In August, I sometimes feel I should change my name to Santiago.
Because like the character from the Old Man and the Sea, I will be rowing and fishing, with hours, days and sometimes weeks between bites. And sometimes with none at all.
I suppose that is the essence of rowing for tyee in Campbell River. Patience is not only a virtue, it is an absolute necessity.
I would never participate in a fishery that is so parsimonious in its rewards. I would never go to the same river day after day if the ‘catch’ results were as they are in tyee rowing. I would never go to the same lake, day after day, for the same dismal returns. I would not fish the Hump, day after day, if one fish hooked in 20 tides was considered good.
And yet I tyee.
This isn’t to say that there are not many pleasures to be had in the fishery.
The performance of the rowboat itself is one. Its slender, narrow form clings to the fringes of the rip as if its bottom was coated in an adhesive. Wild, turbulent water will rush by on the tides, yet the rowboat holds steadfastly, like a pointer on a covey of grouse. A stroke of the oars here, a stroke of the oars there, and the white-hulled beauty responds like a horse to the squeeze of its rider’s thigh.
Then there are the days themselves. On the water with only the sounds of the water lapping lightly against the boat and the sun smiling down and a light wind’s friendly nudging; it is most pleasant.
Then there’s the camaraderie. No other fishery exists, that I know of, in which ‘competing’ anglers wish you luck. And mean it. Truly mean it. And no other fishery exists, I think, where success is met and celebrated with heartfelt congratulations by all.
I think the sport’s difficulty brings that out. The knowledge that a chinook hooked and landed—and not just one of 30 pounds or more — is an accomplishment in an angler’s or rower’s life that is hard to match.
And then I believe we come to the heart of the matter.
Hours, days and sometimes weeks pass and the fishless tediousness of the endeavor is not just endured, it is embraced. Because one second in those long hours and days will turn lethargy into insanity. The dull, quaint dalliance of that second before explodes as an unbelievable fury in the depths transmits exultation and fear to the surface. All the previous quiet musings, are turned to a frenzy that is both electric and numbing.
Then there is the breathless struggle. Silent prayers and promises are made as the chinook’s back shows for the first time. And more are made as it dives and takes line freely at an astonishing speed. Exhales of wonder and awe are made as it comes to the boat, tantalizingly close for the netting. But it’s not ready—not the first time, and sometimes not the second or third—because it will run again.
Breaths are held as the net is finally applied. The chinook will thrash the surface as it feels itself totally embraced and then gladness, reverence and a joy like no other will resound from the small, proud rowboat as it drifts, perhaps itself exhausted, after the epic battle.
So Santiago it is then.
“Luck is a thing that comes in many forms and who can recognize her?”