One March morning in 1993, Finlay and I slid my gray eight foot Avon into the Skeena side channel that flows past Ron Cote’s mill. The sky was low and cold. No birds sang. The only sounds were the rush of the river over the skinny riffles and the subdued hum of traffic on the highway. It wasn’t spring yet. It wasn’t winter either. Shards of dull snow littered the rocky shoreline. Finlay had on a bright white wool toque and wore his perennial Cowichan sweater over his waders. I wore a red wool shirt made of Australian sheep’s wool and a down vest over that. Both of us wore wool gloves.
We stowed our Miner’s brand raincoats fore alongside a thermos of coffee, anticipating the cold downstream wind that would blow up in the afternoon, as the wind on the lower Skeena always does.
The river was clear. Finlay remarked that he could see every rock, and that if there were fish about, we would have a good chance of seeing them too.
I pulled the raft to shore at the top of the Radio Run. Bowing to the wintery conditions, I’d brought my 14 foot two handed rod. One of Webb’s black and orange marabou flies – the one that we later named Trick or Treat for it’s Hallowe’en hues – was attached to the short leader.
I began working over the head of the long run while Finlay tied on a fly then tore a piece of his plug of chewing tobacco and stuck it behind his lip before ambling down the shingle looking for its sweet spot. After a fruitless hour, we climbed back into the raft. I rowed to the middle of the river so that we might sweep through the chute below without hitting boulders in the shallows.
I misjudged by a bit. The Avon’s gunwale bumped up against the edge of the rockery dislodging a large round stone. The raft lifted momentarily. We heard the muted thumping that marked its passage.
Hey. Watch it, Captain, said my first mate.
I rowed hard to avoid the pull of the large eddy in front of Delta Creek. we pulled into a bay on the Delta Creek Bar. The sky seemed lighter, the air warmer, as we swung our flies through the expansive tail out.
Steelhead, their metabolisms wound down in the cold wintery water, aren’t in much of hurry early in the year. An angler can’t fish a short traveling lane waiting for them to come to him, as they will in summer and in fall. Instead he is forced to hunt them as if he were hunting trout.
Most trout fishing is executed on small rivers. The pace is brisk. The scenery changes round each bend. To approximate that on the Skeena, a boat is required. Every thing is larger and slower, and tedium can set in quickly.
Finlay caught a small emaciated Dolly Varden Char, a pale hungry fish at Delta. We had a cup of coffee in celebration, then pushed off.
Even in the lowest flows, you feel really insignificant out in the middle of the Skeena in an eight foot inflatable row boat, and that’s probably how it should be.
You feel small out here? I asked.
Your boat doesn’t leak does it? he asked.
We settled on an island below the Dasque Creek. As we drifted to shore a moose we hadn’t seen loped off downstream, its hooves clattering against the cobble.
Though there was no logical reason for it, the fact that the river seemed smaller because we were fishing only one of its channels gave me confidence.
The run looked promising. The flow was even. The river and spilled over boulders the size of basket balls. Nowhere did the channel appear to be too deep.
For no good reason, I snipped the Trick or Treat from my tippet then replaced it with a pink, shrimp like pattern we call Seafood. It’s a zany pattern that concocted using a new supple plastic tinsel called Flashabou, hot pink wool, and pink rubber legs, which are now all the rage two decades later.
Finlay, who was never in as much of a rush as me, kept on with a number 6 skunk fished on the end of 10 feet of 10 pound test attached to a floating line, and he caught the first fish: a firm little steelhead. Not long after that I hooked up to a slightly larger fish. And, just before calling it a day, Finlay lost another.
We made that trip 5 more times. Every time we were blanked above and below that shingle and every time we caught steelhead there. Since Dasque Creek was just upstream we logically assumed that those fish were Dasque Creek fish. We had no science to fortify that assumption, but it seemed logical.
…continued next week…