EXPEDITION TO THE BENIGN: PART ONE

Discussion in 'Freshwater Fishing Forum' started by Sharphooks, May 17, 2017.

  1. Sharphooks

    Sharphooks Well-Known Member

    Not sure how things looked for you guys but I had a brutal winter--- worked way too hard, took way too much financial risk, spent too many evenings tossing and turning in bed, wondering whether I’d be able to cover financial obligations.


    By early ApriI I felt like I’d been ridden hard and put away wet---totally missed winter steelheading on my home waters, missed a lot of things. Only one thing left I could do to turn the channel and get back to some sort of psychic equilibrium---take a long trip north to the Promised Land and try and claw back my steelhead season. Most of all, I knew I needed a wilderness experience---no people, just me, trees and a river. And maybe some fish



    Seeing this out the window of the jet got the blood pumping



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    ]



    Good news----All the stuff I’d shipped north a week before was waiting for me at air cargo. That’s always the sweaty palm part of the trip---one year my inflatable raft got shipped to Florida...



    Got my ride to the river with all my gear, sun was shining, all was right with the world--- I was able to get everything set up and stay dry---in that country, dry is never a guaranteed proposition.



    Get to my favorite bend in the river and just had to stop for this photo opp:


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    So with that out of the way I string my rods together and step into the river and.......WTF? Immediate soaked foot! Hole in the boot from last year that I didn’t notice when inspecting the boots prior to the trip---that’s what happens when you miss your winter steelhead season and work too hard---your gear goes to hell and guaranteed, it will do so at the worst possible time. Hypothermia in this part of the world is waiting for you around every bend in the river....



    My first thought---is this a scary portent of how the rest of the trip is going to go????


    Taking advantage of what turned out to be the only sunny day of the trip allowed me the dry time to pull off to the side of the river and get the hole patched...if it had been raining, well, we don’t want to go there, not on the first day of a six day trip.


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    Stepped back into the river with a dry foot, caught a few dark winter hold-overs just to prove to myself I still knew how to do that, then made camp.

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    So in my tent, flat on the ground, I was having a dream that I was driving a very expensive sports car (not mine) down a very steep staircase. Bump, bump, bump went the tires as I inched my way towards the bottom. Then one really steep drop to the ground off the last stair. I got to that point, sweaty hands gripping the steering wheel and then, all of a sudden, panic attack. All hell broke loose. I bolted up out of my sleeping bag ---the ground beneath me was writhing like a snake

    I unzip the front flap of the tent, peer above me, and there, up against a purple bruise of a dawn sky , I see the entire canopy of spruce and hemlocks swaying back and forth like seaweed in a tide pool (with zero breeze going on...‎) WOW!

    I slither out of my bag, fire up the stove for coffee, and wonder if I’d just had a catastrophic dream--

    So at 6 Am I’m in my humpty-dumpty suit, waist deep in the water, trying to rip a lip when all of a sudden the river rocks beneath my feet start undulating, as if a giant hand was trying to shake a carpet. I look at the trees across the river---they’re swaying back and forth again, huge arcs in the brightening sky—now I know what’s up---earthquake!


    I didn’t know whether to be ecstatic or bend over and kiss my arse goodbye. And I chuckled ruefully---before leaving, to quiet down my girlfriend who said she worried about me when I take these trips, I’d reassured her that where I was going it would be totally BENIGN--- the grizzlies eat out of my hand, the river was limited to Class III rapids so how could I possible wrap myself around a log jam and drown, and as everyone knows, I was an expert planner and could cover any sketchy situation that came my way….ha ha….so far, soaked waders and two huge temblors. What could possibly happen next in such a benign place?

    So that night, the sky opens up like someone slashed its belly with a huge scimitar. Which made perfect sense---when it turns out that we really do NOT comport ourselves through a benign universe, once the earth opens and tries to swallow you, it logically follows that the sky will open up above your pointy head and try and drown you-----HUGE storm in from the GOA, 30 knts winds, side-ways rain the size of silver dollars, trees coming down everywhere. Mass mayhem!

    It was too dangerous to be on the river---not only could I hear trees coming down---(no doubt they were also going in and across the river) but I also could see logs going downstream - ---the river was rising and sucking them off what had been dry beaches yesterday


    So not much left to do but unload the gear from the raft, pull it as high as I could off the river bank, lash it down then have a drink or two waiting for the rain to stop so I could set up the tent… By 9 PM, sitting forlornly on a log nursing my third glass of wine I realized it just wasn't going to happen. I had to make a move and do the tent thing before it got dark
    and the rain just was not going to stop


    So, first time in my forty odd year career of wilderness camping I was forced by circumstance to set up my tent in an absolute stone-cold monsoon with zero cover----yes, I had a canopy of trees above me but when it’s blowing a steady 30 with gusts to 40 the rain stacks up in the canopy then comes down in buckets (mixed with moss and branches) on the bigger gusts

    Everything got soaked. Everything. My favorite moment--- waking up at 2 am shivering in a wet sleeping bag, turning on a flashlight, and seeing 1/4 " of standing water on the floor of my tent-- inflatable mattress--soaked...sleeping bag....soaked....coat....soaked. And it was only the second night of a 6 day trip---I lay there, another rueful smile twisting my shivering lips….don’t worry, honey…it’s totally BENIGN up there on that river….I’ll be just fine!

    At 4 am, when I’m usually firing up coffee, pulling apart the tent and loading the raft to launch downstream to find another dream hole I took stock of my situation ---the weather?---no change. Howling wind, trees continuing to come down, intermittent hail the size of marbles‎....not a good time to be on the river in a very small totally over-loaded raft.

    And once it got light enough to see I checked out the river---it had come up a foot over night. Logs were hurtling off downstream past my camp site as the current picked up ----the river had gone from a limpid clear to a pea-soup green. I knew from experience that with just a bit more water it would turn a choco-brown once the clay banks upstream started their mournful weeping into the water…


    When faced with a world of possibilities, I decided that sometimes it's better to do nothing...
     
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2017
    SFBC, Wild Bill, bigdogeh and 2 others like this.
  2. Sharphooks

    Sharphooks Well-Known Member

    PART II: LIKE A BIRD ON A WIRE


    So...short story long, pounding rain, reigning hail, howling wind and falling trees for three straight days---no choice but to stay put in that site --- I'd never done that before...

    The wind brought in another squall of hail---huge chunks of ice from the sky---it was like the end of the world!

    I went down to the river and after planting a stick at the river's edge, saw it was still rising. I started to feel a bit crest-fallen---- we all know steelhead don't bite on a rising river, right?

    They get lockjaw---that’s pretty much been my experience over the years----so what was I going to do for 3 days if I couldn't fish?

    I started fishing with zero confidence.

    But....Lordy Lordy....what’s all this then????

    By 10 AM I was already in to double digits. Fish after fish after fish. What must have been an absolute HUGE push had come up from tide water on the rising river---- a veritable stampede of chrome slithering by my feet that just would not quit. It was stunning how long the push lasted and at first glance, seemed to be a grandiose diversion put on by God just for me.

    Dude, you got the wet foot your first day and the Big Shake the second day and the wet bag and the wet tent last night but today, you get a taste of my splendor for all your troubles....

    And I never saw a soul---those sucky conditions scared everybody away. My oh my, I couldn't believe my good fortune.

    It was one of those deals where if you got a take-down and missed it, you just left the gear in the water and another behind would grab it. I even let my gear wallow in dead water at the end of each drift and something would come along and take me down. And they were all stunners--- 10 to 12 pounds, black back and glistening white tummies, hung with lice like Christmas trees

    [​IMG]


    What was really bizarre--the "hole" I was fishing was really just a wide open flat with pea gravel and (thank you once again for my good fortune, Lord) ---ZERO snags--clean as a baby's pink butt. With the increased flow, the fish felt safe hanging on the bubble line under maybe 4 feet of water and they were just as bitey as I’ve ever seen these fish despite having no cover---nothing like a bit of color in the water to promote that false sense of safety to a fish

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    I used the same fly and same bottom bounce gear all day----- never broke off, just fish after fish after fish--it was cray


    So, after way too much of a good thing going on, a little dude tapped me on the shoulder and said: Hey! Enough! You're turning in to a numbers guy---numbers guys are idiots ---nobody likes a numbers guy-----Stop!

    Some times I obey that guy. So, even though there were several more hours of daylight available and the fishing was ridiculously good, I stashed my rods in the trees and hiked back through the rainforest to my tent. I get to my favorite log, open my wine jug and as I bring the glass to my lips I immediately hear a huge crash---another tree just went down----no doubt, I think, a tree came down and just splintered my Loomis GL3 and my new Sage double fister--- benign universe...hah!


    I get all lit up on wine, sop up as much rain from the floor of my tent as I can (NEWSPAPER!!!!---NEVER go camping without NEWSPAPER!!). and try and get some sleep. Impossible---howling wind, trees crashing in the forest,I just KNOW that one of the benign ones is coming through the roof of my tent

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    Next morning I fire up the coffee and hike through the rainforest to my most favorite river...cool, there are my rods‎, still in one piece. I pick them up and I'm rubbing my flippers with glee--river came up even more and even though I got zero sleep I just knew it would be the killing floor all over again on that hole


    I get to where I had my rapture the day before and I have a moment of complete disorientation……wtf??? The huge crash I heard last night when I got off the river?

    It was a 100 ft spruce tree that came down exactly where I'd been standing when fishing that pea gravel honey-hole a few hours ago ... not only did it totally ruin the hole but it would've landed square on my head if that dude hadn’t tapped me on the shoulder and brow-beat me into getting off the river. Hugely propitious that I listened to him.....

    I'm not making this up---that tree would have flattened me for sure.


    So there's an approx 10 foot spot above the tip of the spruce that's still open. But a tree across the river just above makes it a kamikaze cast for sure.


    But I'm thinking to myself---wow……I can be the first fisherman to lose a fly in this tree.....I know for a fact that nobody else has seen this tree before and I'm going to lob my fly out into one of its branches...


    I take a cast with that Sage1 rod and not only do I not hang it in the tree but I feel a definite pluck after the fly travels a few feet. No doubt, something is lurking just off the tip of the spruce that tried to kill me. Fasten seat belts….brace yourself….I'm stepping on that third rail for sure……I repeat the cast and boom, huge take-down----I almost have the rod taken out of my hands---chromer up from the salt using that new brand new downed spruce for cover--immediately it's 3 feet in the air with my fly in her mouth. Oh what a sweet feeling---first cast of the ‘morn and I'm fast to a fish…..


    Each year there's always one fish that I remember from this trip-------that was the fish. Of course I lost it but not before I got to hear my Hardy shriek in agony 4 or 5 times and see her very fine chrome hard-body get pasted across the morning sky like a glorious banner


    So the last day I break camp and row like crazy to get to tide water so I can fish and still catch my plane---no people, no jet boats and ......what's all this----no fish.....none!!! Never seen the lower river so sparse.

    And then it struck me what was going on.


    They had all come up on that bump in flow and nothing was coming up behind them now that the river had calmed back down

    Getting my tent soaked, thinking it was the end of the world and being forced by circumstance to stay put in one spot for 3 days had absolutely been the right thing to do ---that move had made the trip. If I’d done my normal thing and booted downstream to tidewater (which had been my original plan) I would have gotten blanked……. Funny how that works...

    And one of the best parts of staying put in the rainforest--– I made a really good friend. His (or her) constant presence was amazing to help repair my sense of dignity and well-being after that first night of rain and wind had soaked my sleeping bag and all my gear, especially knowing I’d have to get back into that wet tent and bag for two more nights

    Here she was picking up Cheerios I spread out on the ground


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    Here she was just a few feet away from me getting all puffed with vanity after I told her what a glorious specimen she was

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    Got a new camera for the trip…. never could have gotten that shot with my old camera. That same bird hung with me for 3 days in that camp site. I had him eating nuts and raisins out of my hand. He'd even fly to the river with me and watch me fish, then fly with me back through the rainforest to my tent site...it was sad leaving him behind on the last morning.
    We became river homies for sure.

    I even got a bit weepy when he started chirping and flying in circles around my head when I pushed off the bank in my raft to make my final departure downstream

    Birds----you gotta love them. Definitely one of my favorite
    pieces of furniture to see on the river

    But then again, getting inside the soul of a bird is good tonic for the soul.
    There’s nothing like feeling a bit smaller and more vulnerable when living under an angry sky...like a bird


    Puts everything else in proper perspective when the going gets tough, especially in what I was reminded yet once again is really not such a benign universe after all.....


    My guess is birds don't need to learn that lesson every day the way we do
     
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2017
  3. Chasin' Dreams

    Chasin' Dreams Well-Known Member

    Wonderful detailed story and pictures of your adventure. Thank you very much for sharing. Made me smile and brightened my day. Felt like I was there with you. My first passion in fishing has always been steelheading. Have traveled all over BC chasing them but haven't been for a few years now. You brought back so many great memories. And times like that that you had with the storm, wet tent etc are what makes the trips memorable. The icing on the cake are the creatures you get to share time with and the beautiful fish you get to encounter. Nothing else quite like watching a steelhead slurp a fly off the water.

    Hope the trip got you centered again and brought peace to your soul after the tough winter you mentioned you had. Mother nature has a way of letting us gather ourselves again doesn't she.

    We are very blessed to live on acreage with an old growth forest on our property. When I get stressed about anything and can't sleep at night I wonder off into the forest as my family sleeps soundly in the house. I find an old dead fall tree and just sit there sometimes for an hour or so. Every sound in the forest is so amplified at night with no other sounds except for those from creatures or the wind or the trees. When I go back to the house I feel much more at peace and clear headed. The same kind of healing I get from going on fishing trips and spending time with nature.
     
    bigdogeh and seascene like this.
  4. Dave

    Dave Well-Known Member

    Nice, very nice Sharphooks! You have a knack of storytelling that is wonderful to read.
     
    Chasin' Dreams likes this.
  5. Admin

    Admin Admin Staff Member

    You've done it again Sharphooks. Brilliant!....and thank you.
     
  6. Hyde-N-Seek

    Hyde-N-Seek Member

    Sharphooks,
    Thank you for sharing your annual adventure. Always looking forward to it. Really enjoyed your old school story telling. You don't see much these days on the forum. Feel like most fishing reports these days are like Macdonald fast food, just lots junks. Yours are like a sit down gourmet meal, takes time to appreciate it.

    Thank you.
     
    hambone likes this.
  7. Derby

    Derby Well-Known Member

    Thank u again for sharing this year adventure..seems it was a adventure.....
     
  8. Fishtofino

    Fishtofino Well-Known Member

    Awesome writing! Thanks for the entertainment :)
     
  9. wishiniwasfishin1

    wishiniwasfishin1 Well-Known Member

    Hey Shaphooks,
    Great story. Just curious - how did you manage to get your gear dried out? Were you able to get a fire going?
     
  10. finaddict

    finaddict Well-Known Member

    Great story SH. Thanks for sharing. I think there are many of us who feel that the last 8 month shave been brutal. Too much work, too many "priorities" that remove us from what is truly important and erode our souls.
     
  11. Sharphooks

    Sharphooks Well-Known Member

    Thanks, Gents---appreciate the comments. When I got home I was a bit shell-shocked---writing it out and posting gave me a chance to re-collect my thoughts

    Getting the gear dried out: NEWSPAPER---I'm old school and fish in boot-foot neoprene waders. The boots get moist and skanky so I always carry newspaper---crumple up the sheets, stuff the boots, and it wicks out moisture.

    This trip I decided to live with wet boots and saved the newspaper to suck water out of the tent---a way more critical chore.

    You can see in one of the pics above I have sheets of newspaper drying on a tent pole. You can also see newspaper pasted to the floor of the tent---the third night I actually slept almost dry---never saw the sun for 5 of the 6 days, just pounding rain

    10 years ago, that rain would have been snow
     
    wishiniwasfishin1 likes this.
  12. Birdbrain

    Birdbrain Member

    Thanks for sharing your excellent writing talents. I felt like I was right there!
     
  13. Matsutake

    Matsutake Member

    Thanks for this. Would love to know the river transport logistics that went into this. What a great trip (but wet) experience.
     
  14. Chasin' Dreams

    Chasin' Dreams Well-Known Member

    We used to do an annual trip every year up North BC to fish for Steelhead around the Skeena and it's tributaries as well as a few other rivers around the Lakelse area. We flew up with our gear a couple times but after having some of my luggage get mis-routed (like what happened to Sharphooks) to another province which screwed up our trip we decided to drive up after that with all of our gear, a zodiac etc..There's a fair bit of logistics involved for sure. With our trips using the raft we would leave our vehicle up river then either get a cab from down below after our drift back up to our vehicle or pay an employee from a lodge to drive us back up. Sometimes we were in areas where we would need a 4x4 to get into our spots so we had to make sure whoever was gonna take us back up river would also have a 4x4 to get us back up to our put in spot. Sure miss those days. Lot's of fun and so many fish up there and the wildlife is amazing. We had one trip where we were drifting down the Kispiox and a large bull moose came sauntering out of the bush right in front of us and started crossing the river. He had no idea we were there but when he turned his head to look up river we were right there only about 30 feet away from him. It startled him big time and he started leaping across the run making a big spectacle of himself lol. When he got to the other side he stood there for a minute and looked back at us like wtf are those guys? lol. Also had a family of red foxes hang out with us for awhile on the skeena playing with each other and asking us for the lunch we were eating. Odd how friendly they were. And not to mention the bears lol..lot's of blacks and a few grizzly encounters too.

    Had a good friend almost lose his life in the rapids on the Kispiox one year too. Smashed up on a large boulder in the middle of the rapids and my friend got thrown half on the boulder with one of his legs still partially over the edge of the raft and one hand hanging on to the rope on the zodiac. One of the ores got sent flying into the river and was lost for good. He was wearing waders and water started filling them up as the white water was raging against his chest. It took all the strength of my friend and I to get him back on the boat. He wasn't wearing a belt that day and if he went completely in the water we would have lost him to the bottom of the river like a stone. Scared the shit out of us and that wasn't the end of our issues on that drift. Not having one of the ores made the rest of our drift nasty. We got pushed up on a log jam that also almost flipped us over. When we were through the rapid runs and the river fanned out to a calm tailout we got to shore, sat there for awhile and sipped back our thermos of baileys and coffee to ponder what we just went through. Great times and great memories were made with great friends.
     
    Hyde-N-Seek and salmonlander like this.
  15. Sharphooks

    Sharphooks Well-Known Member

    I think I know that rapid. I saw an older gent come around a corner from those rapids a few years ago using a branch for an oar---he'd flipped his raft and appeared hypothermic when he went by. Another guy flipped a pontoon boat in the same place and for a few years after his bad adventure I pick up piece after piece of several really nice Sage double handlers that dumped with him into the top of that staircase

    Stunning country up there.
     
    chipstealer likes this.
  16. Chasin' Dreams

    Chasin' Dreams Well-Known Member

    It was the set of rapids by the potato patch the locals called it. The river does an S bend there and there are boulders the size of volkswagon's scattered throughout the rapids. It's ripping section of the river for sure. I bet there's been lot's of accidents there. No matter how hard you can row you are at the mercy of the power of the water.
    I got to know Helmet that owned the Steelhead Kispiox Camp up there back then fairly well and he used to fill us in on how the fishing had been lately and where most of the moving fish had been when we went up there even though we had only stayed with them for two seasons up there. The other years we did our own camping/traveling to different rivers. They were great people. Used to invite us up for drinks and home made suppers and deserts his wife made. Man he could drink lol..But he had warned us of that section and actually told us to pull off the water before that section and walk around it but we miss judged which run we were at in reference to where the rapids were and when we came around the corner of the river it was too late. We tried to row hard to shore but couldn't make any head way at all. Very eye opening experience to say the least. The things we do to chase Steelhead!
     

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