You drive down a back road, slip on your waders and raincoat, unzip pockets to check for nylon, and grab your flybox – the one plugged with flies, most of which you never use, but, hey, you never know. Then you start down the trail that the almost too friendly clerk in the sporting goods shop said would lead to a derelict gravel pit.
After a few hundred metres you push through an alder thicket, and there is the pit, as promised. The map the clerk drew, as he told you in hushed tones, about the best run on the Bulkley, the one that almost nobody knows about, is the pockets of your pants. Shoot. You unbuckle your wading belt, awkwardly plunge your left hand into your waders and then into the pocket of your jeans, and pluck out a wad of paper.
You extract your arm, squeeze your rod against your side with the other arm, and unfold the paper with the route to extravagant steelhead fishing, wondering, for the first time, why, if the spot was special, a clerk you’d just met was so eager to tell you about it.
You re-examine the crudely drawn map. There is a dotted line underneath an arrow over which the clerk has written “to town” indicating the direction you are to take across the pit. The pit is a larger excavation than you expected. You dodge a few puddles, then climb the crumbling bank, before checking the map once more, finding a crudely drawn fence which stands in front of you, as promised.
“To river 5 min,” is written under another arrow drawn next to the fence icon, perpendicular to the first arrow. It proves to be more like “2 min,” through untended pasture. Your pulse quickens. Spread out below you is one of those wide Bulkley/Morice glides, a picturesque corridor with the recently yellowed leaves vividly reflected in the river’s surface.
But your soaring heart plummets earthward when your eyes land downstream on a MacKenzie River style drift boat. Three men are sitting in it, one, obviously a guide, is at the oars. The other two are seated, their rods in holders fastened to the side of the craft. A third fisherman, still standing in the tail out is reeling in. As you watch, crestfallen, he slides his rod into a holder, then climbs awkwardly into the boat. The skipper pulls the hook. As the guide boat floats around the next bend, you hear the distant whine of an outboard engine. In a minute, a sled slides into the tail. There are rods out the back and two fishermen aboard. They pull up to the bank and drop anchor. In seconds they are out working a spot that has obviously given them fish in the past.
You sit down and watch dejectedly as they work the water for what must be 10 minutes, then, as quickly as they came, they’re off and gone.
So much for the great secret run, you think, but you are here now. You’ve an investment in the place, and besides, it’s beautiful, even more so now that you’re alone. You ponder your approach. It’s one of those big, boulder bottomed, enigmatic Bulkley runs that seems as if it could hold fish throughout. You know it won’t.
The guided fishermen that preceded you will have fished and, quite likely, superficially because their guide will want to high grade the river, show his sports a lot of runs to keep them interested and get them a few fish in the process. It also occurs to you that, since it’s early in the season, steelhead will be on the move, meaning that some may slide into the run as you are fishing.
You know that the higher a fly is in the water column, the better its chance to be seen by a steelhead, so you put on a waking sedge, make 10 metre casts and work down the run, examining it through polarized shades for holding spots and travelling lanes. When you reach the spill, you return with new knowledge to the head again, where you wade a little deeper and cast a little farther. The urge to change patterns prods you, but you resist. There is also the urge to rush, but you stay focused, working slowly and carefully. Now you’re into the rhythm of the river and the fishing.
Before the third pass, you sit on a log, take the thermos out of your raincoat and think about things over a coffee. The surface fly has had a good workout. You put the thermos away then switch to a fast sinking tip and size 6 leech.
Back in the water. Cast. Three steps. Cast. Three steps. The fly stops. You lift. Resistance. A short time later, you slip the hook from the jaw of a white, bright female steelhead.
You know a school of similar fish may have moved into the pool, but, in these circumstances, one fish meets the challenge. It’s enough. You leave satisfied.