The Great Pink Salmon Collapse of 2018

Anne Hill and I take a break from playing tunes to have a cup of Red Rose tea. Anne has researched teas and concluded that this brand, the tea I grew up sipping, is not only as pure and natural as any on the market but uninfected by herbicides, making it the most healthful.

“I’d like to get some salmon to can. Do think the First Nations will be selling them?” asks Anne.

“Dunno,” I say. “I’ll find out.” I tell my phone to call Mark.

“I think the Wet’suwet’en may have gotten permission to sell sockeye,” he tells us via speaker phone. “But I’m not certain.”

“You can call MoTown and find out,” I suggest to Anne.

She does.

“We’re selling pinks right now,” the lady at the band office tells us.

“By the time pinks reach Moricetown Canyon most of them are dishrags,” I tell Anne. “If it’s pinks we’re after, why don’t we grab our rods, go out to the river, and catch some around here?”

As I say this pink salmon, flip through the waters of my imagination in abundance.

Anne, who has expressed an interest in learning how to fish a fly, is all over the idea.

The plan congeals. I see it playing out something like this: we will load the dog, gear, and lunches in the truck; that done, we’ll drive over the Lakelse on the Whitebottom Main; we’ll park in the pull out downstream of the Skeena/Lakelse confluence where we will suit up; from there we will make our way down the bank and across the side channel to Ray’s bar; when we get there, pinks will be flipping everywhere, as they always are; we will catch a couple each. After a pleasant and fishy day we will take the salmon home and jar them up.

I don’t think to check the salmon indices. I assume abundance. We’re dealing with pinks, after all.

Anne needs a licence. We purchase it at Fish Tales Tackle. As we do, Josh mentions in passing that the Lakelse River is closed to fishing until September. Even though this strikes me as strange, I don’t ask why.

The snaggers are at work from the Whitebottom Bridge. This fishery should have been shut down by DFO in the last century. As we cross the bridge the jiggers look put out at the inconvenience of letting us pass. After a little trouble finding the appropriate pull out, I do, and we make our way down the steep trail through a gnarled, old-growth cedar grove to the side channel.

The water in it is almost opaque. Karen and Anne have trepidations, which is understandable considering that Karen hasn’t done a lot of wading of the stream crossing type, and Anne has done none. Since I’ve only crossed the spot in the low winter flows of spring, I’m not confident my waders are high enough either.

I gallantly offer to go first. Oona, having recognized our intentions, has swum across. She waits from the far side, wondering about the holdup.

I strike out, probing with my staff, reading the braille of sticks, mud, and rock through the soles of my wading boots. A little past the mid point in the crossing, I learn that we can make it across by following the contours of a sandbar. I turn back to lend the girls an arm. We link up and slowly make our way across, me up to my waist, they up to their chests.

We retrace a moose trail through an alder thicket behind an ancient log jam. The sound of an outboard echoes through the woods.

Scooped, I think, not really caring that much, but a little surprised since Ray’s Bar used to be very lightly fished.

We emerge from the brush to find no fewer than three jet boats anchored at various spots along the long shingle.

“Lotta traffic,” I say to a guy fishing below the closest boat. “Good day though. Sun’s out and I got a couple of women with me.”

“I got one too,” he says with a big grin.

I look down stream and notice he does. A tall blonde. One of those fly gals with her tresses tucked under a stylish ball cap, a pony tail trailing out of the vent in its back and a pair of sharp looking shades perched on its beak. She wades in name brand waders no doubt shod with name brand boots. I think how much steelheading has changed; how steelheaders look more like golfers, and how a fisherman was more likely to see a woman in a barbershop than on his favourite steelhead stream when I started out.

Once we’re set up, I watch the fly gal smoothly cast a prodigious length of line with a blue double handed rod way out into the fast water where so few fish travel.

“You can jump in behind us,” she calls to me.

“We’re here to catch a few pinks for the can. We’ll wait till you’re done,” I say.

To be continued in our next issue Oct. 4.

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