Busses and studded boots
Three days after returning from Mexico, I was on another plane. This time from Seattle to Vancouver, B.C. When we touched down there was standing water on the tarmac. It was raining hard.
It’s not always possible, but when it is, I like to see where fish come from. On the Deschutes, they stream in from the massive Columbia—and beyond that the Pacific. On the Hoh, fish move in from around the waters that surround the Olympic Peninsula. The Squamish River takes its fish from Howe Sound and Burrard Inlet. The day before I was set to fish the Squamish, I grabbed a coffee just outside my hotel and made my way to the sand and rocks.
I’d never been to B.C., but I’ve thought long about its steelhead. As I looked out into the salt, I thought about fishing the river the following day—a place where my journey and their journey might intercept.
By the time I made it to the bus station to purchase a ticket, my jacket was soaked and my jeans were damp and cold. At 5:15 a.m., I was idling in gate marked Greyhound 13. Everyone has told me the drive from Vancouver to Squamish, halfway toward Whistler, is stunning. But all I could see through fogged glass was slick roads and the occasional road lamp illuminating more rain and blackness. There was no hint of a rising sun anywhere.
The rain picked up—it was officially pissing. There was deep standing water on the side of the road, and I’m fairly certain the storm had just turned torrential.
I have felt the grab of a steelhead after a spey cast and the gentle swing through a cold river. The sensation is intoxicating. I’m not sure there is any better way to describe it. I want more. I want to get that feeling back.
After a few minutes on the river, I’m convinced that I might be the worst spey caster in British Columbia. On this specific day, on this specific piece of water, I know this to be true. Two voices continue to alternate in my head.
Voice #1: “Don’t worry, be cool. Chill out and just concentrate on your casting.”
Voice #2: “Are you crazy? Get the bug out there and let it swim. Forget about your cast and focus on the fishing.”
As Brian Niska and I stand in the water I know that we’re very close to the ocean. We’re standing at the front door of fresh water, where big fish enter the river system. From this spot, just three miles from the ocean, steelhead will pass by and travel 50 miles inland to spawn.
Standing in the water I think back to Mexico. On one hand, it doesn’t seem too far away. On the other, standing in the cold Squamish River, it feels a lifetime away. I’m still bummed about the lack of sardines and that fishing wasn’t what I had experienced before. But deep down, I know it’s not just about the fish. The sport transcends the species du jour. At some point it transcends the tug, the grab, the scream of the reel. It’s really about that driving force that puts you on the water. It is that energy that makes fishing happen—because it just doesn’t happen. We make it happen. We choose. Whether that water is just off your dock, down at the river bank a few miles from where you live, or at the other end of the world. Whatever that force or drive or psychosis is, that is what this is all about.
Those are the thoughts that cross my mind as I cast and step.
So I keep casting. And stepping. And casting. And thinking.
“Making a decision to fish where we are fishing is big-time risk or big-time reward. The big-time reward is you get hot fish straight from the ocean on a high tide. Fish that have been living in the ocean and have only been in the river for two or three hours. The big-time risk—no fish,” Niska says.
I don’t mind the gamble. I’m committed to it and I continue to hold out hope.