The Skeena was grey the other day. The Zymoetz was a colour reminiscent of something between cement and pea soup. I continued to drive east on Highway 16. The water of Kleanza Creek was clean, so I took the turnoff to the campsite, knowing that it was too early for pink salmon and too early for trout, but it would be nice to stand in clear water and wave a bamboo stick.
I hadn’t fished Ron Grantham’s 8 foot, 9 inch, 7 weight for a number of years now. On a whim, I pulled it out of its tube and fastened the St. John style reel built by the former House of Hardy foreman and master craftsman, Walter Dingley, almost a century ago, to its reel seat. The rod’s original seat wouldn’t have accommodated the old reel but I’d previously broken three inches from the rod’s tip and had it repaired and renovated by Bob Clay so that it could accept a larger reel. The Dingley fit snugly, its weight balancing the rod perfectly.
I threaded the line and leader through the guides then fastened a silver bodied Muddler Minnow to the tippet, not overly confident of finding a fish, but confident that if, on the off chance there was one, a Muddler had a good chance to provoke some interest from it.
The trail was wet and cool after the morning rain. Out of the forest floor poked some orange lobster mushrooms and others that looked like flap jacks. I slipped in a short distance upstream of the bridge and began casting.
Oona looked up to the span, alerted and a little confused by the intermittent thrum of the traffic. I unfurled my collapsible staff to steady myself on the demanding and uneven stream bottom.
Bamboo demands a slower stroke than the stiff and light plastic rod I’d been using recently, and different tapers of bamboo have their own rhythms. It took ten minutes before the green floating line was unfurling over the fast, clear water precisely.
The magic of Muddlers originates in the bulbous, water repellent deer hair head that causes them to burble through the surface of the water in fast riffles creating a bubble, a silver helmet, in the process. The twitch of my rod tip signalled that my fly was popping out of the surface at intervals as intended.
I moved quickly, too perfunctorily really, until I spotted a fish a stride below me in a pool directly beneath the bridge. It was a bright fish, difficult to see at first against the light grey bottom. Was it a newly arrived pink salmon, a female? It might have been a char, a Bull Trout or a large Dolly Varden, or even a small steelhead. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans erected and manned a fish fence at the mouth of the creek one summer in the 1960s and recorded the passage of summer steelhead. Could this be the descendant of one of those hardy fish? The fish twitched, then shot upstream past me so quickly it left me no nearer to a decision as to what species it might have been.
It left me with something else too – the promise that there just might be others downstream, surprise fish, fish found in unexpected times and unexpected places, fish worth so much more than fish found in places where fish are known to lie. Filled with the promise of a novel experience and learning a new lesson, I slowed down and fished with greater care, probing the places deep or fast enough to hide fish.
It was an hour before I gave up without so much as a bite where the clear water of Kleanza Creek dissipated and was lost in the milky water of the Skeena. Should I back track and cover water already fished? Tired ankles persuaded me otherwise. I whistled the dog back from the pursuit of a scent trail that had taken her a hundred metres downstream, and began the trip back. When I reached the Bridge Pool, I sat down on the bank, pulled my polarized sun glasses over my eyes, and looked into the water. My vantage was ideal. I was easily two metres above the water and the water was in shade. There was a large dark rock a few feet out from shore in the deepest part of the pool. I looked beside it for a fish like the one I’d seen earlier. The rock quivered, climbed the water column and made a wide circle, then returned to the spot where I’d first seen it. The circuit of the large salmon disturbed another large fish that was smaller than the first. After the fish had settled down, I examined them more closely. They were chinook, a male and a female. As I watched, the female began excavating her nest, turning on her side as she did so. The male hovered a metre below her, waiting for the opportunity to glide upstream and fertilize the newly laid eggs.
Continued next week….