After the disaster of Arizona it was time to recover and enjoy some time off. Unfortunately my crash meant the majority of my off season was spent recovering rather than doing other activities. However, I wasn’t going to let a sore hip and shoulder stop me from fly fishing.
While triathlon takes up most my time fishing is probably an even greater passion. If I had to do any activity on a given day it would always be a days fly fishing on a remote river. Training doesn’t allow me as much fishing as I would like but I squeeze it when I can.
I had been out a few times this year with Alistair but with no success. He was keen for his fishing license fee not to be a donation so we decided to invest in a guide and Oli was convinced to join us. I am a massive believer of guides when fishing new water. While they are expensive, you know you’re fishing the right areas, with the right technique and the right gear. To top this off they are the friendliest most down to earth people.
After some research I settled on Chromer Sport Fishing as they had the best reviews and we would be targeting Coho and Chum salmon on the Squamish river. All fishing on the Squamish is catch and release which I am a big supporter of. It’s always nice to take a fish home for the pot but it’s not why I go fishing.
Like with all fun things the day started well before sunrise as we were meeting the guide at 7am. As we met Austin, our guide, it was still dark and cold, 1 degree. We sorted our waders and gear before making our way out to the river.
We walked about 10 minutes up river before heading down to the river bed. The water level was low, however, at full flow this would be a serious river!
As we emerged from the trees there was a lynx walking up the river. He took one look and slipped off silently in to the bushes. I’ve never seen a lynx before so this was very cool and another species ticked off. One of my favourite things about fishing is the nature and wildlife you encounter so this was a great start.
We set up camp on a beautiful stretch of river looking up to the mountains. It was finally starting to get light, revealing the most stunning morning. On the downside it bitterly cold to the extent that the water along the edge of the river was frozen. It added to the experience and highlighted how soon we will be skiing!
As Austin set up the rods we spotted a couple of seals in the river. This came as a surpise as we were a few miles up river but apparently it’s common and they follow the salmon up the river.
I was using my own gear so Austin got Alistair and Oli set up and went over the basics of casting. Once they were set he checked my gear but while tying the fly on we were interrupted as Oli had a take. Unfortunately he couldn’t get the tension and it came off.
As Austin and I waded out he gave me a quick demonstration because I knew my Spey casting would be rusty. First cast I was informed I was doing a single spey. Second cast I had a take. Unfortunately, I was too focused on my casting and therefore not ready. I panicked and couldn’t get it on to the reel and it escaped.
As the river is catch and release you have to use barbless hooks which makes it so much harder. Any slack at all, or a jump, and they can just spit the hook out.
I needed to be more switched on!
The sun finally came over the trees and offered us a little warmth but it was still freezing, especially for the feet! Austin gave me some tips for the double spey cast. I remembered it fairly quickly, but it’s hard when you use it so rarely. The double spey just makes throwing the line out effortless (when you get it right).
It was so easy to just relax and enjoy the process and scenery. Stunning views both up and down the river with endless wildlife: Bald Eagles, Seals and the occasional fish jumping.
Another take! This time I was ready!
Instantly I could feel the power of the fish as it took off down river. My Hardy Marquis reel has a limited drag so I had to palm the reel to try and control the fish. (Palming the reel is using your palm as a drag but staying clear of the reel or you will lose your fingers!).
The fish was not giving an inch and taking plenty so I had to start walking down river. This was a tricky as I couldnt see the boulders in the river and had to focus on keeping the line tight. Very quickly my arm was exhausted and it turned in to a physical test.
After a long fight and a trip down the river I managed to bring the fish in to the bank. A couple of failed netting attempts but eventually he was safely ashore. Come on!!
It turned it was foul hooked which Austin mentioned is very unusual given the technique used but it must have just missed the fly. This was also why it had been such hard work as it turned the fish side on with the river pushing it downstream.
A beautiful 10lb chum that after a quick photo and some breathing support was happily returned.
After a quick break I got straight back to it.
The seals were never far away and one came cruising past and moved on up river which was shortly followed by ‘I’ve caught a seal’!!
This seemed very unlikley and initially Austin wasn’t convinced but Alistair was losing line quickly even if the seal didn’t look at all bothered. Austin took over as he didn’t want to lose his gear and managed to lose the seal who we weren’t even sure noticed. I’ve never heard of this before, birds and bats yes, but seals no! The benefit of using barbless hooks!!
As the morning wore on I had another strong take and again this fish ran hard before disappearing down river. It was larger than the first and stripped my reel all the way to the backing. It eventually jumped, well off to the side of my line, and spat the hook out. When such powerful fish take so much line it’s so hard to keep the tension on. On top of this the barbless hooks were making it a real struggle.
We moved slightly further down the beat and Oli finally got a take. After a short fight he hand landed a Chinook.
I was a bit confused as it should have been a longer fight, but it turned out it was a juvenile Chinook. This means the fish runs before it’s matured and so will run and die without spawning. But a fish is a fish! They can be slippery though..
People travel round the world to catch Chinook salmon so for this to be Oli’s first fish on a fly is awesome.
The next fish we saw was in the mouth of a seal cruising down the river. He definitely wasn’t following the catch and release rules but a great catch nonetheless!
Alistair then had a take but it came straight off.
Not long after he had another take and this one stuck. Similar to my two it disappeared off down the river and he had to start walking down the river. After a long fight it was still running strong and jumping and finally managed to spit the hook. So frustrating!
He had the same challenge of keeping the tension with so much line out, any slack and they are gone. This was by far the hardest conversion of hooked to landing fish I’d experienced. Usually once a fish is on the hard part is done, but not here!!
Oli then had another take but the fish were winning.
I considered this a very eventful morning’s Salmon fishing. Having done weeks without a take, this much action in a morning was exciting. Unfortunately the river then began to quieten and there were to be no more takes.
For the last hour we moved to a different location but with no change to our fortunes.
That brought an end to a hard day on the river. I loved it but Alistair and Oli weren’t convinced. I think they had higher expectations of guided fishing but unfortunately that’s not how salmon fishing works. I love the experience and focus on the process and the time in nature, if you catch a fish thats a bonus but that can’t be the only goal as I rarely do.
In my opinion the key to enjoying salmon fishing is being the ultimate optimist. While the last 2000 casts may not have a caught a fish, you have to be sure the next one will!! If you struggle with that I would recommend another hobby!!
As always I absolutely loved my day on the river. I really wish I could do more but the lack of a car and guides being expensive means I just have to take the opportunities when they come. There is some spectacular fishing in British Columbia and I will slowly get to it!
Tough days on the river are never going to change my view that a day wading/fishing in the wilderness is where I am probably happiest. Today I was lucky with my fish but that’s not what the day is about!