By Pat Hoglund
Heavy fog hung like a shroud over the town of Smithers. It engulfed the airport where I sat and read my book, munched on corn nuts and waited patiently for the gray mist to give way to sunny skies. I would miss my connecting flight in Vancouver and wouldn’t arrive home until much later that evening. At the time it was frustrating and I was annoyed. Yet the four hours I spent in the airport allowed me to reflect on the past week where I spent most of my waking hours fishing for steelhead on the Bulkley and Morice rivers.
Six days prior I was introduced to the Bulkley with a firm handshake. It was a much-anticipated greeting, if for no other reason I had dreamed of fishing the Bulkley for the better part of a decade. The greeting came in the form of a sudden jerk from a 9-pound steelhead. Fishing with Derek Botchford, owner Frontier Farwest Lodge, I fished the top end of the run without a grab, and was beginning to wonder whether there was anyone home when a hen presented herself. She grabbed my fly and raced downriver putting up a good fight before I was able to corral her. I stopped for a moment to admire her and the surroundings. She was beautiful and her river was stunning. Suddenly I was at peace. As she swam away there was a calm about me, and any anxiety I had about catching fish, or not catching fish, was gone.
I’d like to say that I stayed that way for the remainder of my trip, but I’d be lying. I’m like a lot of people who are never satisfied with just one steelhead. I stepped back into the river, cast and fished until I reached the bottom of the run. The 9-pound doe was the only one who wanted to play so I climbed back into Derek’s boat and moved to another spot. Derek dropped me off in an unoccupied run and raced upriver to pick up his other guests. Before he returned—all within a matter of 10 minutes—I landed three more steelhead. At this point I was more than satisfied and I lied to myself when I said I didn’t need to catch another steelhead for this trip to be a success. Yet on day two, I didn’t touch a fish; same with day three. Two days, back-to-back, going fishless has a negative affect on your psyche. I was starting to worry and the lie I told myself was starting to feel like a curse.
Throughout a two-day dry spell in the steelhead rich waters of British Columbia one starts to doubt everything. Was it my casting? Was it my flies? Was it a bad week? It turned out that it was none of the above. I just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, because for the next three days I caught steelhead consistently. I call that sandwich steelheading: start strong and finish strong.
On the last hour of my trip I was fishing with Derek, who because of guiding and running a fishing lodge doesn’t get to fish all that much. I know it’s an oxymoron. He wanted to make sure I finished my trip with an exclamation point so he put me into a run that he was certain held fish. I passed up the opportunity and told Derek to fish it instead. He was a little hesitant at first, but acquiesced when I insisted. On the third cast he hooked a steelhead. I snapped some photos and suddenly my southern hospitality faded in a New York minute. I walked back to the boat, picked up my fly rod and proceeded to make a last ditch effort at catching chrome.
Sitting in the airport alone with my thoughts I thought back on that last cast. I couldn’t shake the sound my reel made as it pierced the quiet. My rod was arced and my forearm burned. I directed the steelhead into the slow water, pulled the fly free, pointed her back into the river and let her go. My mind was suddenly at peace again. I told myself I could die a happy man if I didn’t catch another steelhead in my lifetime.
The announcement came over the loud speaker. The skies were clear and my flight would be leaving in 30 minutes. I was about ready to leave Canada and I wasn’t happy about it. The lie I told myself the day before smacked of an empty “I love you” promise on prom night. The reality was sinking in: It would be another year before I would return and I couldn’t help but curse the lifting fog. I desperately wanted the fog to linger for another day. I wanted one more crack at the Bulkley.