Travels with Mike III

Skeena angler Rob Brown remembers his old friend, Mike

drove north on River Drive, past Satch’s Moonlighter Autobody. It was mid-September. The slanting rays of the morning sun lit the backs of the leaves clinging tenuously to the cottonwoods. They glowed like small Japanese lanterns. It was just after 8 a.m. when I pulled into Mike’s driveway and parked behind Pop’s pickup. Mike’s doors were never locked. I let myself in.

Mike’s place was a giant man cave. Animal heads hung on the walls between framed pictures of wilderness scenes. Cushions made from beaver pelts lay on the living room couch. A beautifully executed mount of a five-pound Copper River steelhead set against a twisted piece of driftwood so skillfully it seemed alive, sat on a coffee table next to an overstuffed chair. To imitate the stream bed under the fish, Mike had placed suitably sized rocks he’d cleaned then coated with lacquer. Each rock had been selected for its distinctive shape and/or colour. Each had come from a different steelhead stream. Mike had printed the name of the river from which each stone had come on its underside before applying the first coat of lacquer. There were about fifty stones in the display.

At the end of the hallway that led to the bedrooms a roll top desk Pop had built filled half of Mike’s fly tying room. In glass cabinets above the desk was a large collection of reels, some fly reels including some old winches of Hardy manufacture, ancient bait casting reels, quirky contraptions that cast sideways, and a half dozen new Ambassadeur reels, Mike’s weapons of choice for hunting steelhead.

The house smelled of bacon and coffee.

Anybody home? I called out rhetorically.

Yep. It was Pop. He was in the kitchen.

You want coffee.

Wouldn’t say no.

He poured a cup and put it down on the counter.

Cream in the fridge, he said. The kid’s downstairs.

I thanked him, put a couple of teaspoons of sugar, then some cream in the cup, and made my way down the narrow stairway to the basement.

Mike was carefully applying the last few turns of thread  to the tip guide on a steelhead rod. On the table behind him a recently finished rod was turning slowly in a rotisserie designed by Mike and assembled by Pop. Graphite rods were a new thing then. Mike loved their lightness and quick response. He got a book on rod construction and familiarized himself with the new epoxy resins, mastered turning cork on a lathe, then built himself excellent rods that advertised themselves and led inevitably to his building them for others.

Ya ready? I asked.

My stuff’s in the truck, said Mike. Just need to find my shoes and a jacket and we can get going.

Thought we’d take my truck. We always seem to take yours.

Mike thought that was fair enough. We said bye to Pop who had moved from the kitchen to the shop and was fixing up a bike.

I send him to the dump and he comes back with more stuff than he left with, said Mike.

Soon we were climbing up the Bornite Mountain Road and making our way up the valley toward Kleanza Lake. The valley had been heavily logged during the ‘80s and now Skeena Cellulose had pushed a road down alongside Nogold Creek to access the upper section of the Zymoetz. Few men had fished what was to become the Class One section of the Zymoetz River back then: Gene Llewellyn and one of his pals had persuaded a helicopter pilot to drop them off at Treasure Creek with their rods and enough equipment to enable them to hike to the main road that ended at the Jeep Trail in those days.

Gene told Mike and me, and anyone else who would listen, of the incredible fishing he and his partner had. Two decades after Gene had the best steelheading of his life, Martin Schmederer, fuelled by money from a German corporation, used helicopters to take rich anglers into the same area. Dave Ross, who timber cruised the area, admitted to me years later that he’d taken his rod with him on a few occasions and enjoyed some spectacular fishing after a day’s work. For the most part though the area was unexplored.

It was mid-morning by the time we reached the end of the road. There was a spectacular waterfall falling thousands of feet over a sheer face in the distance. The upper flanks of the steep sharp mountains of the Telkwa Range were snow covered. The vivid beauty of the place was stunning.

We walked for what must have been several kilometres through a forest populated predominantly by aged hemlocks. The valley steepened.

I had to work hard to keep up with Mike.

There, he said, stopping and pointing to a river bend far below. That’s gotta be the Copper.

My heart was pounding. We wore latex waders. I was soaked in sweat. After a few breaths we were off, bouncing down a steep moss covered chute between two rock bluffs toward the river sinking up to our calves in the deep green moss with each leap.

Continued next week…