A lovely image of a great caster, Vince Aubin, in the dawn on North Island estuaries, 2016. Vince is using his Sage Pulse, 9-foot, 8-weight along with a Rio Outbound Saltwater line, with a long head that matches the rod well. His arm is in the drift back phase of the back cast, (left hand having just hauled) prior to the forward cast and haul to lay it out, in his case, 90 feet every cast. A hard thing to do all day long.
I call him Coho Vince because he can see coho I just can’t see and let’s us all know where they are. We and dozens of other anglers meet every year at the same time with camping gear on northern rivers from Campbell River to Port Hardy’s Quatse. In between are Armor de Cosmos (I have not done this one) along with the Salmon, Eve, Cluxewe, Nimpkish and Keogh.
I am a newbie as I have only been doing the annual pilgrimage for the past decade. Others have been coming for almost 40 years, having started as young couples, then progressing through children, who were brought along, and now the children have their own families who come along, too. It is Neil Simon’s Same Time Next Year in actual fact.
Our conversations begin as though it were only a second since the last word. Octogenarian Jim with his ‘hammer price’ 7-10,000 pound, Hardy, Cascapedia, a ka-ching collector’s item whose drag sounds like hell – to me – because it is an original from +75 years ago, was advised not to drink any more port, but that he should resume when he is 100. I tell him I will bring the bottle for that birthday and scarf the whole thing with him. I always ask if it’s only 2 years away, and he always laughs in his softened UK accent. On his side, he awaits my brain-science/creativity book.
Then there’s Jerry who wears the increasingly oldenized – to coin a word – straw cowboy hat, something that offends the haute couture of fly guys. I found such hats on sale for $24 at Sayward Junction gas station – whose women workers have to be experienced for the various jokes they tell – I am known as Mr. Fancy Pants – don’t ask why – and tried to get someone to go in on the hat with me. No takers, as even though his hat is no longer recognizable as a cowboy hat, Jerry might refuse to wear one that was not his lucky hat, not to mention be offended.
Timber cruiser Bob and wife Linda – on the sign saving their spot, she was referred to as Sugar Pie Linda – had their children’s children to shepherd around – in the rain this year. Bob had bypass surgery a few years ago, but the great good fortune to have his amazingly tough job supply his heart more blood vessels and thus save his life.
Then my buds Bill and Randy. This year Bill got my gazebo covering after the entire unit collapsed in 40- to 50-mile winds, knocking a hole through my skull, that in shock stopped to realize it was poked and start bleeding profusely, as well as allowing my brain to start draining out, until I stuck my finger in, staunching the flow, and covered it with a bandaid. I survive.
Randy worked for DFO and has an endless series of jokes, including why you can’t say ‘whoo hoo’ when you get a fish on and want everyone to know. Ask him to tell you the story of the feral feline almost canine unit. I can’t because he said he would kill me if I told the tale on internet paper.
Then there is my new fly rod. I purchased a Beulah (a US rod) 8-weight, 11-foot 0-inch switch rod from Nile Creek Fly Shop, in Bowser of all places, on the way up. For those of us who say ‘well, I don’t really need a new rod, but that never stopped me before,’ switch rods were designed for those who consider fishing tackle tools of the trade – and those of us who write about fishing to actually have as a business expense… it’s the old: it’s tough but someone has to do the job.
The rod came with a matched Snowbee, Scandi system, 450 grain floater with an integral running line, and an intermediate tip for sink. And boy did they match. Johnstone Strait estuaries come with an everyday 15- to 25-knot wind, that for a leftie like me, are a pain in the rear end. Every cast blows the fly into the left side of my face on the forward stroke, leading me to cast left handed off my wrong, or right, shoulder – and add a diagonal forward stoke, something that is verboten in fly fishing.
Randy and Bill helpfully pointed out that I was casting ‘Cack’ handed, a term coined by the Hardy, Simon Gawesworth, et al, UK group. I told them I have broken too many pairs of glasses and had several close shaves with my left eyeball almost being donated to the Gods of fishing, and was recalcitrant to this fly fisher’s maxim. They both tut tutted. I pointed to my cheek where several flies have stuck themselves over the years, and refused to change.
Now, and below what is called the Kiddies Pool, on a school I guesstimated at 20,000 pinks, intertidal, but committed fish, a 15-knot crosswind coming at my right side, I was some impressed with how well the rod, and beautifully matched Snowbee line, worked together.
For those who have as yet not bought a switch rod, the primary reasons are that once you master the single Spey cast, they are very easy to cast (65 feet for a beginner) and you use far less energy in an all-day fishing trip, from the alternative, which is dragging a sunk tip from the drink on every cast with a single-handed rod.
You can do all the other casts, including the Double Spey, that in the past I could never get down, until I slowed down, was more deliberate, waited for the loop to form behind me and then cast forward. The length of the rod allows for loop forming without the extra feet of Spey rods.
One other advantage of switch rods is that you can release a fish without needing a second person. Spey rods break tips when you hold them straight up with a 180-degree bend and reach for the fish with your other hand. And I refuse to drag a fish onto gravel, drop the rod, pull the hook and put the fish back in the water.
The Beulah performed well, both with bottom end strength in the cast, as well as top end bend. The moment my right hand surrounded the leader, I had my rod hand (my left hand) let go of the line, save the rod tip, turn the hook and continue looking for the next fish, all in the water.
A useful thing in this Snowbee line is that it is contiguous with the running line (white head, red running line, as in easy to see), meaning there is no loop to loop Martingaled connection that has to pass through the line guides every cast. Furthermore, the first six feet of running line have the first four of the same density as the floating head, with a taper in the last two. So you don’t have to waste any white head bringing it within the rod tips or hinging the cast, just get the very visible first four feet close to, but outside of, the tip rod guide.
As with single handed rods, you can either have a stripping basket – as Vince has in the above image – or manage the line within your hands. Depending on how much line you have cast, you strip in line, hang it over your pinky finger, then the third, second, and if need be, first. The most important thing in managing stripped line is for each loop to be successively shorter, thus eliminating loop within loop snafus.
The Snowbee/Beulah combination had me some impressed, casting out 90- to 100-feet in a 15-knot crosswind, particularly as the fish were 80- to 100-feet from me. I wasn’t so impressed with the fish. While I was new to the gear – second day casting – it was some annoying watching the school divide when the shadow of the line on the surface passed over them on the bottom. Grr.
And I should add that there are many more fly fishers who I meet each year: Ken from Saltspring Island, Doug, Skip, Larry, Bill R (not this year as he is sitting in a wheelchair and thus can’t wheel himself down the beach), Ogilvie (both of them), Bill (the fishing writer) and Susan Luscombe, Winston, 100-salmon Chris, tyee of fishers, even Hans and old Joe… (a tale to tell in conversation). All of these people enrich my life, and summer fishing.