It’s Sunday. There are white gauze curtains in the draws and ravines nearest the mountain tops. It’s the beginning of March at the end of April. Winter has loosed its grip but it hangs on by its boney white fingers, its knuckles white from the strain.
The gaunt rivers, still running on winter water, chatter over cold riffle rockeries. As yet, no young salmon flicker in the shallows. In most years they would be abundant. I yearn to see them. I also yearn for the day – and it usually doesn’t take more than a day or two – when warm temperatures sweep over the land like a high tide over an estuary then recede leaving the valley awash in green and the air redolent.
As I drive down the hill from Amsbury confirmation that Spring is imminent appears in the form of a sow bear and her cub, their coats coal black. I’m all the traffic there is, fortunately. I rumble to a stop on the shoulder and watch as they leisurely climb out of the steep ditch and amble calmly across the highway then down the steep embankment toward the tracks on their quest for grass and shrubs. As quickly as they appeared, they’re gone. How animals so large and so dark, and so awkward on pavement, can meld into the bush then move through it so gracefully never fails to elicit surprise. I drive west, the direction from which Spring will come. I have no plan, no destination, just a desire to flex the new rod Bob Clay made me over the winter.
I was given a rod by Yvon Chouinard years back. The blank was made by the famous American bamboo rod maker, Bill Phillipson. The fittings were put on it by someone in the Winston Rod Company’s shop. They did an adequate job, but the handle was uncomfortable. I took the rod to Bob. He took the micrometer to it, calling out the measurements as I wrote them down, then he took the taper and assembled a new pole with two tips, one of them hollowed, and put on a comfortable handle. He also attached a myrtle reel seat on which I mounted a vintage Hardy St. George, a eighty year old reel burnished and broken in by my dear departed friend,
Bob Taylor. Reel and rod matched perfectly.
I could have driven to the upper reaches of the Lakelse River and caught fish, but weekends are too crowded there and the angling too predictable. Weekends are the time to explore new ground. I think about some of the places Finlay and I used to fish and my thoughts turn to sloughs. Sloughs are a lot like lakes. Trout can be found in them after ice off and they fish well late in the year. I recall the time, years ago, when I watched pink salmon rush up a narrow channel connecting the Skeena to a large slough, and how I promised myself I would fish that backwater, but never have.
Can I find the place again? I park the truck, suit up, grab the Clay/Phillipson, take a compass bearing, and set out. The round crackles underfoot. There are flecks of green, but not many. After half an hour the brush thickens. I’m happy to see distant cottonwood towers that almost certainly will have a water course at their feet. They do. It’s the slough I was seeking. It is bordered by an osier hedge and seems to extend for a long way. I clamber up on one of the many cottonwoods the beavers have felled and stare down some four metres into the tea stained water. The water is too deep and dark to see bottom. Long grey cotton wood logs lurk under the surface like giant alligators. Gusts ripple the water but for most of the quarter of an hour I’m there it’s flat.
Then there’s a quick rise, too quick to let me know whether its maker was large or small. A little while later there’s another and another. I climb down from my perch, pick my way through the thicket, coming across an old, dirt filled Marten box still tethered with clothesline, the remnant of an old trap line, then slide down a beaver trail to the water.
The overhanging dogwood and steep bank allow me a roll cast only, but I get enough distance to put my nondescript nymph in the vicinity of the rises. I begin a slow hand twist retrieve, imagining the nymph’s stammering passage through the dark water as I do. After a dozen casts followed by retrieves of varying speeds, a fish ambushes the nymph. It’s a foot long cutthroat trout. Cutthroat never live alone. I keep working my fly through the darkest spot in the dark water and, before long, another trout thumps it. It shakes free near shore, a twin of the first fish. Then there are no more.
I’m elated for in those two fish there is the promise of many more fish in sweet seclusion in springs to come.