I’m on my way to the upper reaches of the Lakelse River for the third time in two weeks. For the third time there are no other vehicles in the parking lot save for Rob Dams’s pick up.
Stirred up by a moose sighting on the Beam Station Road, Oona is eager to get out of the cab and start sniffing around. It’s a good 10 minutes before I’m geared up and on my way down the trail past the series of blue and white signs depicting the stages in the life cycle of a salmonid. As I near the fork in the trail the chatter of excited children and the chatter of the Creek combine and get louder until they fill the glade.
Rob’s assistant Andrea is wrapping up a session of aquatic invertebrate identification with one group of kids.
That’s a caddis, she tells a wide eyed little scamp holding up Tricopteran that’s thankfully ensconced in stone armour of its own making.
Where’s Robbie? I ask her, whereupon she directs me to the trail that leads to the next pool downstream where Rob is eliciting the importance of stream side vegetation from another school of school kids.
So can you imagine what will happen if someone comes here with an ATV? Rob asks.
The group looks puzzled. One boy says something about a switch. Rob tosses out a hint. Big tires…he says.
Oh, his pupils for a day chant out in unison, a quad!
All agree that quads should stay out creeks. Lesson learned.
The kids muster to leave.
What school ya from? I ask one robust tyke who looks to be in third, possibly fourth grade.
Suwilaawks, he says proudly.
Suwilaawks, that’s the best school, isn’t it?
And I’ll bet you’ve got the best teacher too, I remark glancing to the side and seeing Terry Seymour leading a band of kids up the trail from the creek.
Sure do, he says without hesitation.
Hello, Mr. Brown, Terry says, giving me an I’ll-get-you-back look as she passes by.
Hey, what kind of fish were you releasing? I ask another boy.
Did they look like this? I as him, opening my fly box and pulling out a silver minnow tied with Amherst pheasant tail feathers dyed orange to match the fins of juvenile coho and a yellow and black eye painted on its head to imitate the protuberant eyes tiny salmon have.
Yeah, he says, clearly impressed.
I don’t have one for everyone, I tell him as I stick the fly in his T-shirt just above his heart, but you show it to your classmates.
He smiles and rushes off to join the rest.
One of those kids knew all of those kids new every bug – stoneflies, caddis, mayflies, everything – says Andrea as the exuberant voices of the children fade in the distance. I asked him how he knew. He said his father taught him.
I heard you made a trip to emerge, I tell Rob. How you feeling now?
He tells me his trip to the hospital was prompted by a misdiagnosis of appendicitis, which led to tests and the discovery of diverticulitis, which was at a critical stage.
It just started with a sharp pinch, he says pointing to his gut. I could have died.
I tell him that I’m glad he didn’t.
They gave me morphine, he says. Man, I don’t know why anyone would use that stuff if they didn’t have to!
You can imagine what Mike went through in his last days, I suggest. He was amped up on that stuff for three months before he died.
It seems that his recent trauma and the reference to Mike’s passing makes Rob pause and change the subject.
How’s fishing? he asks.
Excellent, I tell him, and I’ve pretty much got it to myself.
Every year since we’ve been doing this, the parking lot is always full. This year it’s been empty. I think it must be the regulation change.
I tell Rob to take it easy until he’s completely mended then cross the creek and stride down the trail to the river.
It hadn’t occurred to me that the decrease in angling pressure on the upper Lakelse River may be due to the Canadian resident only restriction that Jim Culp and I proposed during the Quality Waters Process. We hadn’t expected the smooth passage the recommendation received, but the guiding industry reps, who have always been irked that the river was off limits to guides but open to non-resident alien anglers, approved as did our fellow resident angler reps, who were pleased to have one river free of guides and non-residents.
This season the non-resident fishers who target ripe steelhead, and whose numbers were growing with each season, are gone. The foreigners who were dropped off by the same vehicles season after season and therefore illegally guided, are gone too. There are a few anglers in the afternoons and evenings, and a few more on the weekend. Crowding doesn’t happen and the quality of the angling has improved, which was the goal of the Quality Waters Process.