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."
"You know how most of the guys we guide all seem to come only
when the weather is warm and dry?"
"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:
Remember to 'pay it forward' when you meet another fly fisherman
on the riverbank. Good luck and see you on the river. ~ Archie Begin
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.
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