Car wrecks

This week, our columnist Rob Brown paints a picture of one of the world's greatest salmon streams – and it's not always pretty

Nick Cochrane has flown here from Langley where he teaches school. Nick has recently taken to flyfishing, which has led him to the Thompson in pursuit of rainbow trout, and to the Vedder Canal where he casts to the hatchery coho. He could try his luck for steelhead upriver, in the Vedder River proper and above that in the Chilliwack, but he hasn’t the appetite for combat fishing.

Every run is crowded like we saw on Ferry Island, he tells me. A guy will put his pack down on the beach and lean his rod against it then go in the bush to take a pee, and some other guy will step into his place and begin to fish. The other guy will return and say it was his spot and the fight is on.

I nod knowingly. The Vedder is the most heavily fished river in B.C. The Kitimat is close behind. Both rivers are powered by hatcheries and both are kill fisheries. Hatchery fisheries tend to bring out the worst in fishermen in a highly charged competitive atmosphere.

I turn on the Copper River Main.

Somebody has used the signs for target practice, Nick observes.

And, sure enough, somebody has. Every one of them has bullet holes or has been partially shot away. Discharging fire arms on roadways is illegal, dangerous, and troubling. Ethical hunters would never do such a thing, begging the question: who would?

We make our way into the Wall. I send Nick ahead with instructions to swim his dark fly close to shore. After an hour of determined effort neither of us has had so much as a sniff. After lunch we drive past the lower canyon and hack our way through the devil’s club to another good reach.

Since Nick’s trout rod was too feeble for the task at hand, I gave him him an eight-weight rod and stupidly neglected to tell him what to expect when a bright steelhead takes, and how to handle the vintage Hardy perfect reel when one does. After a few minutes a bright steelhead smashes his fly. Nick is totally unprepared for the ferocity of the strike and the lightning fast speed of the fish’s run. The fly line burns his hand. The reel handle jams against his thumb. The line snaps. It’s over.

Fortunately, there is another summer run passing by. Nick hooks it too, and, following the briefing by me, he handles this one much better, getting it to the shoreline before losing it.

The next day we’re out after more, on the North Copper Road this time. At the top of the hill there is the bullet-ridden corpse of a sedan. The wheels are gone. The windows are smashed.

What happened there? asks Nick.

I tell him that I’ve seen similar wrecks at the Herman’s Creek parking lot, on the Thunderbird Road, and that easily a half dozen of them are strewn about the Copper River Flats. The only explanation I can come up with is that these vehicles are bought – or stolen – then joy ridden before being dismembered then lit on fire. Considering what goes into the making of car, these fires are are highly toxic, and the ground around them remains saturated with contaminants. The whole act is littering on a grand scale, and the fact that the creeps doing it are armed in some cases is unsettling, to say the least.

The next morning, Nick and I pass a young woman with pink highlights in her hair walking up the hill at one kilometre on the Copper Main. She is wearing a skimpy outfit and looks as if she’d recently had a tumble in a clothes dryer. I tell Nick that I’ve been driving this road for 40 years and have never seen a woman walking along it.

At the two-kilometre board, three vehicles are parked on the road a few feet past an expansive pullout frequently used by the heavy machinery operators. A bare foot sticks out of the canopy of the first. These cars are probably the ones that couldn’t fit in Cody Skog’s abandoned property across the way where there was obviously a party the night before.

I give Nick a hasty tour of the river. He catches some more steelhead. Late in the afternoon we make our way into Baxter’s riffle. Bottles are strewn about between the ragged remains of messy campfires. Some slob has dragged the remnants of a wooden packing crate with nails sticking out of it and unsuccessfully attempted to use it as kindling for his fire.

With the beauty and cleanliness of Banff and Jasper still fresh in my mind, I look at this crap then up to the clear cut patchwork on the Zymoetz Valley and wonder how we, the citizens of Skeena could have allowed one of world’s greatest salmon streams to be treated so shabbily, and what impression young Nick and all the other tourists that visit it are taking home with them.