many Kispiox autumns had he seen one of its steelhead move to the surface.
He waited a moment, hoping that another fish might show itself, then, when none did, he shuffled over the uneven cobble toward the head of the run wishing he could jog. When he arrived, he stripped a length of line from his reel and began to false cast.
It took three false casts to get enough line in the air to reach the spot to which he intended to cast. On the third, a sharp pain shot through his arm. In that agonizing moment he knew he wouldn’t be able to fish. The labour of donning his waders, setting up his rod, and hobbling to the river had sapped almost all his energy. Still, if he took things slowly, he might have been able to fish, but he knew he couldn’t endure the pain of casting, much less the strain of playing a steelhead if one took.
A cold wave of despair swept through him followed a hot flush of anger. All that time spent looking down on the Lower Patch from the high cut bank on river left, watching others fish over the steelhead suspended in the river below; all that time spent sitting in the coffee shop at the lodge, overhearing the youngsters talk about the fish they’d caught. Now his time had come, now it was his turn with a run full of frisky steelhead rising like trout in front of him, and he was unable to fish.
Painfully he reeled in the line and placed the fly in the keeper. He looked across the river then up through the mist to the tops of the trees. His gaze fell. He leaned on his staff and looked down river. Far down in tail where the run turns into a riffle, and where the water couldn’t have been more than two feet deep, and another fish rose. Where the sight of all those energetic steelhead had filled him with hope and excitement, now the sight of one more made him sad.
An idea came to him suddenly – Faye!
Someone had to fish those fish. Who better to do it than Faye. Faye had fished this run more than anyone over the last twenty years. He knew its nuances better than anyone. If anyone on the planet deserved to and could catch those steelhead it was Faye Davis.
Harold carefully tottered over the cobble. He was panting as he hastily stowed his gear. He slid behind the wheel and coaxed the engine to start then pulled out and drove down the road to Olga’s camp. A few minutes later, he turned into Olga’s drive and passed under archway from which a sign hung advertising the Kispiox Steelhead Camp.
Harold pulled in next to an Airstream trailer. Dried leaves crackled under his boots as he crossed the field to Faye’s cabin. More stairs – Harold climbed them to a wooden porch. Had Faye left for his home in Washington already? He wasn’t sure. He hoped not.
Harold rapped on the door.
……to be continued next week….