Jim is happy to put in a whole day fishing. He’s been putting in half days on the Zymoetz and doing well with the surface flies I’ve given him over the last three decades.
I tried this one, he tells me, holding up a Riffle Cricket (one of the first surface fly experiments I slapped together back in the eighties) and rose a fish, but I missed him. Then I tried this one, he said, plucking an orange bodied stone fly adult I’d created, and forgotten about years ago, from his box, and the fish took it.
I’ve done really well on this one too, he added, pulling a black and orange dressing from the tangle of flies in his crowded box.
A Grantham’s sedge.
Yeah, that’s it.
The conversation is academic today. Today we’re on the Ostrich Run, no place for a surface fly at this time of year. I’m bent on killing sockeye for the pantry while Jim just wants to spend a day on the river and see what the fishing will bring.
Two days ago, I was fishing the same shingle with Jimmy Lattie (pronounced La-tie). Jimmy is the only First Nations fisher I’ve met with breathable waders, a two-fisted fly rod, and all the attendant gear.
It’s snowing on the tops of those mountains, I said to Jimmy, looking at the peaks on the far side of the river.
We’ve had snow on Roche de Boule every month this year, he replied.
Even in June?
June and July, said Jimmy.
Since then, rain has fallen on the new snow, explaining why the river is six inches higher than it was on the day I fished with Jimmy.
I wade in with my harvesting rod, a 9 foot single handed Fenwick graphite that I bought from Dave Elkins, then the proprietor of Fish Tales Tackle, for a mere $150 because he was getting rid of them. I armed it with a Dingley Reel, loaded with weight forward floating line fronting a 10 foot Super Fast Sinking tip.
I pick out a swirl marking the location of a large subsurface rock and swim my chartreuse Comet past its far side.
Gordy MacDonald told me of the magic of chartreuse in sockeye fishing fifteen years ago, on a day when I’d locked my keys in the truck and he was kind enough to give me a ride home. Since then I’ve used little else for salmon. Over the years, I’ve experimented with the design. The latest incarnation is dressed in the manner of Jim Pray’s Comet, a simple fly invented for the once fish rich rivers of Northern California.
Prays’ Comet had a long tail of buck’s tail dyed yellow, a gold body, a few wraps of yellow hackle up front. His good idea was to put bead chain eyes just back of the eye of the hook. This gave the fly some extra weight and tended to make ride through the water upside down. All manner of eyes are available to the fly tier nowadays. I use heavy gold plated hourglass shaped eyes to match the gold body of the fly. Instead of buck tail, I use the more flexible marabou plumes garnished with two strips of flexible mylar for a tail.
A few casts later, a fish grabs the fly and speeds off toward Prince Rupert.
That’s gotta be a steelhead, says Jim as my backing melts away.
Feels like one, I say.
The fish is a sockeye, hooked fairly inside the mouth, as all of them have been for me this year.
Later in the day a small woman and a tall man walk out on the bar. They’re only there a few minutes when I hook another sockeye. The man walks upstream to watch as I play the fish. The woman follows.
I slide the fish, a male of about two and half kilos, to the beach, pull my priest from the pocket on the front of my waders, dispatch it with a pair of quick blows, slide my finger under its gill cover, and hold it up.
Mama mia! exclaims the woman as the sockeye glistened in the sun.
You’re Italian, I guess.
Si, she said. We are from Milano. Northern Italy.
I can fish with the spinning? asks her wide eyed boyfriend.
I tell him he could, whereupon he races to his rentacar and comes back with a small rod and begins casting a spoon way out into the river, while his partner settles down on large rock with a book.
That may be the only live salmon they’ve ever seen, I speculate. They sure acted as if it was, Jim added.