In between my guide, Pat Beahan, shouting â€˜hey bearâ€™ and encouraging me to do the same, we talked kit. It was double Dutch. Skagit? No I hadnâ€™t brought a Skagit rod. I had brought a very nice 11â€™3 Loop double hander, thank you very much, and some shooting heads. Skagit is essentially relying on a very short floating piece of fly line, followed by a comparatively long and very dense sink tip. This facilitates a much easier line â€˜pick upâ€™ than traditional sinking lines, and also hits the depths more quickly. Casting is rather like flicking spaghetti at a sibling (as I remember it, anyway.)
I figured out that if I turned the shooting heads round, it was almost the right thing, the thickness of the wrong end being able to turn over the sink tip and waterlogged fly. Attached to the wrong end of the slow sink shooting head was then a 15ft or 20ft very high density sinking tip, I canâ€™t remember the rating exactly. This set up did me well through the entire trip.
Steelhead fishing in the cold is predicated on the very slow presentation of unweighted single hook, barbless flies, nearly always with the hook attached a distance from the fly on a piece of braid. Slow walking pace is the fastest that you should be fishing a fly for steelhead they tell me.
So how is it done? A fairly square cast, mend it and then mend it again. At this point the rod is held as high as possible. Another mend, by which time the rod canâ€™t go any higher. The line is then slotted into the path of the fly, facilitating by lowering the rod tip at the same speed as the line is travelling.
Two things crossed my mind; why use such a short rod (skagit rods are typically 12â€™6 foot or so), and why on earth hadnâ€™t I tried this for salmon? I then considered that a)â€™high stickingâ€™ with a much longer rod would be physically demanding and b)Iâ€™m not really sure, but should this be perfect for tempting spring salmon chilled down to low levels of activity.
That first day was incredible. Led to a river, the Squamish, which was like nothing Iâ€™d ever seen before. We crossed burns left right and centre, nearly got run off the road by a logging truck (not very effective brakes usually, and we were using their tracks), and ended up somewhere I would never be able to find again.
I think I caught something like 7 bull trout (or Dolly Varden) that day. The biggest was up there over 5lbs Iâ€™m sure. I bettered it later in the week nearly hitting 10lbs. These fish are totally awesome, a kind of slob trout that is actually a char, which via the sea, wanders up random rivers hoovering up smaller fish. I remember well how cold it was too. I wasnâ€™t sure if I actually contacted with a steelhead that Iâ€™d be able to operate the reel. Pat reassured me that heâ€™d play the fish if that was a problem.
These Dollys have giant mouths, and really put up a great fight. Although they are a by catch, they are very definitely welcome. Iâ€™m not sure Iâ€™d want to eat one, but fortunately with the exception of the pink salmon run (which happens every other year, for your interest) Canada is catch and release for wild fish. They do a kind of ranching of steelhead on some rivers, I think releasing smolts. These are marked by removing the adipose or some similar method, and certainly at the time I was there these could be kept.
I was clearly doing something right and the fly was fishing well. Pat quite philosophically mused we could do nothing more, the rest was in the laps of the fishing Gods.
Towards the end of the day, we ventured towards the lower parts of the river. It is here that the Squamish and Chekamus merge and somewhere between where we had been fishing, there was some dirty run off coming in. The river here is wide, and of the sort you could imagine John Wayne driving his herd of Hereford cattle through with him following on horseback!
Getting there was one particularly ominous looking pile of bear poo. Black bear apparently, so not so likely to eat us for lunch. But Iâ€™m told they do get mildly annoyed if you surprise them, and they have very bad eyesight. Not overly encouraging.
The river here was fishable in part, at least where the Chekamus ran in. I couldnâ€™t read it for my life, it was too wide, but Pat knew a couple of lies which I memorised. No bumps or nips here and the day ran to a close. I would usually fish on long after, but I was cold and needed a hot shower and food back at the dormitory.
As I washed away the icicles from my extremities, I realised there was something about the day that hadnâ€™t registered, by virtue of its non existence â€“ fishing pressure. We hadnâ€™t bumped into another fisher all day, and had certainly fished some prime steelhead water, with at least as good a chance of catching as there would have been on the Scottish Dee during the spring. It wasnâ€™t because fishermen were fishing other beats as these rivers arenâ€™t beat restricted.
On the drive to Whistler from Vancouver, I knew I would love it here, with a bucket of coffee in the Jeep cup holder, we passed a small lake by the side of the road. In the lake was a fisher in a float tube playing a fish on a fly rod. That sign said to me â€œwelcome to Canada Mr Church, you are gonna love it hereâ€.