Hunting the steelhead on Halloween

It’s an long time since we’ve been fishing, I said to Oona. An awfully long time.

The land was getting cold and the air crisp. Fresh snow covered the mountain tops. The rivers were dropping to winter levels.

I called Bob.

“It’s cold in the Kispiox,” he said.

We made plans to hunt steelhead.

Then, as has happened so often in the last 10 years, the temperature shot up. Rain started to fall on the valley bottoms and at higher elevations. The Zymoetz, a fickle river at the best of times, turned chocolate brown and went into a rage for the second time this season. All the other rivers followed suit.

On the day of Halloween the temperature in Prince George was 11 C, absurdly warm for this time of year. Terrace was cooler, but not by much. This had to be Climate change. Climate change gnaws away at the security bred of predictability.

“Get in the truck,” I command the dog, “we’re going on a road trip.”

We’d done a reconnaissance on the upper Lakelse two days earlier and found it over its banks. The plan, this day — admittedly a very flexible and not too hopeful one — was to drive inland along the Skeena looking for clean water along the way.

Kleanza was a chalky blue, running hard and high, not so high and dirty as to make fishing impossible, but high enough to make angling exceedingly difficult. Chimdemash, Legate, and the Olivers were in a similar state, but Fiddler was pushing enough blue water into the muddy Skeena to make the entire length of the boulder covered beach below it alluring. Why does the far side of a river almost always look more appealing that the closer bank?

I pulled over and out at the viewpoint high above the Homestead Run and used my binoculars for a closer look.

The run and the creek feeding it looked very fishy, so much so that for brief moment I entertained the notion of inflating my one man raft and ferrying across until the realization that a high Skeena would probably carry me a couple of kilometres downstream before my first mate and I could make the far shore.

At Price Creek, I still entertained a little hope that the Kitwanga River might be low enough to yield some big Rainbow Trout from the runs below the Crown Zellerbach Bridge. The best way to test this hypotheses, and avoid driving almost to the Kitwancool turnoff, was to check the height of the river from Battle Hill.

We pulled over at the walkway leading to Nek’t’s fortress some 15 minutes later. From the viewpoint the Kitwanga River looked swollen and gray, but I needed to get closer. At the first resting platform on the staircase we met a man who told us he was from the village.

It’s a wonderful spot, I said.

It is, he said with a broad smile.

A kilometre later we were at the top of the pyramid that afforded the Gitwangak such a superb view of impending mayhem at the hands of Haida, Nisga’a, and Haisla. I sat on the bench where four fortified longhouses once stood, and ate my sandwich while considering whether to craft a steelhead fly of grizzly bear hair like that on Nek’t’s cloak, the one that had slabs of slate glued to it’s insides to ward of the killing thrusts of marauder’s daggers. For a wing I considered using strips from raven’s quill, an homage to Weeget, the raven trickster of Gixaan lore. Somewhere on the dressing there would have to be red to mirror the red and black of Gixaan art.

I decided the fly would be called K’i’lax after the strike-only-once club that slew so many of Nek’t’s opponents in the ultimate fights that decided territorial disputes when the Gitwangak were a mighty nation. With my lunch finished and Oona eager to go, I filed the fly concept into the works-in-progress drawer of my mind, and made my way back to the truck.

The information panels leading to Battle Hill kindled thoughts of Cedarvale, another historic place that should be memorialized with the similar panels to commemorate its significance in the history of Skeena.

I fished Cedarvale when only a couple of the locals did, long before the Sporting Goods stores in Smithers started directing steelheaders there in numbers that alarmed long time resident, and operator of the museum there, Mary Dahlen.

As I turned off 37 North onto16 West, I tried to recall the name of the missionary, an acolyte of Reverend William Duncan, the founder of Metlakatla. I’d read a book on the man who’d founded a Victorian Missionary village similar to Duncan’s at Minskinish. Yet, more than once I’d forgotten his name, and, now, I had again.

I was going through the alphabet in a pathetic attempt to recall it when it struck me that I would be at Minskinish in 10 minutes. The Reverend was buried there. I could stop and look at his tombstone and refresh my memory. It seemed an appropriate thing to do on Hallowe’en.

to be continued….

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