Thanks to a writing prompt over at the Outdoor Blogger Network I decided to dredge up some recollections of a very fond fly fishing experience I had as a kid. I don’t remember exactly how old I was when I was first introduced to fly fishing by Lloyd Lewis, a friend and co-worker of my dad, but I’m thinking it had to have been around the age of 10 or 11.
Lloyd was a fanatical fly fisherman who enjoyed visiting my family cabin on the shores of Hood Canal, where the sea run cutthroat fishing used to be quite excellent. My dad recalls a time when he and Lloyd were trolling an incoming tide: my dad dragging some sort of lure behind his spinning setup; Lloyd casting and stripping probably some sort of saltwater baitfish pattern. My dad still talks about the monster cutt that Lloyd landed on that trip. While fishermen always tend to exaggerate, and as time passes the size of the fish has likely grown considerably, my dad maintains that it was a 20 inch fish that ran far and jumped several times before Lloyd finally landed it. The fish was released, I am sure, and I’m not saying my dad is a liar, but without photographic proof I’ll never know how big that fish really was. I wasn’t on the boat that day.
But back to the point of this entry, which is not the second hand memory of a great cutthroat trout caught by Lloyd Lewis. The reason for mentioning Lloyd is simply to thank him for introducing me to fly fishing as a kid. So grateful am I to Lloyd that I dedicated the second Olive book, Olive and The Big Stream, to him. He is ultimately responsible not only for my current fly fishing passion, but also for a particular fond memory I had while fishing one evening in British Columbia back country.
I was fortunate to be involved in a Boy Scout troop (#668 of the Chief Seattle Council, by the way) that had the support and involvement of many great leaders: dads and even some dad-aged men whose boys were no longer active in the troop. Thanks to these dedicated men, my troop took regular weekend backpacking trips in the Cascade mountains of western Washington. Once a year, each summer, these same leaders would organize 2 week-long “50 Milers” which never ended up being only 5o miles (more like 60-70+ miles). We did one of these trips in the Yellowstone back country, and another in the North Cascades along the Pacific Crest Trail (with a few days spent on a particularly cruel path aptly named the Three Fools Trail). I recall both trips fondly (and with a bit of painful resentment), but it was a trip to Bowron Lake Provincial Park that left an indelible mark on my fly fishing memory. The trip took place in August of 1976, when I was 13 years old.
Bowron Lake Provincial Park is a chain of lakes that forms a circuit totaling 72 miles by canoe. The lakes are not quite completely connected by water: between the six major lakes of the chain are overland portages of various lengths. I seem to recall a couple of these portages as being quite easy and short, while a few of them were a bit longer and not quite so easy. Part of our preparation for the trip was to select a canoe partner with whom we would spend a great deal of time with during the entire 10 or so days. A wise scout would choose a partner who was much bigger and stronger than they were, and in my wisdom I chose my friend, Mark Aldape, as my paddling buddy.
Me and my friend Mark Aldape (right) at the entrance to Bowron Lake Provincial Park, 1976.
Each canoe partner was responsible for building their own “yoke” which would be used to help carry 50% of the canoe across land, on their shoulders. After constructing the yokes, which were comprised of a plywood frame with thick foam attached using copious amounts of duct tape, each team had to qualify for the trip by carrying the canoe on their shoulders, for a distance of two miles (if my memory serves correct). This test was performed on the track at the local junior high school, and I must have completed the test successfully because I was a passenger in the caravan of vehicles that departed Seattle for the 550 mile drive north.
There is an awful lot about this trip I don’t recall specifically, though a few events still linger in the forefront of my memory:
A particularly long day on one of the big lakes found us paddling in a very strong wind. Due to canoes heavily laden with camping gear, we had to stay close to the shorelines in the event of a swamping, which luckily didn’t occur. The wind was at our backs, which was preferable to a headwind, but paddling was still an arduous task. The air continued to move with force well into the evening after we’d reached camp, and four of us decided to rope our two canoes together to form a catamaran of sorts, erecting a tent rain-fly as a makeshift spinnaker. Our hopes were that the brutal wind would continue the next day and we could sail effortlessly toward the next destination, laughing at the naysayers as we glided past them. Of course the wind died down and never picked up again, and rowing two canoes lashed together proved to be much more difficult than two separate canoes.
Hypothermia sets in.
Another memorable event took place on the evening when one of our scout leaders, Mr. Pete Baird, himself a savvy outdoorsmen and a fly fisherman, went for a swim and remained a bit too long in the cold lake water. By the time he emerged, he was suffering from the effects of moderate hypothermia, and admitted as much. He had the uncontrollable shivers and his motor skills were slightly affected. Fortunately he was in good company (the Scout Motto is “Be Prepared”), and we wrapped him in a sleeping bag, seated him close by a fire and plied him with a warm beverage. His core temperature rose and he was none the worse for the wear after that. But a lesson was learned.
The other standout memory is the day when we knowingly would have to navigate a section of a river with strong current and a sharp dogleg bend. Maneuvering this corner was causing some anxiety amongst the leaders, and the troop sent canoes through one by one. Each canoe pulled over safely to the bank as we awaited for the final pair of paddlers to launch their descent into the chute. As fate would have it, this final boat failed to execute the bend in the river and swamped as the canoe got sideways in the current. Luckily again, the Boy Scouts were prepared and quickly extracted the canoe, the gear, and the paddlers safely from the river. Had there not been a rescue contingent on hand, the results might have been disastrous.
The Royal Coachman reigns King.
Of the entire trip, one event left me with the fondest memory: the evening we made camp along the shore where a small river spilled into the lake. After setting up camp, preparing dinner and cleaning up after the meal, the sun began to fade and in doing so made for a beautiful evening. The surface of the lake resembled a mill pond and the riseforms of dozens of fish could be seen a few yards off shore, where the stream dumped it’s waters into the lake. I grabbed my Eddie Bauer 7-1/2 foot fiberglass rod (a gift from Lloyd Lewis), attached my Cortland Crown click and pawl reel spooled with floating line and set out in the canoe. Floating within 25 years of the shoreline, I fondly recall catching fish after fish on a Royal Coachman. The fish were small Kokanee (land-locked Sockeye salmon) that were probably no larger than 10-12 inches. It didn’t matter the size, and I don’t recall specifically how many I caught and released (probably far fewer than my memory serves). I do remember that I fished until it was too dark to see, and it was the bigger picture that left an impression on me and instilled the understanding that there’s more to fishing than catching fish.
Introduce a kid to fishing. You never know the impact it may have on them throughout their lives.