Our Man In Canada
November 18th, 2002

British Columbia in November?

By Archie Begin, Kitimat BC, Canada

The tureen of the Big Dipper hangs in the northern sky like a garland. Every breath produces a billowing cloud of steam and the air cuts at my exposed skin like thousands of tiny razors. Here in the bush, far from any artificial light source and despite there is no moon, the sky is yet blazing with millions upon billions of stars!

Do you all know the trick for utilizing the Big Dipper to find the North Star? Contrary to popular belief, the North Star is not always the brightest beacon in the sky. Hang in there - this could actually save your life some day. If you draw a line with your eye that intersects the two stars at the far end of the dipper cup, opposite the handle, and follow that line upward, away from the bottom of the dipper cup – the first bright star you come to, is the North Star. Looking up at it now, and realizing that Leif Erickson and the Phoenicians before him, probably used it to guide ships not much bigger than today's rowboats all the way across the Atlantic, and considering that they did this during a period in history when palm pilots and wireless modems hadn't even been imagined yet, I find the night sky makes me feel even more insignificant than normal.

I am walking along the shore of the Kalum River and re-living the day in my mind. It has become a habit for my dog and I to end our day thus.

Ebony is near frantic with excitement. She has obviously come upon the scent of the two moose I watched earlier today, as they walked out of the forest and calmly strolled across the twenty yard expanse of beach below the boat launch. They walked within fifteen feet of myself and a pair of other anglers. Despite the two other guys made a huge ruckus over retrieving a camera from a pack one of them was carrying, and Ebony was braying to be let out from my truck canopy, those moose never once changed their pace or turned their heads. They both walked as if they owned the land and we humans were little more than a blemish on the landscape. When they reached the river's edge, their bodies appeared to liquefy and both of them melted right into the river's flow like they were seals. Less than a minute later, both were swallowed by the forest on the opposite side of the river, and we were all left marveling. It has never failed to amaze me how an animal that looks so awkward walking can move so fast through a forest and never make a sound. All that is left from their passage is a few blurred footprints and a scent only a dog can detect. I reach down to scratch Ebony's head and turn back toward my truck. "C'mon girl. We've got some flies to tie…it looks like it will be a nice day tomorrow. After the wet of the day past, clear skies will be welcome.

The skipper is little more than a blurred shadow, hidden behind a curtain of driving rain. My hands feel as though I have been soaking them in a bowl of Novocaine and when I take up my fly line for another cast, my fingers seem permanently locked in the shape of fish hooks. Steam rises in a wall from Ebony's back. I shake my head in amazement at her. She is standing waist deep in the middle of the stream, her tongue hangs out the side of her mouth in a guileless expression of utter happiness...and I can barely feel my hands!

It is no wonder we all outlive our dogs...such metabolisms! I once lay down on my carpet and used Ebony's side as a pillow. After less than five minutes, I was forced to move to a chair...she was so hot, I was starting to sweat! It is November, the temperature is two degrees Celsius and we are fishing the Kalum in the middle of a monsoon. Flecks of snow pepper the rain and congeal along my hat brim and not for the first time, I am forced to re-consider our sanity. Except for the two moose watchers, we have yet to come across any other fools fishing. In retrospect, it was probably this fact alone, that we had the river virtually to ourselves – that kept us going.

Two minutes ago, Tracey lost his second steelhead of the day. He is using a fly he fell in love with back in September, when he caught a fish on his very first cast using it. Darcy, a friend of ours who practically lives on the local rivers, now uses the fly almost exclusively and swears by it. I christened the fly a Purple Austrian after I learned it was a gift to the skipper from a local lodge owner.

The tier and inventor – a client from Austria, fished the Skeena for two days in September with a friend from Germany and together, they landed more than twenty steelhead, using just the one fly. The creation is a pretty thing - easy to tie and it moves well in the water. I used the fly with impressive success on the Kispiox this past fall, it being a river where purple flies seem to have a significant advantage. By the end of today, the skipper managed four to the beach and several others were released Texas style, while they were still far away from the camera lens.

I fished using a sparsely tied egg-sucking leech and another favorite called a Trick or Treat, from Rob Brown's marvelous book, Skeena. The inventor of the fly is a friend of Rob's named Doug Webb. If you intend to fish the Skeena system, I suggest you check out Rob's book...he is a wonderful writer, a brilliant rod and a fly tier of some repute. I landed three fish with each fly, so Tracey's fly was the clear winner on the day.

After the boat was safely stowed and all the gear had been put away we headed for the hot tub. If there is a feeling more enjoyable than jumping into a steaming bath of bubbling, scalding hot water after a wet and frigid day of angling in unrelenting rain, I have yet to experience it. It took more than an hour and two glasses of Merlot before the feeling eturned to my fingers and when my body hit the water, I could hear my joints groan with pleasure.

The skipper and I laid back in silence for at least five minutes and then..."Hey Tracey."

"Yeah?"

"You know how most of the guys we guide all seem to come only when the weather is warm and dry?"

"Yeah…so?"

"Those guys don't know what real fishing is like! They have no idea what they are missing!" And then we both burst out laughing. It helps to be a moron and a bit of a masochist when you choose to be a fishing guide.

Here's the Purple Austrian recipe:

Purple Austrian

    Hook: I'm not sure it matters, but I tied most of these on red, Gamakatzu hooks. I like the look and the red ones consistently caught more fish for me, but it is probably just my imagination.

    Tail: A generous tuft of purple marabou, tied in right above the point of the hook and extending about ¼" past the end of the hook bend.

    Tag: I start a fine, silver rib right after the tail and wrap it over the full length of the body.

    Body: Rear third of body: Bright red floss. Forward two thirds of body: Small, black chenille or black seal dubbing.

    Underwing: Half a dozen strands of red Flashabou, extending to the end of the hook bend.

    Wing: I use a full tuft of strung, purple marabou, brushing the tuft back with my fingers and pinching the end tight until it is the right size for the wing to extend to the same point as the Flashabou.

    Overwing: Half a dozen strands of silver Flashabou, extending to the same point as the wing.

    Hackle: Soft, large, purple saddle – tied full for two or three wraps.

    Whip finish, head cement and show it off to your wife.

Remember to 'pay it forward' when you meet another fly fisherman on the riverbank. Good luck and see you on the river. ~ Archie Begin

About Archie:

Archie is a guide with Steelhead Heaven Guide Services in Kitimat BC Canada. Visit their website at: www.steelheadheaven.ca Guide Services or by phone at: 250-632-9880 or 250-639-4277

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