Travels with Mike: The penultimate chapter

After a decade of fishing together every weekend and on most holidays, Mike began dating Jacquie...

After a decade of fishing together every weekend and on most holidays, Mike began dating Jacquie.

I’ve got a new fishing partner, he told me one crisp spring day when we were fishing the Kalum. I completely understand, I told him. And I did.

During the time they were an item, Mike’s fishing was unaltered; he simply built her into his angling schedule and pursued steelhead with the same unrelenting drive. This was completely in character. Mike was passionate about the outdoors and loved to share it with his loves and his friends.

One May day, Mike took Jacquie to the Gitnadoix. They cruised the slow water to Alastair Lake under a clear sky accompanied by the distant roar of avalanches. Late in the day, Mike set up camp on a flat spot suitable for that purpose. Neither of them took note of the slide chute across the river. The next morning they woke up late and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast in the morning sun before breaking camp and embarking. They stopped to fish the pool above Dog Tag Creek that Mike called the Tally Whacker, and had only just wet a line when the river dropped dramatically. After a quarter of an hour, it began to rise again but now it was choked with chunks of ice.

Mike told his date how the avalanches that crossed the river forming ice dams were an annual occurrence on the river and how, a few years earlier, a particularly large one had left a 20-metre wall of ice rock and trees atop the pool at the top of the fast water. When the clots of ice had passed by, Mike urged Jacquie back into the boat and they powered upstream. It was a short cruise to the spot where an avalanche had crossed the river. It had rushed down the chute opposite the camp they had left only a short time before and shot across the river, burying the site in tonnes of debris.

This incident was so typical of Mike whose curiosity so often trumped his sense of safety, and whose life was full of close calls as a result.

One day the two of us were fishing the run above the Boulder Creek West Bar when we were both startled by a loud roar behind us.

Did you hear that? asked Mike.

How could I miss it? I replied.

That’s a grizzly bear roar, said Mike.

My immediate thought was that grizzly bears don’t roar without a reason, that the bruin was probably roaring at something, that the something was almost certainly another bear, and that this meant there was probably a black bear in imminent danger, or, worse still, another grizzly – and if this was the case, neither bear was likely to be in a good mood. Before I could share this line of conjecture with Mike, he had grabbed his camera and headed off into the bush in the direction from which the roar had come. I watched him disappear into the woods, not at all confident my good friend and fishing partner would emerge again. I sat on a large river rock and waited anxiously for what must have been a good 20 minutes before Mike emerged from the woods and walked across the bar to where I was now standing relieved and eager for a report.

Couldn’t find him, he said, disappointed.

Too bad, I said, trying in vain to erase the sarcasm out of my voice.

Another time, Mike, on one of the many days when he was exploring alone, spotted a herd of mountain goats atop one of the many rocky promontories overlooking the slow winding upper Gitnadoix. He brought his Zodiac ashore, slung his camera and tripod over his shoulder and started up the wet and icy ramparts toward the goats. Reaching a favourable location for a good shooting demanded a slow and cautious approach over perilous terrain.

After a long time, Mike was close enough to his quarry to get a good shot with his longest lens. He set up carefully, almost silently. That done, he glanced down. Hundreds of feet below him was the Zodiac. It looked the size of a Tonka Toy and there was a black bear in it.

The cooler in the boat was full of grub, Mike said as he related the episode to me over a game of backgammon we were playing on a board set up on the coffee table at the Fish Tales Tackle Shop when Dave Elkins was running the place.

Bear claws and rubber boats don’t go well together, he added. If you wanted to see a fat man get down off a mountain in record time, you should’ve been there.

As he rolled the die and slid the blots around the board, Mike told of scattering goats and bellowing from on high on his descent, finally shooing the bear before it could do any harm.

Final chapter, next week…