Fish and Sticks

Rob Brown looks back at when he learned that landing a four to eight pound silvery salmon was "a great privilege."

I drop in on the deLeeuws. Dionys tells me that he met Richard Eckert in the grocery store. Richard reported that he had been out to Shames after some salmon and had killed a couple of silvery pinks that had obviously entered the river only a short time before.

By mid morning the next day, Oona and I are trotting down the Shames Creek toward the Skeena. As we make our way over the rocky beach toward the new short cut through the woods we’d discovered the day before, I think about time, years ago, when a young reporter who was working for the Prince Rupert Daily News that summer phoned to tell me that he’d read something I’d written and decided that I would be of great help providing him with some information for an upcoming article he hoped to do on salmon fishing.

The young man had grown up on the East Coast, and mentioned that he had a passing acquaintance with the Atlantic Salmon fishery there.

You can cast a fly, then? I asked.

I’m not great at it, he answered, but I can get by.

That being the case, I said, why don’t you round up a pair of waders. If you don’t have a rod, I’ll lend you one. You can interview me while we’re fishing.

The young reporter thought this was a grand idea. I told him to meet me at parking lot next to the Shames River Bridge, which he did the following weekend. It was a hot August day. I hoped we would be lucky enough to ambush a few steelhead, but in the event we didn’t, I knew there was a strong chance newly arrived pinks would be passing Finlay’s Reach, and they would at least provide the young man some meagre sport.

I was right. The young journalist hooked and released pink after pink.

He was ecstatic.

I had no idea you could catch so many salmon, he told me. It’s amazing.

Back then I did my best to avoid hooking pinks in my quest for steelhead. Like my fellow sports fishermen, I considered them a commercial fish, unworthy of my attention.

That afternoon at Shames helped me realize that the opportunity to land beautiful silvery salmon from four to eight pounds is a great privilege.

Since then, I’ve come to appreciate pinks, and to eagerly look forward to that short window of time, usually only two weeks, (but two summer weeks) when I can take a single handed trout rod off the wall and go out after fresh pinks.

Oddly enough, I’m not wild about the taste of fresh salmon, much preferring the taste of salmon flesh that has been pickling in its own juices for some time. This adds to the allure of pink salmon. After I kill a few, Karen cans them putting olive oil in all of the jars, and ingredients like pesto, sun dried tomatoes, garlic, a herbs, in others.

Opening one of these jars on winter’s and putting its contents on a plate with some rice or potatoes makes a superb meal that conjures up memories of hot summer days.

When we reach the river there are no fish flipping. I watch. Oona roots around in the log jam. The head of a seal pops out of the slack water in the back channel upstream. I walk toward it. The head vanishes. I take out a Seafood Fly, a faux shrimp with a bright pink body, two pink rubber feelers quivering at its rear, a pink bead tied mid shank, and bright pink marabou overtop strands of pink tinsel wound on ahead of that, and tie it to my tippet.

The second cast finds a fish. Oona leaves the jam and races toward the action. When the fish is the shallows, she bolts for it.

No! Leave it! I yell as the fish takes off like a bonefish.

I unclip the lanyard from my staff, call Oona to me, and clip it to her collar. Tethered, the dog is slightly subdued, enabling me to bring the salmon to shore, a silvery male.

I have to unclip Oona so I can kill the fish. She paws at the salmon, as if to exhort it to play.

As she does I notice white things attached to he forepaws and her chest. I smack the fish on the head with my club. It quivers, its pupil moves to the centre of its eye. It dies.

Oona looks at me and yips, upset, I suppose, at losing a potential playmate. I  slip the fish into my pack then call the dog over so I can have a look at the white things. They’re porcupine quills, their location betraying the fact that Oona must have been prodding a porcupine in the log jam in an attempt to get it to play. I pull out my Leatherman…