I’m on the road by nine. It’s been a couple of months since Bob and I did our reconnaissance of the upper reaches of the Kitwanga River.
Life gets in the way of fishing sometimes: I had to check in on my aged mother, now living in an assisted living facility in Burnaby; Bob had to journey to the prairies with his wife, Kathy, to attend the birth of another grandson to his oldest daughter, Jessica, then return to Terrace a few weeks later to be on hand when his second oldest, Kateri gave birth to a granddaughter.
As I crossed the oldest of the two old bridges connecting Terrace and Thornhill, I pondered the fact that Bob’s girls are now having babies. I recalled the first time I met the Clay kids.
Bob and I had been at a long, tense meeting of the steering committee of the Wild Steelhead Campaign in Smithers.
To spare me the dangerous chore of driving all the way back to Terrace, Bob kindly offered me a bed at his cabin in the Kispiox Valley.
I followed his tail lights to New Town, through Two Mile, past Kispiox, then north on the Kispiox Valley Road to a small twisting driveway. It was late when we pulled in and parked. All the lights were out.
At that time, I hadn’t met Bob’s wife, and since all we’d ever talked about was fishing and fish politics, I didn’t know if he had kids or not.
After sleeping like a log, I awoke, fairly early. My nostrils filled with the aroma of coffee.
After pulling on my shirt and pants, I opened the bedroom door and stepped into a rustic kitchen.
A young woman with her hair pulled back and wire glasses was ladling out breakfast for four of the cutest blond haired kids I’d ever seen.
The oldest appeared to be about eight years old, the youngest maybe five.
It occurred to me that Bob almost certainly hadn’t made a call to his wife to tell her he was bringing a guest home, so I awkwardly introduced myself.
“I’m Kathy,” said the woman, who was obviously mom to the cute brood. Then she matter of factly pointed me in the direction of the coffee pot.
The kids I later learned were Jessica, Jed, Kateri, and Kali in order of age.
That breakfast meeting, my first introduction to the family Clay, had to have taken place somewhere in the order of three decades ago.
I thought about how short that long time seemed to be.
The Skeena wasn’t all that high. Even from the bridge it seemed quite clear. The sky was cloudless. It was going to be a hot August day.
This didn’t bode well for the fishing, but the prospect of finding a lot of trout wasn’t as exciting as that of seeing new water, most of it probably yet to be fished by anybody.
As was our custom, we rendezvoused at the service station at the junction of Highways 16 and 37. Bob had just arrived.
He’d generously brought his WaterMaster and Kathy’s since my old boat was set to expire at any moment.
We drove to the spot where the CZ Bridge crosses the stream, transferred my gear to Bob’s truck, then, because we couldn’t resist doing so, walked to the middle of the bridge and looked upstream.
Bob spotted three chinook spawning in ideal gravel maybe a hundred metres above our lookout.
We agreed this was an encouraging sign then drove to our launch five highway kilometres upstream.
The river was low enough that the shallower riffles would force us to drag the boats, but for the most part it seemed we would be floating.
We hooked a few small trout, noticed fresh grizzly tracks in soft, mud beside the pool, then embarked.
The first few pools were unpromising. We pulled our boats around a couple of cottonwood that had fallen across the river.
Then, a few bends later, we encountered our first log jam. After dragging the boats down a short side channel nearly bereft of water, we were adrift again.
A short time later, a really significant log pile loomed in front of us.
This behemoth forced us to drag out boats the better part of a kilometre over a dry channel.
The temperature was in the high 20s. We’d been on the river for a couple of hours.
The fishing long forgotten, we drifted through run after run after glide after pool expecting to see the bridge around each bend of the river, but not seeing it, were bolstered by the fact that sometime somehow we had to pass under it.
Many river miles and two log jams later we passed under the bridge and pulled out.
Five highway kilometres took 20 to cover on the serpentine river. We dragged the boats up to the road and lashed them to the truck.
Bob tightened the last bit of rope.
“I had a big heart attack last year, he said.
“You had a stroke years back. I’m 69. You’re 70, Isn’t it great we can do this.”
“The day’s not over yet, Bob,” I said.