When creating the new site, I had never imagined that my first article would be this one, but here we are. Writing is cathartic, and helps me heal. Deaths in my family have become all too common over the past three years. I’d managed to escape facing the death of a loved one for over 40 years of my life until the passing of my mother in 2016. And I’d thought that was going to be it for a while, I was due for some tragedy-free years. I was going to have time to process my mother’s passing and come to terms with it in my own way. But little did I know that it was only the beginning. Last summer, I was hit once again with the passing of my father.
Now, about two weeks ago, I was on small coastal tributary exploring a spring steelhead fishery. We had flown in by helicopter and hauled in rafts and camping equipment for a three-day adventure (and enough beer for seven days). On the third day of the trip, halfway through the float, we stumbled into some excellent fishing. We were truly on Cloud Nine, hitting the trip with perfect summer weather, excellent fishing, and not a human footprint to be found.
But then I got the dreaded text on the INREACH satellite device telling me that I needed to call home immediately, and that something horrible had happened. I quickly grabbed the satellite phone to call home, already anticipating news that would change my life forever. I was told that my brother Jason Botchford had suddenly and unexpectedly passed away at 48 years old. Staring up at the sky, surrounded by one of the most pristine, mountainous wilderness settings I’d ever seen, I dropped to my knees. The experience was surreal. My chin sank deep into my chest and the silence suddenly turned to a deafening ring thundering in my head. The world as I knew it had instantly changed forever. I’d just been through this with my mother and father, so I immediately understood what I was in for. It was going to be something that would loom over me for many years to come. I just had to make a solid plan, and then take it hour by hour.
The spot you’re in where you hear tragic news instantly becomes ingrained in your memory forever. It is similar to how clearly you remember all the firsts in life and my Brother was there for all of mine. Although he didn’t share my passion for fishing, he was there the first time I picked up a rod, and again the time I landed my first fish. I’m glad to have been in such a beautiful spot in the world, doing what I love, when I found out the news about my brother. With so much tragedy in my life lately, I’m so thankful to have my passion for fishing and spending time on rivers in the wilderness. They offer me so much solace and strength that it gives me an almost unfair advantage to deal with life’s worst hardships. I’ve learned when I need help in life to turn to my family, my friends, and the river for the strength I need to move forward. The world is filled with so much beauty, and yet also so much evil, that it can consume us at every stop. Those of us with a passion for and access to wilderness rivers are very fortunate to be able to take solace from them.
My fishing partners were obviously devastated when they heard the news, not only because they knew what I was about to go through, but because they knew and loved my brother very much. Looking back, I’m so thankful that they were there for me and gave me the strength and support that I needed to push forward. I called the heli company immediately, and within 30 minutes, they’d landed on that very gravel bar where I first heard the news.
After a 30-minute heli ride and a 5-hour drive (with a lot of help from my wonderful life partner Andrea), I was back home frantically packing in order to get to Vancouver as quickly as I could. Again, my friends rallied around me at every turn. A very good friend sent me his private plane to pick me and my family up in Smithers and then flew us to Vancouver. Watching the kids’ excitement level about being on a private plane was a beautiful distraction from what the next week was to bring. We touched down in Vancouver and were greeted by my longest-standing best friend who had grown up just five doors down from me when we were kids. Seeing friends gave me support and strength on countless occasions in the days to come.
The rest of week was hectic, as we immediately launched into organizing a proper wake. By now, a group of ten childhood friends of both myself and my brother had flown in and invaded AirBNBs across the lower mainland. We went to work on slide shows with old video footage from 20 years ago. We blewup classic photos on stand-up, foam-core easel boards. Memory tables, sports paraphernalia, and childhood mementos were quickly put together for a very special night of remembrance.
For one evening only, Jason’s work friends and mentors were connected with our families and our crew of friends who have been close for over 30 years. Together we put on a beautiful,fitting evening that we dubbed “Jase in Your Face.”
When you bring together everything that is important to someone’s life, you conjure up their spirit in a way that is nearly impossible to ever recreate. It has to do with connecting so many dots that make up someone’s life and then celebrating that life with a deep passion. The essence of Jase was with us that night as so many stories were being told and relived, dating back to when he was only 10 years old.
Unfortunately, the party continued into a very late and loud night at the AirBNB, which resulted insome pretty negative reviews posted to my AirBNB account. But it was a night that my brother would’ve cherished, and one we will all hold close to our hearts.
It’s with great sadness that I write about the death of my brother. He was by far the biggest influence on my life in every aspect. He was far more than a brother to me. He stood tall as a father figure in my youth, he was a best friend as we traveled the world together in our twenties, and he was ultimately a mentor as we began to balance work and family in the past decade, both of us excelling in our own industries.
The life and legacy of Jason Botchford will never be lost and no one will ever replace him. Enough of him lives inside so many of us that his influence will resurface in many ways throughout my lifetime. There are a few mini Botches right now that will take the world by storm in about 20 years. Keep an eye out for some tributes coming to Vancouver this summer, and again next year with the start of the Canucks season. His three children will need support, and we want to make sure that they are well looked after.
For me, it will be valuable time spent on the water, or near it, and quiet family time in Smithers, that will help me get through the experience of loss. In times like this, we realize how important the rivers and the fish that swim in them are to our well-being. We need to hang on to the wild runs of fish that are left in the north.
Catching fish is fun wherever you can do it, but when comparing the wild rivers like the Skeena or Bristol Bay, Alaska, to manicured man-made creeks, or throwing to stocked fish in the flats of a ruined lake, the critical importance of the wild becomes crystal clear. The powerful feelings that many people find in church offer the same solace that washes over me as I step into a river searching for wild unicorns. You can’t find that power in a spoiled system that man steps in to alter, or attempts to recover with hatchery fish.
I want to thank everyone who has reached out to Andrea and me. Each and every message hit home and helped raise our spirits. I also want to thank the Botch Army in Vancouver and all the amazing commentary on my brother’s passion for sports. The Botch you saw on TV, heard on the radio, or were reading in his articles in print or online was the exact same guy that I and my friends grew up with. He was completely himself. Before Google or Alexa, it was “ask Botch.” If you wanted to go toe-to-toe with him in an argument, you sure as hell had better bring your A-game. Watching sports with him was a joyous addiction.
He was a brilliant mind and a force of nature with an energy that could never be matched. He was the last one awake and the first one up day in and day out for his entire life. He excelled at everything he ever did. He was a legend in high school, dominated university like it was child’s play, and became one of the best writers in the industry.
He was always himself, and whether you met him once, felt like you knew him, or had grown up with him, you would always remember his passion, no matter the subject. You just had to wind him up and let him go. He was one of the world’s gems who was taken too soon, but if you stay passionate about what you love most in life, be yourself no matter what, and always lay everything on the line for what is important, you will forever paytribute to him in ways that mean the most.
If you would like to contribute to Jason’s legacy please do so through his family operated gofundme campaign .