Remembrance Day approaches. In a day, I will be off to Vancouver to visit my mother on her 89th birthday. In two days, Doug will be off to Mexico to play on the playa where he will stumble upon photographers shooting the latest edition of the Sports Illustrated Magazine Swimsuit Issue and later be stung in the foot by a sting ray – an eventful trip. As we pass the airport on the Beam Station side, it’s blanketed in a wet fog and our respective flights are very much up in the air.
No plane is landing in this soup, I predict.
It better clear soon, says Doug.
Predictions of snow are in the air too. There’s a good chance I will be caught with my studded tires off, but today there’s no snow on the ground so we’re able to chase steelhead.
The steelhead returns are low. Coho are abundant. This isn’t bad news. There are never many steelhead anywhere in any river in any year. This is how steelhead are. They are tough fish. They rely on their endurance to get to the good gravel where a few of them will spawn enough aggressive little fish to make it back to the sea, dodge fresh and salt water predators then return in small numbers and do it all again. The other salmon need to be numerous. For many years now coho spawners have been low. This year they seem to be everywhere in every stream on the coast.
I swing on to Hud Fisher’s Road.
What’s this? asks Doug as we approach a new bridge spanning Herman’s Creek.
Been here for a couple of weeks now, I tell him. They’re building a road up toward Mount Herman. Must be some old growth they haven’t liquidated yet.
We park on our side of a large dip where a creek is gnawing at the old road. As we make our way toward Coldwater Creek, we notice that somebody in what must have been a pickup truck has taken a chance and gone through the dip, dislodging a boulder embedded in the road bed with the truck’s differential.
In 20 minutes we’re at the branch to Upper Coldwater. We hear the sounds of the sea as we near the river. Gulls and ducks lift off as the dogs emerge from the bush. We slip into the river. Crimson coho scatter as we wade across. The river is still dead low. We move downstream, not fishing so much as scouting, drifting our flies through the few places where a steelhead could hide. At Lower Coldwater the sun breaks through the mist. What is normally a deep pool is now a promising riffle. I wade the river to fish the chop from river right. Doug stays on river left.
There’s one, I shout to Doug, but though the fish has heft, it doesn’t have the feel of a steelhead. It’s a steelhead sized bull trout. As I bring the char near enough to slide the sleeve of my forceps down the line and disgorge the hook while the fish is still in the water, Doug fastens on to another. Minutes later, I’m onto another bull trout as large as my first. By the time we’ve methodically covered the run, we’ve released three large char each.
No steelhead. No trout. Just char, I say to Doug.
Yeah what’s with that? he says.
As the dogs race up and down the game trails, we work our way downstream to the Railway Run. An eagle stoops and plunges into to the river. There is none of the explosive elegance of an osprey in its dive. It’s as if someone has thrown an umbrella in the water from a nearby tree.
The bird fumbles about, flapping its wings and awkwardly makes it to shore with a coho in its talons. A few seconds later it’s in the air elegant once more as it flies overhead with a firm grasp on its quarry.
Never saw an eagle do that, I say.
Me neither, he says.
We reach the Railway Run at lunch time. I’m about to take out my thermos when I notice the dogs have trotted to the end of the beach and are staring intently down stream.
I look in the direction they are and see three men bent over under an alder on the bank that overlooks the side channel flowing around the island a hundred metres downriver.
Doug joins me.
What are they doing? I ask, hoping it’s not what I think they’re doing.
They’re skinning out something, says Doug who has dressed out more than a few moose and deer in his time.
It’s got to be a bear.
I feel sick to my stomach.
You wanna go?
Yeah, says Doug.
The plane lands the next day. I fly out. Doug returns to the killing ground for confirmation, and finds the carcass of a big male grizzly lying in the side channel where it was pushed by its killers. He knows it’s a grizzly because it looks like a human corpse.