We heard about the early summer run of steelhead on this North Vancouver Island river. And after a three-hour drive, and another hour’s hiking, we found her and the steelhead.
We came out of the forest on a ridge overlooking a small run and the pool into which it flowed. There, in the tailout, were the unmistakable U-boat shapes of steelhead.
We backed off and planned our attack. We worked around and fished upstream, dropping fly after fly over them. Then we worked downstream drifting fly after fly through them. It wasn’t unsuccessful.
A couple of times cutthroats ‘wolved’ out from the shadows and followed our flies as we retrieved them. They turned their noses up at the end and disappeared again to where only cutthroat can disappear.
The early summer sun was strong. We took a break, slaked our thirsts and pondered our predicament. Longer leaders? Bigger flies? Smaller flies? Dynamite? We considered all options and engaged the pool again. Nothing.
With hands now on hips, we were on the verge of giving up.
“Well,” said Brent. “You being a purist and all, you might not like this, but…”
He pulled out the ubiquitous single-hooked brass spinner.
I was aghast. I was insulted to my very core. The mere thought of it went against my moral fibre. Poacher! Cad! Boor!
“I’ll go first,” I said.
But Brent would have none of it. “I must protect your upstanding reputation,” he said. “Besides you might actually catch a fish and we wouldn’t want to spoil your record.”
He jury-rigged a cast with his fly rod. The spinner hit above and across where the steelhead were. He let it drift down to them, keeping only slight tension so that the spinner spun sexily slow. On his retrieve a steelhead hit. The line zipped across the pool and back again, down and up; there was a splash on the surface. The steelhead went one way, the spinner fluttered to the bottom of the pool, unattached. To either fish or line.
Jaws agape, we watched the last flutter of the spinner. It had happened so fast. I was excited yet disappointed that we had stooped to such a level, that we had forsaken the high standards of our character. We had become nothing but piscatorial whoremongers.
“You got another one?” I asked.
“Nope,” said Brent. “That’s the only one.”
For several long minutes the only sounds were Kinglets singing in the treetops, and the river gaggling and gurgling — nay, laughing.
“Pool’s pretty deep.” “Water’s pretty cold.” “Be stupid to try.” “Crazy.” “Not worth it.” “Screw it.” “That was a beauty fish.” “Sure was.” “Steelhead are still there.” “Yep.”
Brent was down to his skivvies and duck diving to the bottom of the pool within minutes. Up he would come for air, shake his head and dive again. He came out for a break. His lips had turned a faint blue. There was a chatter of teeth. Yet he went in again. And dove again and again, without success. I was very, very concerned. It was, after all, my turn next.
He came out spinner-less. His lips were now a deep purplish blue. He spasmed in one big shiver. I voiced my concern that he was semi-hypothermic.
“J-j-j-j-j-just f-f-f-f-fah c-c-c-c-cold,” he said hugging himself.
But I would have none of it. Brent had practically risked his life and I stood by selfishly, letting him. There was really only one thing to do and I was ready and willing to make that sacrifice to help my young friend.
I told him we would head back to camp. We would get in a sleeping bag together, naked. The warmth of my body, I explained, would transfer to his and fight off the damaging affects of the cold.
Despite being semi-hypothermic, it was amazing how quickly Brent got back in his waders and started heading downstream. I watched him cast furtive, nervous glances over his shoulder as he disappeared around a bend.
I realized he wasn’t looking for steelhead or, for that matter, the brass spinner.