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A Piece Of Paradise - The Skagit River

By Hugh Partridge, 🕔Mon, Mar 21st, 2011


My brother Charles and I have had a long history of fishing together--25 years to be precise. Through the passage of time, as life would have it, our paths diverged, and the time spent together was less frequent. We still see each other, and most often these reunions are spent fishing. This, after all, was how we got to know one another in the first place.

I always thought that I was a better angler than Charles. I guided for ten years, and was able to pass onto to him techniques that would take others a lifetime to master.

In my ignorance, I realized I was wrong about my attitudes toward angling. It was through his invitation to fish the Skagit River that I realized I had mistook his knowledge of angling, for his turned out to be greater than mine.

My angling roots have always been in saltwater angling, and still are. Nothing to me is more exhilarating than the power of a large Chinook salmon tearing out line at speeds unimaginable. Charles' roots are somewhat different in that he is foremost a purist, and contests that bait fishing is not really fishing. Stubborn in our own angling pursuits, we rarely fished together for many years until he finally convinced me to take up fly-fishing.

I was instantly hooked. Fly-fishing became my greatest angling challenge ever. I struggled in my first attempts, but soon gathered the knowledge and experience necessary to outperform any previous attempts I had made with spinners, plugs or bait. Charles took note of my interest, and we soon began to fish together once again.

He was now my older brother and my mentor. He mentioned to me casually one day while fly-fishing for rainbow trout in the interior of British Columbia, "There is still one thing you need to learn--that is dry fly-fishing". Having caught 95 percent of my fish on wet flies, I was only partially listening. "You should come with me to the Skagit", he said. "There is some great dry fly-fishing there", he added. "How big are the fish?", I questioned. He responded modestly "10 to 12 inches".

I must admit the size of fish didn't really compel me whatsoever. But I thought that the knowledge would be useful for future fishing trips, so I took him up on his offer.

It was late August when we turned right to Manning Park from Highway 3 to Hope, where the Skagit is found. Not far from Vancouver, the river was quite accessible. I soon realized while driving up to the Skagit, that this area was probably the most beautiful and pristine area of British Columbia I have ever encountered.

The small winding river called the Skagit is awe inspiring. Views of mountain peaks and glaciers amidst majestic firs, makes it look almost surreal. Now a Provincial Park, the Skagit Valley almost met its fate many years ago, that is until a surveyor for the logging company wishing to log the area refused to log it because of its beauty. Resulting from this bold surveyor's stand, it was designated as one of the first Provincial Parks ever.

We began fishing almost instantly upon arrival. Armed with my 5 weight fly rod, 3 pound tippet and #14 Adams dry fly, I was ready. We waded to the first set of riffles. "Here" my brother said, "you fish this run". On my first cast, I let the fly pass over the riffles he had pointed out. Instantly, a fish took the fly down and I was into the fish, hard. I quickly landed and released the colorful rainbow of about 10 inches. "Excellent", I exclaimed. "Now it is your turn", I added.

I watched my brother land three more fish of about the same size, back to back. His technique was methodical and polished. By the time he had caught and released the third fish, he motioned to me and said "Time to move on to the next run, this one is done for now".

Funny, I didn't question his desire to move. I knew then that he was in his element now, and I was out of mine. We traveled upstream for half an hour before finally reaching another fishable stretch of water. I didn't mind the hike one bit, since the scenery was spectacular. We fished this next hole with very modest results, one fish of about 8 inches.

After fishing three more runs, I questioned my skills--something most anglers do when things get slow. "Don't get discouraged", Charles said, knowing exactly what I was thinking. "We just need to find them, that's all."

We hiked for what seemed close to 2 hours, fishing intermittently and landing the odd trout. Then it happened. We were fishing a large set of riffles that flowed into a deep section of water where the rainbows were holding under the cover of fallen trees. I watched my brother land three nice rainbows of about 10 to 12 inches before letting me have a go at the run.

My fly was met with instant success as I watched a feisty rainbow boil to the small Adams fly that skittered on the surface of the water.

About 12 inches, I was pleasantly impressed by the rainbow trout I had just released. Three subsequent casts into rising rainbows, resulted in three other healthy trout of equal size. "So this is what it is all about", I said with a giant grin. Having made my trip, I casually waded away from the riffle to allow my brother another shot at this special run.

We caught approximately 14 fish in that one run alone. It was by far the fastest rainbow trout fishing I had ever witnessed. To watch these fish rise to the dry fly was incredible. I will never forget this stretch of water, nor this day's fishing.

I learned a lesson that day, I will never forget. Sometimes, it is not the size of the fish that matters, so much as the experience that surrounds catching them. To have fished spectacular waters found while dry fly-fishing on the Skagit River in British Columbia, makes me more a complete angler. It was this small but critical lesson in fishing that my brother taught me that special day. It was a cognitive lesson, since it taught me to understand that catching fish is only half of it.

Thank-you Charles, for making me learn it the hard way.

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