First class fishing

This week, our columnist Rob Brown tells us about an American angler called Bill

Bill lives in the US midwest.

He is in the banking elite and nearing the end of his career. Like many of his peers, Bill has done an extraordinary job of accumulating cash while a large number of his countrymen watched their bank accounts shrivel. He is one of the fabled 1%.

Bill grew up in a relatively small town in Northern California close enough to wilderness to develop a love of the outdoors. Camping, hunting, and fishing are prominent in Bill’s boyhood recollections. He looks back on them with great fondness. Over the course of his life as a banker, Bill played a prominent role in enterprises that have led to the alienation, and, in the case of mining ventures, the permanent destruction of vast tracts of wilderness. The fact that he has been able to live with this and justify it as part of some kind of greater good is strong testimony to the crushing pressure corporations exert on their members to conform.

Life’s changed for Bill. His hair is gray. His skin is wrinkled and leathery. The meetings that he once looked on as great games combining the thrill of high stakes poker and the concentration and mental athleticism of chess, are tedious now that he has lost his edge and, even he has to admit (but only to himself) some of his cranial acuity. It’s time.  He’s talked about it long enough – and way too often, according to his third wife, Ellie – to kick back and do those things he’s wanted so desperately to do, most of which involve going outdoors. There were a few trout trips in the last five decades but never an outing for salmon and steelhead – fish enthusiastically remembered from his west coast youth. Bill fired up the computer on the counter of the oak roll top desk in the study of his modest 10,000 square foot home. When the C chord had died away and the wheel stopped turning, an ad for a new phone appeared. In the search field above it, Bill typed “the best salmon fishing in the world.” Soon he was cruising the electronic ether at warp speed. Doing this held little wonder for a man used to translating enormous amounts of cash into bits and bytes and transferring to exotic banks in nanoseconds, but the information that appeared on his screen did.

First there was information from the UK and the River Spey. All the best salmon water was owned, mostly by private fishing clubs. Bill took a pencil from his shirt pocket. He always did calculations that way to the amusement of his fellow bankers. He converted the pounds to US dollars: $2,430.00 for the privilege of fishing a small section of the river with a guide in a pastoral setting. He came across an article in the Daily Telegraph whose author made it clear that even at that price there was no guarantee of catching a fish, in fact, it was highly unlikely.

For Bill money was no object, but still, he had a banker’s instinctive drive for frugality and an ingrained moral abhorrence of paying a lot for a little. Scotland was out.

Iceland was next on Bill’s world search. The country looked a bit of a moonscape.  Again, the angling was confined to a small tract of river. For the same length of time the fee was $1,632.00 with the promise of fish slightly above that of the Spey, and, once again, the water had to be booked.

What about Baltic Salmon in Sweden? The fish pictured looked like Atlantic Salmon. The rivers flowed through what appeared to be wild surroundings. An angler could fish a few more pools but a guy had to book in advance with no assurance of access for $1,240.00. Better, thought Bill.

It occurred to Bill that Canada had salmon and steelhead too. He Googled. It did indeed. It had Atlantic Salmon and Pacific Salmon, six varieties of the latter. He clicked on  the most prominent blue heading. It took him to the Skeena.

He was gobsmacked. The river boasted the largest chinook salmon in the world. It had coho salmon, chums, sockeye, pinks, and wild steelhead – again the world’s largest. There were Bull Trout, Dolly Varden, and Cutthroat trout as a diversion.

Bill Googled the regulations. Five days on some of the best wild steelhead water on the planet, with no guide required and unfettered access to multiple rivers and hundreds of miles of river: $410 and in some places a hundred dollars less than that. Bill checked his figures. He was correct.

Website after website touted the fishing to be had on the Skeena River where an angler like Bill could fish for all six species of salmon including wild steelhead. Fishing the Skeena was even cheaper. For $210 he could fish an unlimited number of days on large sections of the river.

“Ellie,” he said to his wife, who was reading nearby. “I don’t know why these Canadians want to give away their fish at Walmart prices, but I’m going to go there before it gets really crowded.”