Shallow expectations

“Part of the joy of fishing, of rivers, of their fish and all the life about them, will always be their unpredictability.”

Part of the joy of fishing, of rivers, of their fish and all the life about them, will always be their unpredictability.”

Roderick L. Haig-Brown

The far side of the side channel where the bank beavers built their lodge would be a short swim for Oona, but it’s too deep to allow me passage. I remove my sunglasses, lift the binoculars to my eyes and follow the contours of the bank upstream to a spot where it narrows a little then widens again. There are disturbances atop the water at those narrows. I assume it’s the wind riffling the surface, but the wrinkles persist. The riffles are likely the result of water over rocks or sticks. I catch the dog’s attention with a sharp whistle and we make our way upstream. She runs through the dense brush atop the bank, I struggle along the lower floor of the sloping bank slipping intermittently on the loose gravel, saving myself a spill each time by leaning on my wading staff.

In this wide part of the Skeena the distances are prairie distances: everything seen afar seems a lot closer than it actually is. It takes me a quarter of an hour to reach the riffle, which thankfully owes its existence to water running over rock and proves to be thigh high all the way across. At the far side, I shake off my pack then, after leaning rod and staff against a weathered log, unzip it, take the water bottle out of it, and drink to another successful wade.

I hear the faint whine of a jet boat far upstream, somewhere above Gallagher’s Point probably. I lift the binoculars again and look north. Though I still can’t see it, a long stand of old cottonwoods suggests that the main channel of the river runs there. It is still a fair distance away and there is one more, and possibly more than just one more, water-filled channel between where we are and there.

I’m sure, but not certain, that some Chinook Salmon take side channels on their way home, but all the chinook I’ve caught were moving right up mainstream in big, and usually fairly heavy flows. For the sake of confidence, I’m fixed on making the main watercourse. We pack up and strike out across the fluvial islands. The air over them is perfumed with the fragrance of wildflowers. The sandy high water shoals are interspersed with grassy patches.

The feeling of the fine sand under her paws turns Oona into a pup; she races around at a frenetic pace making sharp turns, spraying sand with each turn, stopping briefly to gnaw at an embedded stick, then sprinting off once more.

I continue through dry channels, across more meadows, skirting log jams, old grey log piles anchored in the depressions between the dunes, until I meet one extending an annoyingly long distance in both directions that must be climbed.

Doing this is a two handed task. To free mine, I slip the pack off again and fasten the rod to it by slipping the butt of the rod into the outside pocket designed to hold a water bottle and the cinched strap sewn to the pack’s side. The wading staff, which I have attached to a lanyard made of a dog’s leash, is looped around my shoulder and chest. It becomes an encumbrance dangling until its handle catches behind or between logs. Keeping in mind that I’m a half a metre taller with rod attached to the pack on my back, I’m mindful of overhead logs as I climb.

Standing atop the jam is like standing on the roof of a bungalow. From there I see the water of the main river. It is glistening now that we’re in the midst of a sunny period. It’s not all that far but between me and that heavier flow is another sandy island; between me and the sandy island is yet another channel wider than the two I conquered earlier; and it affords me no opportunity to cross.

All is not lost though. The channel is the width of a small river. It has a brisk flow. The water, which appears to filter through a log jam upstream is quite clear, and there is beach between the jam I’m standing on and the water that offers some wading and casting room. Still, I’m not optimistic. Chances are good that I’ll just get some casting practice amid beautiful surroundings.

We’re here now, I tell Oona, may as well give it a go.

I clamber carefully off the jam and walk upstream to where the water appears a little shallower. That done, I hang the pack on a convenient log after removing the thermos and sit down on another log to contemplate my approach over a cup of smoky Chinese tea sweetened with honey.

I brought the 11 foot 8 weight switch rod in anticipation of salmon. Now I regret not having the single handed trout rod because single handed rods are more pleasurable to cast and because on the off chance that I do catch a fish, it’s likely to be a small one.

Continued next week….