Our Man In Canada
October 15th, 2001

Coast Mountain Journal

By Ehor Boyanowski

The young man arrived from the East Coast in the mid-1970s. Immersed in the pressures of a budding career, mortgage, marriage and raising a family, he sought brief moments of solace in the wilderness sancturaries of rivers and lakes nearby.

In winter he stopped at the Maplewood Pool of the Symore River on his way home, pulling boot-foot waders over his city-slicker clothes to cast a fly at least light. Occasionally he intercepted a bright winter steelhead. Almost the last of a wild strain, they got a boost just in time from the student-run enhancement facility at the foot of the Seymore dam, founded by Dr. Chuck Chestnut, then of BCIT.

On weekends he would wander, with his English setters and daughter in tow, past the "Angler Access Only" gate guarded by a GVRD warden, into a near-deserted world of old-growth cedar, second-growth Douglas firs and towering alders.

When there was only an hour to spare before dinner, he would prowl the estuaries of Capilano River, McCartney Creek and smaller North Shore beaches, drawing bemused looks from passerbys as he flung a fly, a seemingly futile effort, into the vast expanse of the Pacific. But there were lovely, jewel-like cutthroat to be caught for most of the year, and occasionally coho and even the rare chinook would peel off a hundred yards of backing in a burst of unstoppable energy.

More time and the camaraderie of fishing clubs allowed more ambitious outtings to the Vedder which, with the advent of the Salmonid Enhancement Program, was bursting with fish and thus, not coincidentally, with anglers. For solitude he sought out the wild steelhead, Dolly Varden and coho of the Squamish, a system encircled by towering mountains populated by goats and grizzlies, less than an hour from North Vancouver.

When, as increasingly occurred, the Squamish ran turbid from glacial melt, a phenomenon made worse by horrendous logging practices in the 1980s, he would fish the Cheakamus near Fergie's Lodge or hike up the Mamquam that had a run of steelhead peaking in May.

For a pleasant, Class 1 canoe ride in the fall, he would drift down the Harrison, stopping at likely-looking riffles to try for sunburst-yellow harvest cutthroat and poling around in the side channels for coho, which his newly converted bait-fisher comrade was amazed would take a fly. They hooked 13 on the first day. It was like travelling a benigh, fecund, moving sea.

During the soft, grey days of winter he would ply the sloughs of the Fraser - Popkum, Mariah, Nicomen, Desroches - for orange-finned cutts that could be shamelessley eager or frustratingly coy when he proffered a Cutthroat Candy dry fly or a Professor in the surface film.

With the Interior still in winter's icy grip, he would venture out in the early West Coast spring to the secret little lakes of Abbotsford, Squamish, Whistler and Pemberton. They were teeming with chironomid hatches fed upon by startlingly large - for coastal lakes, that is - rainbow of two to four pounds.

A little later he would venture up to Norton Lake off the Indian River, into which a trapper had hauled rainbow fly in a packsack filled with water years before. They had grown to five, even 10 poounds. One spring he arrived to find the forest scalped to the shoreline, with the water almost inaccessible for the trees and stumps ploughed into it. There were other signs of human despoilers - fishheads of what were once great trout, scattered by the dozens around the shore. He never went back, though he often wondered how the lake was recovering. He did return, however, to the Indian to catch and release pink salmon by the dozens in the fall of the years of great runs, one of nature's dramatic and comforting displays of riches.

The now-veteran West Coast fisherman was overwhelmed by the opulence of the natural fisheries within an hour's drive of virtually anywhere in the Lower Mainland, and perhaps foolheartedly he vowed that he would fish nowhere else until he had exhausted it's major waterways.

I am that angler and I never made it. Within a few years I was seduced by the charms of Vancouver Island, the North and the Interior.

More poignantly, 24 years later, as a middle-aged, though now hopefully wiser, Vancouver chauvinist, I realize I never will. I have yet to fish Crescent Beach for its famed cutthroat and coho. I have never wet a line in the little Campbell for its restored salmon and steelhead runs. Nor in the Alouette which now, thanks to the efforts of the Steelhead Society of B.C. and other conservationists and their lawyers, benefits from more water that BC Hydro is forced to release, and hence from more fish. The Chehalis has both winter and summer runs that I haven't fished, and there are rumors that steelhead and cutthroat have returned to both the Lynn in North Vancouver and the Brunette in Burnaby. Only three years ago did I finally fish the hidden paradise of the Upper Pitt, which lodge owners Danny and Lee Gerak are doing their best to protect from the loggers and poachers - a wilderness jewel only a hour and a half from downtown Vancouver.

Simply put, the Lower Mainland, even with its burgeoning population now exceeding two million, is perhaps the ultimate destination for freshwater fishing in British Columbia. Thanks to the blessing of its great rivers, its mountains and valley and the benevolent, tempering influence of the Pacific, even after suffering the mixed blandishments of mankind for over a century, there is something for the angler to pursue in relative comfort, less than an hour from his or her home in every month - in fact, every day.

That is a statement calculated to evoke howls of indignant protest from parts of the province I love dearly and visit every year - Vancouver Island (fall, winter and spring). Thompson-Nicola (my second home and closest to my heart), as well at the Chilcotin and Skeena (in our summer and fall), the greatest places to fish in the world, but in season. There is no high season for the Lower Mainland. It is a destination for all seasons.

As I write this it is spring and the eagles are calling in their oddly frail way from the great cedars that dwarf my house at Hole-in-the-Wall just outside of Horseshoe Bay. Trollers patrol the waters outside my study window for mightly chinook. There is a flurry of activity on the water. Herring are spawning and I may go out and, bizarrely enough, take a cod or two right near the surface as they pursue the spawning fish; the only time of the year I can actually take cod on the fly. But then again, my friend David Goodman, visiting from Washington, D.C., and I hooked a couple of fine steelhead yesterday on the Squamish and I ran into a fellow who took two on the Seymore. What to do? Oh what a delicious delemma to be suffering in the last year of the millennium. ~ Ehor Boyanowsky

Credits: From Fly Fishing British Columbia Edited by Karl Bruhn. We thank Frank Amato Publications, Inc. for use permission!

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