Long rods then and now

This week our columnist Rob Brown tells us about his first experiences with a long rod

Mike Whelpley and I were standing atop the high bank overlooking the cluster of runs on the Kispiox River steelheaders know as “the Patch,” so named for the derelict potato patch—now nothing more than an expanse of grass—that borders the left side of the river, when a fisherman carrying the longest rod I had ever seen came walking up the far bank.

At that time, at least 30 years ago, now it was rare to see a fly rod on the Skeena and her tributaries other than on the Kispiox and the Morice – and even there for only a couple of months in the fall. When you did see a fly rod it would be nine feet long and built to toss an 8 or 9 weight fly line. The pole the fisher on the far side of the Lower Patch was packing appeared to be twice that long, and it wobbled as he walked.

On the afternoon of the next day, I had a chance to watch the same fellow fish. He was casting overhand, and he cast a fair distance, but no farther than I could comfortably cast with my 9-foot Fenwick fibre glass rod. Someone in the valley, I forget who now, told me that the angler’s name was Eric Maisonpierre. It was a memorable name. House Peter, in translation. It stuck in my mind.

A short time later, I came across an article in the American fishing magazine Salmon, Trout, Steelheader, by an Eric Maisonpierre. After all those years only one part of that piece stays with me, a line that compared a fly hovering over a steelhead to a bright star in a dark sky. A brilliant image, I thought at the time and still do.

I told my fellow steelheaders down south of seeing the man with the long rod. They told me they had seen him casting his long rod on the Thompson River. The rod, they said, was 16 feet. Eric Maisonpierre had found a way to stand apart. For me, Maisonpierre was a catalyst. I craved information on two-handed fly rods. The craving took me to Britain via British books and journals on salmon angling where, I found that the use of two-handed rods was still practised on the salmon rivers of Scotland and Ireland. I also discovered that a handful of British ex-pats fished two-handers in B.C. in the first part of the last century. General Noel Money, Tommy Brayshaw, and Bill Cunliffe were three of them, the first mentioned fished with Haig-Brown on the salmon streams of Vancouver Island, the second named wielded the long rod on the steelhead streams of the lower mainland, and the latter will be forever associated with the Coquihalla. When they passed, they took their long rods with them.

I asked Dave Elkins, who had recently taken over the tackle shop on the corner of Lakelse and Kalum from Bert Goulet, to order me a 15-foot Hardy fly rod from England. When the giant pole arrived, I bought a Hardy Reel, a big winch called a Salmon #1, and loaded it to the brim with a few hundred yards of backing and 40 yards of double tapered floating line. Equipment thus assembled, I went out the Skeena on a windless day and attempted to cast it. In a matter of minutes, I was making decent overhead casts of fifty feet and more but in that short span of time I arrived at the realization that it was not humanly possible to hoist my huge rod aloft all day without doing my arms an injury.

The internet was a long ways off in those days, but there were video cassettes, and Art Lingren, who along with the late Mike Maxwell, was leading a revival of the two-handed rod in B.C., (which consisted of the two of them at that point)  was kind enough to send me a video of the famous English salmon fisherman, Hugh Faulkus, demonstrating the art of Spey casting, so named because it was the technique almost exclusively on Scotland’s River Spey.

I watched, fascinated, as Faulkus powered out long elegant casts with his 15-foot carbon fibre rod. At that time I couldn’t see the relation between overhead casting with a single-handed rod and what Faulkus was doing. His technique was all about loops. There was virtually no back cast—meaning a practitioner no longer needed to worry about brush and rock faces behind him. This feature of two-handed fly casting is stunning. Not having to worry about having enough back casting room completely changed how an angler viewed the river. Where the fly fisher armed with a single handed rod had only a few casting sites from whence to deliver hurl his fly, the man with a two-fisted rod could operate from everywhere but those spots where the overhanging trees prevented him from bringing his rod perpendicular to the water.

Watching Faulkus, as Art had done before he sent the tape to me, was a revelation and the beginning of a revolution that was about to change steelheading profoundly.

…to be continued….