Advanced Salmon Fishing
Jim Jones works the single-action reel like a seasoned pro.
"I will kill you if you lose my !@%S#%@ fish!" Those were mighty strong words coming from someone who normally is quite gentle, rarely curses, and who had, when I asked her if she would like to go on a salmon fishing adventure with me to the wilds of British Columbia said, "You know I don't fish." I climbed the deal by bribing her with a detour to Victoria. But now, as a big chinook charged away from the boat, Ruth Lawrence was as adrenaline-pumped and excited as the most die-hard of avid lifelong anglers. She had fallen under the spell of Rivers Inlet and our temporary home in the wilderness, Legacy Lodge.
I couldn't blame her for her outburst, and she was kidding about the lethal threat. I think. Frankly, I didn't blame her, and I wouldn't have wanted to return to the dock and face a very long trip home without that big king, anyway. Ruth had every reason to be really upset with me. That fish should have been safely in the boat by now had I been doing my one small, but crucial task properly - netting it.
It was our last morning of fishing, and the clouds had rolled in overnight bringing a light drizzle. We actually welcomed the relief from the relentless sun that had beat down on us for most of the trip. Ruth had expertly fought the chinook from the instant she saw the rod tip dip with the initial strike. It wasn't a tentative "tap-tap" as chinook are sometimes known to bite. Rather it was a grab-and-go takedown. She lifted the rod out of the holder while simultaneously reeling down to keep pressure on, just as she had been taught. She alternately palmed the spool rim of the single action reel when the fish would take off on a long run, applying just the right amount of pressure, and, just as expertly, shifted instantly to reeling madly when if made 180 degree turn-and-dash back toward the boat. She looked like she had been fighting big fish all her life, and she was acing her final exam in the most advanced graduate course of salmon fishing on the planet - traditional motor mooching for chinook salmon with cut plug herring.
Ruth Lawrence made the trip from Cool, Calif., to catch this Rivers Inlet chinook.
Me? I was flunking and about to get kicked out of net school. I had netted the chinook on my first try, but admiring my handiwork instead of paying attention to the task at hand, closing the bag and lifting the fish into the boat. It seized its window of opportunity, arching its body and springing up and out back into the water. In my defense - weak as it is - closing the net wasn't all that easy since the fish had nearly filled it. Now, I was dealing with the banana weight tangled on the net as the fish trashed alongside the boat. I had only the briefest of moments to clear the line before Ruth's fish of a lifetime would be gone. And, that is when she uttered those murderous words.
They say that memorable experiences, like catching giant salmon, takes some effort. Just traveling to Rivers Inlet qualifies in that regard, but in a most enjoyable way. However, getting there is only a first step.
We had flown into Vancouver, then jumped aboard a turboprop plane that took us to Port Hardy on the northeast corner of Vancouver Island. Our final hop was a 45-minute flight by float plane across the Inland Passage. It has a shoreline wrinkled on both sides by deep fjords that appear from above like the swath taken out of a jigsaw puzzle, leaving a sprinkling of irregularly shaped emerald-green pieces behind.
Your ride might be in a sturdy DeHavilland Beaver, which looks like it would be as at home in the Smithsonian as it still does skimming the waves after more than 60 years. Or, it might be the equally vintage twin-engine Grumman Goose in which we glided up to the dock delivering us within a few feet of the dining hall, straight ahead, and our sleeping quarters, a bit to the right. The buildings nestle against the impenetrable forest from which the rich woods used in constructing the lodge were hewn. And, although floating, Legacy Lodge is anchored as solidly as the trees on the rocky shore.
Co-owner and operator Mick Heath, Legacy's general manager Johanna Tormata, and the staff greeted us and took our gear to our rooms. We were provided excellent equipment, from the custom-designed Scout boats, right down to the fitted rain gear and boots. We were pampered and fed gourmet meals throughout our stay.
But, the coddling ends when the fishing begins. There would be no sitting back while someone else rigs the bait, runs the boat, and hands us the rod after hooking a fish for us. We were going to learn to fish the way the devotees of traditional salmon fishing methods believe is the only way to fish for salmon.
So, after getting settled, we were given our first indoctrination into the fine art of motor mooching with cut plug herring, by master fisherman, Ryan McLaren.