I first held it in my hand several years ago. It is an original 3/6 Tyee rod that was custom built for Van Egan, author of Tyee: The Story of the Tyee Club of British Columbia. The split cane design met all the specs, not more than six feet long and weighing no more than six ounces. The line could be no stronger than six three-strands of gut—or about 18-pound test.
The rod was designed for the 3/6 extra-light tackle category in the Tyee Club’s annual tournament. The category was dissolved in 1971.
But this year marks the 70th anniversary of a 70.5 pound Chinook caught on July 29, 1947 by Ray Slocum of Florida using a 3/6 rod. It is the second largest fish taken in the Tyee Club’s 93-year history.
The rod is in immaculate condition and has two Tyee Club ‘approved’ stickers attached. “Go ahead and fish it,” Van told me. Feeling its delicate length I declined, worrying that it might break. I suggested it should be saved as an antique. “I didn’t pay to have it custom built just so it could hang on some damn wall,” he said and back in the metal tube it went.
Curiosity got the best of me a few years later and I did fish it on Van’s urging, allowing a select few to hold it while I rowed the Tyee boat. To a person, they expressed deep fear about breaking a piece of Campbell River history. But, alas, those few select fishings went fishless and ended with collective exhalations that the rod hadn’t been tested.
Van passed away July 8, 2010, a week before the annual tournament was to begin. We had been talking about the upcoming season for a month previous and during some of those conversations he said how neat it would be if the 3/6 rod caught a fish.
On a Friday night after last light and the fishing ended fellow rower Mike Mackie came by the dock as I tied up. “Want to do that tide tomorrow?” he asked. “I’ll row, you hold the rod.”
‘The rod’ he was referring to was the 3/6, which I had showed him earlier. So Saturday afternoon we headed out, me holding Van’s 3/6 rod and attached to the line my lucky “Love, Love, Love” spoon that my daughter had ‘decorated’ a few years ago. When Mike saw that spoon he muttered, “That’s an ugly looking spoon.”
Prior to going out another rower, Chris Cook, was preparing to row two guests and he stopped to ask if I thought the tide was going to be weedy. “Don’t think so,” I said confidently. “Should be pretty clean.” It turned out to be thick, incredibly thick. But whether it was Mike’s rowing or the magical rod, we only picked weed off the weight four times and not once off the spoon in the first half hour.
The rhythmic cadence of the rod tip intensified. Mike had rowed over the sweetest of water. I took a peek at the landmarks (a Tyee rower’s GPS) and realized we were bang on, a bit inside, the south corner just off the mouth of the Campbell River, the fishiest part of the famous Tyee Pool. I murmured something to Mike, my full attention on the ‘thump, thump, thump’ of the rod tip and Mike murmured something back. Then we were stuck in that awfully exquisite silence of anticipation.
“There it is!” yelled Mike as I struck the rod back sharply. And then the 3/6 was bent over and the salmon was in the air. It jumped seven or eight times and although it weighed only 22 pounds, it was bright and silver, and fought like a Tyee until it finally came to the net.
We were both elated and as we headed back to the dock we smiled at each other, knowing we had been part of something special. We turned the corner at the Spit, heading towards the docks and Mike looked down beside him in the boat.
“Nice spoon,” he said. I felt good about that.
“And what a beautiful little rod,” he added.
Van would feel good about that too.
(The original version of this story was first published in the 2014 book Fishing, Family and Friends by Neil Cameron.)