I was up at six. The light was spilling over the mountains and filling the valley. It was going to be another glorious day in the Skeena Valley. Like millions of people in this time zone, I booted the computer and checked the mail.
First up was a message from Art. It was terse and to the point – like Art is.
Roger Reid has passed away, Art wrote.
Jesus! I thought, really?
Then a lot of related questions popped into the to-do compartment of my mind: How old was Roger? What kind of affliction felled him? I hit the mouse twice and read the obituary in the Vancouver Sun. It didn’t reveal much.
Roger died suddenly, it read. He was born in 1947. He loved fish, acted on behalf of fish. In lieu of flowers, it instructed, donations should be sent to the Steelhead Society of B.C. or the Kingfishers Rod and Gun Club.
Suddenly, my day acquired a sad aspect. I looked at the small picture, a thumbnail, that accompanied the obit. It was Roger all right, just as I remembered him from the three, maybe four, times I’d spoken to him – and then only briefly – except that he was a little worn, as we all are, but he still had that luxuriant head of wavy hair.
Roger died suddenly, said the obit. I didn’t need to know how he died, but the adverb suggested that his heart gave out. Roger was born in 1947, it read. That made him 65, two years older than I, and too young to die by a decade or more according to current standards.
I first met Roger at his store, West Coast Fishing Tackle on Hastings Street, two, maybe three, blocks west of Nanaimo Street. It was a small, well stocked shop. A shrewd businessman, Roger had fellow Kingfisher, excellent angler and exceedingly knowledgeable Murray McLaughlin working the front end.
Ruddick’s on Canada Way, which catered solely to flyfishers and Roger’s shop, which leaned toward drift fishing, cornered the steelheading market in high end steelhead fishing gear in those days.
I texted Mike, who was now incarcerated in St. Pauls recovering from an angiogram and a two-stent implant that would hopefully get his heart thumping in time once again. I asked if he knew Roger and if he’d heard that Roger had passed.
Met him on the Thompson, Mike shot back.
I’ve met a lot of Kingfishers over the years, I replied, and I never met one I didn’t like.
Me too, Mike answered.
At the end of the text session, I totted up the Kingfishers I have known, slightly over a dozen in all, and began thinking about what it was that made them such an appealing cohort.
I thought about the time I fished with Stan Hill on the Coquihalla, before the connector ruined the valley, when it took all day to drive the dirt track to the Murray Lakes. Stan was the senior Kingfisher then, a man who grew up fishing the lower mainland streams with bait, but, by then, he had given up the goo in favour of the fly and was jazzed about learning how to seduce steelhead in a new way. Here was an angler who had caught many more steelhead than I at that time, completely enthralled when I showed him they could be made to move to the surface for a small waking fly.
I also recalled the time I fished with the late Bruce Gerhart, a skilled saltwater guide and steelheader, who, like Stan, and so many of his fellow Kingfishers, had embraced flyfishing and came to excel at it.
I recalled the couple of wonderful days I spent with Roger Bligh, fishing the Kispiox with drift rods in the mid-’80s and landing some of the largest and most beautiful steelhead I have ever beached.
With those memories came the realization that the glue that has held the Kingfishers together all these years is fellowship and a profound love of pursuing fish. Unlike the typical Rod and Gun Club, those who bear the Kingfisher crest sincerely love the act of angling and are more than willing to adapt to the needs of the fish and the restrictions necessitated by changing times. For them the fishing and the camaraderie flowing from it was more important than the catching – though, from their inception, Kingfishers did the lion’s share of the catching.
Once, on the Thompson, I heard two Kingfishers talking about a particularly raucous outing.
How wild was it? asked one.
So bad that Roger’s hair got messed up, the other replied.
A remarkable cohort, those Kingfishers, one that enriched Roger’s life, to be sure. And one that is diminished by his untimely passing.