It was January. It was cold, of course. As we crossed the Newer Bridge outflow winds shook the truck. l could only see the bones of the Older Bridge through the blowing snow. It was dusty stuff, not enough to cover the Copper River Delta and provide a decent ski.
We may have to walk instead, I said to Oona.
Thornhill was nearly whited out. The truck shook even more. As we crossed the Zymoetz I reflexively looked down to the stream then downstream. There was a shape far down and waist deep in Channel Three. I slowed to get a better look. It was a man fishing.
There’s someone fishing there, I said to the dog. Who was hunkered down into the seat and didn’t share my surprise.
I turned onto Lavergne Road, parked at its dead end where I tied on my fur line cap, pulled wool mitts from the pockets of my wool pants, grabbed my walking stick, and struck out down the trail bound the river itching to see who would be fishing it in a January blizzard. The water in the deep, unsightly ruts made by vandals on ATVs, who seem determined to wreck the place, had frozen and were covered in a skiff of fine snow, as if they were healing over. Oona snuffled the spoor of rabbits, foxes, and a moose. Other than wind whipping through the tree tops, the place was almost serene.
Fifteen minutes later we passed the foot of the dike where the road opens onto the river. There was nobody there. For an instant I thought I might have been seeing things. The apparition had vanished. But no, Downstream in the nameless pocket that serves as a lay-by for moving summer salmon, and will on a rare occasion do the same for winter travellers, was the hard bitten, and, by now, wind bitten angler.
We crossed the diminished side channel on ice. As we neared the fisherman I could see he was casting a long line using a long rod even by today’s standards. He began casting furtive glances toward us. I knew that leave-me-alone look well. Here was a guy, obsessed with steelhead, so eager to find out more about their behaviour that he was willing to brave the elements in January.
A big old yellow dog that we hadn’t seen lying behind a log on the bank, jumped up and began to bark when we were within casting distance. Oona loped toward it.
She’s friendly I yelled.
The angler started for shore.
I just wanted to see what kind of madman would be out here fishing on a day like this, I said smiling and extending my hand.
I’d recently signed on to Twitter and soon found myself followed by a “Rainforest_Nick.” I reciprocated by becoming his follower, drawn to do so by the numerous pictures of steelhead he was posting on his feed, and thankful he wasn’t divulging where he’d found them. Where there were backdrops I recognized them as Skeena.
Rainforest_Nick? I queried.
Skeenaangler, I said.
You’re a living legend.
Maybe in my own mind.
Nick had his iPhone out. He began thumbing through pics of impressive catches he hadn’t yet posted.
Is that a 15-foot rod?
No, he said, but I want one. A Bruce & Walker 15-footer and one of those big Hardy Salmon reels.
Really! I said. That’s the kind of outfit I started with back in 1980 when nobody had two handers in this country – a fifteen foot Hardy Favourite, a Salmon #1, and a forty yard double tapered fly line.
Oh yeah! exclaimed Rainforest_Nick, a 40-yarder. I gotta have one.
Hey, I can find you one of those lines. Might still have one. I’ll swap you for a box of Bowen Island Beer, the Variety Pack.
Oona and I walked back to the car. Nick drove around and met us. We talked about old tackle and steelhead. He told me of his stay on Vancouver Island fishing the sadly depleted rivers there, and how he had made his way here. I left pleased to have met this young eager retrofisher.
Later I found that Doug had two old 40 yard lines, one in almost mint condition. I tweeted Nick. He showed up. We did the swap. I split the beer with Doug.
The tweets became less frequent. I knew that like most steelhead Bums, Nick was near penury. He told me he would reluctantly suspend his pursuit to work so he could fix his truck and pay his phone bill.
Then one day I found a link on Twitter to this paper. I clicked on it. There was Rainforest_Nick, phone in hand, talking to Anna Killen about how he’d saved a young girl’s life by sheltering her as a stand of alder fell on them during a windstorm.
Nick tweeted that he was in Alberta looking for work, and that his back was still hurting from a blow from an alder.