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Haida Gwaii

For several years a friend of mine who lived on Queen Charlotte Islands, constantly told me stories of fantastic fishing in the primal streams flowing through the thick rain forests surrounding him.  Another friend of mine and I decided to visit him and see how much of what he had to say was BS and how much was possible.  We discovered no BS and all kinds of possibilities.  We fished small rivers and streams every day for a week.  While we did not find huge numbers of fish, we did hook and land some steelhead and silvers.  But the fish were not the highlights of the trip.  The rivers and the forests were.  To get to some of the fishing runs, we had to pass over active lumber roads.  The trucks that traveled these graveled roads moved at a fast clip to get the logs to the yard as soon as possible.  They were the widest trucks I’d ever seen and took up three-fourths of the road, which didn’t leave any room for another vehicle.  If we were to meet one going the opposite direction as our travel took us, we would be no more of an obstacle than an opossum crossing the road.  Just another road kill.  So, to avoid this unfortunate end to our fishing adventures, we were advised to wait until a logger was trucking in the direction we wanted to drive.  Sometimes we waited for over an hour to follow in the draft of one of these oversized trucks.   I had never felt so private, isolated, remote and so privileged to be fishing on the dam-free waters for a run of steelhead and salmon that had never known the concrete walls of a hatchery.

I didn’t realize at the time what an influence the first-nation peoples of Haida Gwaii, would have on me  when I started wood carving some 10 years later.  I tried my hand at shaping birds, novelty characters, various animals and then I discovered a book on carving northwest native carvings.  I fell in love with the totems, masks, bowls and amulets associated with this and discovered that so much of it originated with the Haida Gwaii first nation peoples.

I remembered mostly af that trip, the eerie feeling that I was not alone in the rivers covered by ancient trees covered by softly flowing moss.  My fishing companions were up and down-stream, out of my sight, but I felt being observed by (I know this sounds weird) spirit beings.  I would even turn around quickly to see if anyone was following me.  I did not feel threatened, but accompanied.  When I started carving, I recalled this feeling.  I truly hope that I do not offend anyone with my carvings (most were copies of pictures I saw in the book).  I have received so much pleasure reading about them along with the verbal and written background.  More about this at another time.

It was 32 years later, when the same friend who accompanied me on my first trip and I returned to Haida Gwaii (new name for Queen Charlotte Is.), this last February.  So much disappointment can result from returning to a place that holds such a high position on a bucket list, but it did not happen on this trip.  We were both as enthused and excited about our trip at the end of our week as we were when we first arrived.  Actually, the hills were more tree-covered and inviting than when we were there last, when great patches of hillside were stripped naked of all but the lowest of vegetated growth by the logging operations.  The trails along the rivers ventured further into the forests to more isolated upstream destinations.  They weren’t like interstate highways cutting through the trees, but more like subtle game trails, where one still has to cross small creeks on fallen logs and choose between humping over felled trees or ducking under them to continue upriver.  We were there in February, when there was snowfall and freezing temperatures.  We had icy patches on our trails and soft, swampy mud where the sun had raised the temps high enough to melt the frozen matter covering it only days earlier.

The waters were low and clear.  In fact, too low and too clear.  The fishing was slow, but some steelhead were caught so, spirits were high all week.  It was funny.  The fish, again, were not the headliners, but just being on the rivers and streams and wading alone along runs that were beyond description with cutbank, deep slots with easy wading along the fishing sides of the runs.  I was never disappointed in any run we waded.  We lucked out with the weather with only one day of a light rain (actually, some rain would have been good).  Clouds were present every day along with a healthy dose of sunshine.  The sun, spotlighting the stream and trees with deep shadows in the background made every river scene a memory seared into my brain.  Sometimes I would have to just stop and sit down, have a beer and take it all in.

The fishing is easily done with single or double hand rods.  Flies can be effective from a wide assortment of patterns.  The guys up there making a living guiding the rivers swear by intruder type flies with pink somewhere in the recipe.  Off-colored waters are well-fished by patterns as dark as a bruised raven.

I left my last visit with a sense of joy and feeling satisfied, but I had a feeling of wanting more. I will return.  The lodge (Copper Bay Lodge) where we stayed was so tuned into the type of fishing required (small-river and stream- stalking) and the necessary attitude to fully appreciate the beauty of the trails and runs to fish.  My friend and I spent parts of two half-days in a local art studio and the museum.  I cannot recommend a stay at the lodge or a trip to Haida Gwaii without a visit to each of these establishments.  I feel good returning to Haida Gwaii.  I do not have an agenda in fishing and visiting there again.  I don’t know what may await me, but I feel like there is something I missed when I was there last.   I think that the anticipation of returning last year got to me expecting some kind of Big Bang experience.  I need to just let it happen.  When I can get into this mindset great things happen.  I need to not have expectations.  They can be a ruin of any trip.  I am going to Haida Gwaii next year to fish.  That’s it.  If I get there, and I fish, I have had a successful trip.  If I set a too-specific set of goals, there is bound to be a disappointment.  Don’t set agendas.  They are the bane of successful trips.

I am returning to the lodge next February, with no expectations except to walk the trails to the rivers to fish for wild steelhead.  Of course, if we catch some it would be a great trip, but if we don’t, it will still be a great trip.  For qualified anglers ( those who like small stream fishing, like hiking to the runs and enjoy the fishing as much or more than the catching) who would like to join me, contact  Derek Botchford at [email protected] .  There are only a few spots available for any week of fishing to keep the pressure at a minimum on the small waters. No jerks allowed. This is a trip for those who enjoy the whole steelhead experience, not those who equate success with numbers of fish.

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