Travels with Mike

Skeena angler says for him, the mention of the Gitnadoix will always be associated with Mike Whelpley

Pioneers like Herman Buschmann, George Kofoed, and Kolbjorn Eide were running the rocky riffles of the river in wooden boats powered by prop driven outboards two decades before him, but for me the mention of the Gitnadoix will always be associated with Mike Whelpley. Mike had the advantage of a jet leg, a Zodiac and, later, a jet sled, but I doubt that anybody spent more time on, or had a deeper understanding  or greater love of the Gitnadoix River than Mike.

You gotta see this river, Mike said to me one March day 34 years ago after he and his dad had spent a weekend there.

It was Mike’s first date with the Gitnadoix. His excitement was palpable. A week later we were there. The river was so low that I had to hop out of the Zodiac on the skinniest riffles then climb on board on the upstream side to save the jet leg, a task made easier by the frozen snow pack that lined the river bank like a white hedgerow.

As we climbed the river it quickened. Wispy clouds that could be mistaken for puffs of smoke hung tight and unmoving against wide, treeless slide corridors burnished by the seasonal avalanche flow.

The air in the narrow river valleys on the left side of the Skeena checks no calendars. It was winter air. It stung our faces, reminding us that the margin of survival was smaller than it was at other times of the year. Just before the spot where Dog Tag Creek fed the flow a cottonwood had fallen across the river. Where it covered the deepest part of the flow it had been neatly and economically sawn. We slipped through, just.

George has a Zodiac too, said Mike.

Things got fast and steep. Mike slowed then picked his way up to a long glide that was all about fish: its tail was filled with large rocks; it had an even gentle flow; it was three to four feet deep.

Mike beached the boat and threw out the hook.

I looked at the expansive valley, at the snow covered mountains turned blue by the cold distances. The energetic rapids upstream and down, louder in the low flows, roared through my ears.

Mike grabbed his drift rod from the boat. I grabbed mine.

No, he said, get your fly rod. He gestured toward the tail of the pool. Put a dry fly through there, he ordered.

Persuading steelhead to take flies from the surface was new and  almost unheard of then. By dry fly, Mike meant a surface fly – a waking fly in contrast to one that fitted the narrow definition of an insect imitating pattern that drifted freely. The latter were strictly reserved for the freely rising summer steelhead of August and September, while surface flies, attractors really, were also summer run steelhead lures, for the most part.

I looked at Mike in a way that begged for confirmation.

A dry fly, he said, pointing at the back half of the glide.

I replaced the reel loaded with a sinking tip line with one equipped with a floater, attached one of Harry Lemire’s Greased Liners to the tippet as Mike waited patiently and expectantly, then started in, casting down and across at a 45º angle.

We watched the fly cut an arc across the surface, me not expecting any reward, Mike, fairly confident (as he confided later) that it would.

As I fished perfunctorily near the end of the tail out, a fish rolled under the Greased Liner. We looked at each other to confirm that we’d seen what we’d seen. Mike smiled and pointed to the spot where the fish had risen.

They like to hang deep in the tail, just before the spill, he said.

Still, winter water was running through the river, water that would freeze if it wasn’t moving, water that anesthetizes steelhead, water that makes them stick to the bottom like glue. Yet, a fish had climbed through the water to look at my drab waking fly. I cast again, and again, and again and yet again. On that last cast the fly disappeared. There was no splash, no flash, it simply vanished. I struck because I was conditioned to do so.

The fish was a female. A nice fish about dozen pounds, probably the first and last Gitnadoix steelhead to have been persuaded to take a surface fly.

Amazing, said Mike as he watched the steelhead escape from view after I set her free.

Based on the fishing he’d had the week before, Mike felt there was a strong chance a steelhead could be persuaded to move to the surface. Now he had confirmation. He picked up his casting rod and using a rubber egg cluster, cannonball shot, and a float proceeded to hook and release a dozen steelhead in the same water I had laboriously fished with my waking fly, then, after lunch he released more than that in the pair of runs upstream. It was a virtuoso performance. I won’t forget it.

Continued next week…

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

April 2020 to March 2021 was the second wettest year on record since at least 1969, according to Environment Canada. (Ben Bogstie/Terrace Standard)
VIDEO: Terrace records wettest spell in over a half-century

Terrace saw close to 1,500 millimetres of precipitation between April 2020 and March 2021

Terrace fire department responded to a call from Skeena Saw Mills at the early hours of Friday morning. (Binny Paul/ Terrace Standard)
UPDATE: Fire crews respond to early morning incident at Skeena Sawmills

No injuries were reported as mill workers immediately alerted the fire department after seeing smoke

Terrace Tim Hortons on Keith Ave. experienced a fire during the morning of April 4, 2021. (Ben Bogstie/Terrace Standard)
Nature of Tim Hortons fire made it difficult to detect: Deputy fire chief

Fire likely burned undetected inside a wall, resulting in extensive damage

Restaurant patrons enjoy the weather on a patio in Vancouver, B.C., Monday, April 5, 2021. The province has suspended indoor dining at restaurants and pubs until at least April 19 in B.C. due to a spike in COVID-19 numbers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. sets new COVID-19 daily record with 1,293 cases Thursday

New order allows workplace closures when infections found

Jennifer Kuehne is the Terrace Skating Club's director of skating and a certified coach. (Ben Bogstie/Terrace Standard)
Skeena Voices | Skating through life

Jennifer Kuehne is moving to Vernon after years of dedication to the Terrace Skating Club

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
1,262 more COVID-19 infections in B.C. Friday, 9,574 active cases

Province’s mass vaccination reaches one million people

Librarian Katie Burns with the Fraser Valley Regional Libraries poses for a photo in Chilliwack on June 18, 2019. Monday, April 12, 2021 is Library Workers’ Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of April 11 to 17

Library Workers Day, That Sucks! Day, and Wear Your Pyjamas to Work Day are all coming up this week

Robinson Russ, 37, was fatally stabbed on April 4, according to a statement from police. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Vancouver police name victim following city’s fourth homicide of 2021

Robinson Russ, 37, was fatally stabbed Sunday in the Downtown Eastside

A man wears a face mask past the emergency department of the Vancouver General Hospital. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)
Calls for stricter action in B.C. as COVID-19 variants projected to climb

Jens von Bergmann says the province has taken a ‘wait and see’ approach when early action is needed

Vancouver’s park board general manager issued a new order Friday restricting tents and other temporary structures from being set up in Strathcona Park after April 30, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Vancouver park board issues order to restrict tents in Strathcona Park

The order issued Friday restricted tents and other temporary structures from being set up after April 30

Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning says the players who’ve tested positive for COVID-19 are recovering and the team still intends to play a 56-game season. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Canucks players ‘mostly on the other side’ of COVID outbreak: general manager

The athletes have had a “whole range” of COVID-19 symptoms, said team physician Dr. Jim Bovard, but no one has needed to be hospitalized

Police are investigating after a man was shot Thursday, April 8 while sitting in a car in Vancouver. (Black Press files)
Man shot in Vancouver while sitting in a parked car: police

The victim is currently in critical condition. Police say no arrests have been made.

Teachers from SD42 and other districts in the Lower Mainland flocked to Surrey on Tuesday in the hopes of getting a COVID-19 vaccine. (Sheelagh Brothers/Twitter)
Don’t line up for vaccines unless asked to come, Dr. Bonnie Henry warns

Social media post shows teachers lining up outside of Surrey clinic for leftover doses

Most Read