Monday, January 18, 2010

Exploring: Isle of Steelhad

Helped a friend move to Quadra Island outside of Campbell River this weekend. Being the steelhead crazed, river lover that I am I couldnt be on Vancouver Island and not take the opportunity to check out a few Rivers I'd read about and dreamed of. We drove up Friday afternoon, unpacked and got her settled in to her new place and then early Saturday hit the road and headed to a famous brawler of a river on the rugged side of Island.

The River was somewhat like I'd imagined although looking at maps and a few pictures can't ever really do them justice. The River was half Sol Duc, half Sauk, all badass. Big, confined, and in a serious hurry to get to the Pacific. Its rivers like these that breed huge, chrome, rage filled fish which drive us all crazy and this particular stream has its share of lore and more than a few who call it home. It has big winter fish, as well as a smaller race of summer runs which return to one or two of the tributaries. Tucked into a steep walled valley surrounded by huge, snow covered, coastal peaks the river really has alot of power.

Exploring a river is always a tough way to get into fish. Find runs that haven't already been pounded by Jim and his 10 best friends can be tricky but going on advice from a friendly guy on the Ferry, a Vancouver Island map and a little bit of Mojo we managed to find some pretty decent water. The first day we checked out a likely looking area of the river and found a pair of nice pools unfortunately heavy rains a few days earlier meant the river was a day or two away from prime. Running a sort of tannic copper color with about 4 feet of visibility we might've found but the river is pretty confined and in high water getting the fly down was a tricky proposition. After those first two pools we opted to drive over a small coastal pass to another nearby river that'd we'd heard had a few steelhead.

Vancouver Island is littered with rivers. There are probably 250 pieces of water which go by the name "River" all of which support steelhead (at least historically). The East Coast of the Island inside the Georgia Basin has taken the hose pretty tough over the last few decades. Historic overharvest, intensive logging, environmental change in the Salish Sea and heinous fish farming have all contributed and today legendary rivers like the Oyster, Salmon and Nimpkish get only a handful of fish. Things are a little better on the storm battered westcoast. Logging has taken its share of watersheds and fish farms have decimated runs on the pristine rivers of Clayquot Sound, but alot of these little rivers are quietly supporting some pretty healthy populations of steelhead and salmon. The challenge is really finding a river large enough to warrant swinging flies where it doesnt feel like you're shooting fish in a barrel.

The little river we chose to explore fit the bill nicely. Probably about 500 cfs the day we fished it, it tumbles out of its steep drainage through a deathtrap of a canyon and into a low gradient floodplain with some excellent habitat. Just below the mouth of the canyon we found a series of pools where the river broke softly over some seriously sweet boulders. The water was cold and on the clearside of good. Still with rain the previous week I figured there might be some early fish pushing into the system. We didn't find any fish but we found plenty of fishy water. Next time we're in that neck of the woods and the bigger rivers are out we'll know where to look.

Getting out to the Island is a bit of a production and the 100$ round trip cost of the ferry means we wont be taking weekend jaunt out there. Still anytime I've got a bit of time to get out fishing its now high on the list of the most beautiful and inspiring places I've been .

My camera shat the bed this weekend so I'm waiting on photos from my friend's camera. I'll keep you posted. Check back for some shots from the weekend.

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