Paradise lost

Columnist Rob Brown talks about the wetland at the foot of Pat Roy Road

That place was paradise, Gene Llewellyn told me over a cup of instant coffee one cold winter day long ago as we sat in the kitchen/living room/parlour in the comfort of his small trailer on Dobbie Road.

He was referring to the stretch of the Kisumkalum that begins where the river fills Grieve’s Pool then rushes through Webb’s Riffle, slows at the Meat Hole, takes a hard left just downstream of Luncheon Creek, rolls through the Fire Pot, broadens as it glides through Tim’s Run, narrows before plunging into the pool known as the Leaning Cedars, rattles over the boulder strewn riffle then transforms itself into the long, productive reach we call Llewellyn’s Crossing, before increasing in ferocity as it roars through the Jaws of Death, then changes shape once more at Last Chance and Leanto Creek. Only a few of those runs, riffles, and pools had names then, of course. The Fire Pot had one. So did the long run whose tailout was shallow enough to grant his Dad and Gene passage to the far side of the Kalum in search of moose.

The Llewellyns had a cabin overlooking the crossing for years. Only the skeletal remains stood when I first made my way there. Now that’s gone too. Gene knew the place before the logging industry did their level best to wreck the river. He knew that place intimately too. He was one of the loggers, but the loggers weren’t the problem. Their bosses were. They were the fools who concocted the plan to boom logs in Kalum Lake, savaged big chunks of riverine habitat, and cut off back channels that were vitally important salmon nurseries at numerous spots downstream in order to erect cribbing in a misguided attempt to deflect the logs they assumed would come drifting downriver in an orderly manner.

Predictably, this didn’t happen. The logs plugged the canyons and wrecked havoc with spawning beds of the chinook that had not yet quit spawning, said Gene. He was convinced that the giant salmon that were formerly so abundant they covered the bottom of the river below the train bridge and in many similar spots, never completely recovered.

And the damage didn’t end there. The fallers were told to fall to the river’s edge. The stumps that have gathered moss for over half a century prove they did just that. Riperian zones were not in the industry lexicon. At a time when the Fisheries Act actually had more teeth – now, it’s been bludgeoned by Harper and his thugs – logs were skidded through creeks of all sizes.

But back then nobody got in the way of logging, Gene told me.

There were few fishers at that time. Most of them soaked bait for chinook, but Gene had this thing for steelhead, fish he began chasing when the water dropped late in the Fall. He pursued them all winter and until the water came up in May. He became a wizard with spoons and lures. In those days you killed your limit then went home. Gene’s love of fishing made him want to stay out longer. He started letting fish go and killing only the ones he caught late in the day. Then he began releasing them all. Finally, seeing the runs decline from what they were before the ravages of bad logging, he became a staunch advocate of catch and release fishing and deplored the use of roe.

As Gene’s mobility became an issue, he confined his outings to the Copper. By that time Doug Webb and I were regulars on that section of the Kalum. We used flies to fish steelhead when there were only a few anglers fishing flies for them at any time of year on any of Skeena’s rivers. Then the majority of flyfishers angled for summer fish on the Bulkley, the Morice, the Kispiox, and the Babine Rivers, and nobody else angled steelhead on the fly over the course of the winter but us. Weather permitting, we did well enough to keep trying. That paradisiacal stretch of the Kalum afforded us the best fishing. We visited it twice a week, and more often than that on holidays, for many years.

Over those years the woods started to heal. Because it was a long run from 12 mile and impossible to navigate in the winter, we saw almost no boats. Because it was a 12 kilometre round trip tramp on snow shoes, we saw only handful of dedicated fishermen. Then everything changed.

We’d assumed that the wetland at the foot of Pat Roy Road was crown land and would be protected because of its rich habitat values. It wasn’t. Pat owned it and after he left, his wife sold it to a group of Terrace guides who in turn sold it to some rich folks from away – at least I’m assuming this because they built a palatial lodge right in the middle of the swamp and a road to it as well as a bridge across the swamp.

Webb and I were stunned when construction began. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans had a policy that declared there would be no net loss of fisheries habitat. Where were they in all of this?

More next week…