Our Man In Canada
February 7th, 2000
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Planning to prevent
DISASTER

Ready to Go!

By Duncan Hardie

PART ONE: The Lessons

OK - so I'm standing on a gravel bar on the Crowsnest River in southern Alberta, watching a huge rainbow trout sipping blue-winged olives. It's late September and there's a wonderful mountain nip in the air. To my dismay, I can't quite reach the rainbow from my bank, so I decide to move to the other side, which means crossing the bar and a small off-shoot of the main river. Crouched over so as not to be seen by the trout, I head across the bar and (why I did this I'll never know) at the same time trying to tie on a new fly. In a milli-second, I'm engulfed up to my neck. Only outstanding gymnastics save me from being pulled under the bank - who knows to what end!

I couldn't believe what happened. Three hours from Calgary, 15 minutes on the river and there I was, soaked from head to toe.

'Gimme a break!' I yelled to the mountains. Oleh, my partner, was nowhere to be seen and the car was a good half-hour's walk from the river. I collected my thoughts and quickly realized that it was damn cold and I'd better do something about it soon. Luckily, before we left Calgary, Oleh had insisted we take extra clothes 'just in case'. Just a few weeks before he had done an ass-over-teakettle on the river, which had ruined his day. I remember him joking about it, but here I was in the same embarrassing situation. I usually never take a complete change of clothes on a day trip. On this occasion, I was saved by something I'd perceived as tiresome, but which turned out to be sage advice.

Lesson 1: A drowned rat makes a lousy fishing partner.

A few years ago, Chris and I had the opportunity to do a video in Labrador. I spent most of the Spring dreaming about those wild Eagle River salmon cartwheeling in the sun. The trip was being arranged by mutual friends and Chris told me not to worry, as "everything was being taking care of!" All I had to do was show up.

The warning bells should have sounded in my head, but this was Chris, my fishing soul mate! What could go wrong?

Inevitably, everything that could have gone wrong did. We spent more time weather-bound in Goose Bay and on float planes than we did fishing. After four days languishing in the hotel, I stared at the ceiling and yelled "Why me, Lord? Why can't the trip of a lifetime work out just once?"

There was no immediate response, but the phone did ring a few hours later and, before I knew it, we were being whisked north on a float plane. After a fairly long trip, we set down on a lake, got our rods out and in a few minutes I had my first arctic char to the net. Within minutes we were being eaten alive by blackflies, bug dope and all, but I didn't care, for the char were taking the fly with reckless abandon. I was in heaven.

"Day's getting on," yelled the pilot. "We'd better get going."

"But we just got here," I shouted back.

"We just came here to check out the camp. The fishing is a bonus."

I turned to Chris. "We did?"

As I recall, he did have the grace to look somewhat puzzled. A few minutes later we were soaring over the wild Labrador landscape again, heading back to Goose Bay with 500 air miles and five minutes of fishing under our belts.

Lesson 2: Never let your best friend do all the planning.

Frank and I were sitting on the porch overlooking the Belize River. We had just met and, after a few pleasantries and dinner, had returned to our cottage along with the other members of our party to gear up for the following day's fishing. We would be partners for the rest of the week. I had looked forward to this trip all winter and was ready for a saltwater grandslam. The bonefish and permit were on the flats and the tarpon were in, and although I knew the fishing was not going to be easy, I felt lucky.

Our neighbors, John and Don, had brought enough gear to stock a tackle shop. We wondered how they had managed to get it all on the plane. We were amused. Little did we realise that the last laugh would be theirs.

We started pulling out our gear. Suddenly, Frank let out a wail of disbelief. "I can't believe it, I just can't believe it!"

"What can't you believe?" I replied.

"My wife put out the wrong rod case. These are my striped bass rods."

"You let your wife pack your rods? Are you nuts?"

It wasn't the right thing to say at the time, now that I look back. Frank had been out of town on business and had just managed to catch the flight in Boston after a whirlwind tour of his fishing cupboard at home, followed by a mad dash to the airport. But the damage was done. Guess who was delighted to lend him a full set of tarpon gear? That's right - the guys next door.

After a day's tough but satisfying tarpon fishing, our guide Nathaniel suggested that we would try for bonefish and permit the next day. After dinner I pulled my bonefish rod out of the case and began to thread the line through the guides - and stopped. The first eye was missing! I couldn't believe it. I had used this rod at the cottage the week before. How could the eye be broken? It was my turn to let out a string of expletives.

Later that evening I was able to borrow a rod from, you guessed it, the guys with the tackle shop next door.

Lesson 3: Never let your wife pack your gear - ever.

One of the joys of fly fishing is reminiscing with friends, and it's always easy to laugh at disaster after the event. But, at the time, disasters are rarely laughing matters. The secret is to make sure they don't happen.

PART TWO: Using The Lessons - How To Avoid Disaster:

    1. Research your options thoroughly and take the time to plan your trip.
    2. Develop a check list and don't leave home until everything is checked off!
    3. Find out what equipment fits the situation and make sure you always take backup.
    4. Check all your equipment before you leave home.
    5. Read everything you can about your destination. Find out from friends if they have fished the area or know of anyone who may have been to the same destination.
    6. Phone ahead and in this age of E-mail, be investigative. Most lodges will be more than happy to give you information on fishing conditions, flies, the equipment you need (clothing, etc.) and of course, the best time to be there.
    7. Always have a contingency plan and leave nothing to chance. There is nothing 'for sure' in fly fishing and you can be sure what can go wrong will.

Winter Issue
Sounds simple? Why do I never listen to my own advice!

Honey, don't pack my rods! ~ Duncan Hardie

About Duncan Hardie: Duncan has been a passionate fly fisher for the past 40 years. He is an accomplished fly tyer, occasional casting instructor and an active conservationist. A professional marine biologist, he is presently Director of the Science Policy Branch at Environment Canada. His present passion is saltwater fly fishing for tarpon, bonefish and permit. He lives in Ottawa Canada.

We thank the Canadian Fly Fisher for re-print permission!

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