Easy in the Islands
The day's roll-call of anglers, two per craft, form a convoy as they head out to the most productive salmon grounds. When the weather gets more than a little clammy (as shown here), a lodge guide boat leads the way.
"It's not about the fishing," says Mick Heath. Then he pauses and circles back around in the conversation. "Well, of course, everything up here is about the fishing. But what I mean is that a trip to Rivers Inlet is about more than that, way more than that."
Indeed, all angling excursions - whether taken to waters within a tank-of-gas from one's doorstep or to more far-flung and unfamiliar realms - are inevitably about more than the simple compulsion to bag a fish or two. The act of angling, especially big-game angling, goes to a deeper place than that. It goes somewhere into the dark recesses of our very psychic and instinctual core, if not our (disputed) primeval, reptilian past.
But before Heath can elaborate on the romantic niceties surrounding a trip to Legacy Lodge, a Coho salmon rudely interrupts the discourse. First the stern starboard rod begins convulsing, its tip jabbing spasmodically into the brine. Then one of the portside rods follows suit. And before you know it, all hell is breaking loose on the Double Elle (named after Mick's two daughters and the initials for the lodge).
Whereas only moments ago we were sedately, almost sleepily, gliding along on polished tourmaline seas amid forest-shrouded isles in a remote corner of south coastal B.C., the scene had now become one of semi-orchestrated chaos and adrenaline-sloshed confusion. Panoramic splendor had given way to the blur of pandemonium, not to mention the spontaneous outburst of cackling and cursing, which from a safe distance across the water no doubt sounded like a pack of jackals converging on a crippled wildebeest.
That's salmon fishing for you.
Heath admits to being an incurable romantic, a dreamer and, yes, something of an iconoclast. When he wasn't intensely immersed in entrepreneurial adventures - including a string of gourmet coffee outlets in Phoenix, Arizona - Heath prowled the West Coast in search of salmon. After spending more than 20 years scoping out every saltwater nook and cranny from Oregon to Alaska, Heath found what he was looking for along the intensely rugged, glacially sculpted outlands of coastal British Columbia. He felt an immediate and irresistible attraction to (actually, "love" would not be too strong a word) Rivers Inlet. Here was a place that offered not only unrivalled fishing in protected "inside" waters, but also an unblemished wilderness setting almost totally devoid of development-a place trafficked by eagles, salmon, whales and bears...rather than land sharks from New Jersey.
Just getting there has got to be considered a quaint operation in and of itself, a veritable blast from the past. To get to the secluded loch where the lodge lies anchored and tethered, you must take progressively smaller and smaller aircraft: first a commercial airliner to Vancouver; then a turbo-prop commuter (or ferry) to Port Hardy; and, finally, a vintage Grumman Goose, which, like a big metal bathtub with wings, trudges in for a belly-flop landing in the liquid front-yard of the lodge.
Legacy Lodge consists of four separate buildings, plus an icehouse/fish-processing station, each mounted on its own floating foundation. All of these structures are lashed together to form a cohesive unit, moored in a serene-one could say "elfin"-saltwater alcove, against the lush, emerald-green backdrop of an impenetrable forest. Erecting an upscale resort on dry land is one thing, to do the same upon the temperamental and ever-vacillating sea (no matter how snug the harbor) is quite another. When I asked about the obvious expense and logistical headaches involved in such an enterprise, Heath flashes a grin and confides: "You know how to make a small fortune?" ( Pausing here for the drum-beat.) "Start with a large fortune."
The heart of Heath's vision, indeed, the very thinking behind the lodge's name, stems from a messianic zeal to share in the raw elegance, the pastoral power, of catching salmon in this place and, furthermore, doing it the old-fashioned way: by hook-line-and-herring. As a staunch advocate of mooching, Heath adheres to the utter simplicity and effectiveness of the methods traditionally used in these waters. Upon arrival at the lodge each and every client receives an orientation on the fine art of slaying salmon, plus the proper armament: light, willowy, 10 1/2-foot Lamiglas rods, uncomplicated direct-drive, double-handled Daiwa reels (affectionately referred to as "knuckle busters") and step-by-step instructions for threading herring onto trailer-rigged hooks (more on this later).
An excursion to the saltwater reaches of Legacy Lodge grants one a portal to the past and an (all-too-brief) engagement with the rural marine way of life. Translation: You bait your own hooks. Land your own salmon. And go away from here with your own sweet, deeply etched memories.