Browsed by
Category: Short Stories

Roadtrippin Pt. 2: Columbia River Rainbows

Roadtrippin Pt. 2: Columbia River Rainbows

The second half of my trip through BC began with a beautiful drive down Highway 33, along the always stunning waters of the West Kettle and Kettle Rivers. Playlist bumpin’, windows down, I made my way  through the portal of the Kootenays, towards the Columbia River, where I was meeting fellow Bushwhacker, and fly fisherman Jack.

 

To gain access to the geographical region knows as the Kootenays, no matter which way you are coming from, you must pass through a grand mountain pass. Over time, I have come to think of these routes of passage as a gateway of sorts; into a place that holds everything a contented man could want. And once through the gateways, your worries seem to disappear into thin air; slowly, and without notice, as the comfortable sway of Kootenay time takes over. On this day, I came through the portal from the east, over the Paulson Pass, and all the way down to the mighty river where all the water from this area ends up eventually.

The Kootenays are just awesome. Plain and simple. these interior mountains of British Columbia just have an aura to them; the sunsets more colorful, the lakes more calm and serene, and the people more enchanting and unique. The East Kootenays are known as a world class fly fishing destination. And in the West Kootenays, well… There is only endless rivers and lakes, big and small.  With fishing opportunities ranging from Trophy Fishing for the massive Gerrard Rainbows of Kootenay Lake, the worlds largest native strain (which can push the scale to over 30 pounds!), all the way too recreational opportunities minutes from your door.  And while the purists fly-fishing is not as highly noted as that in the east, it’s the combination of being in such a amazing place, mixed with  good fishing that make the West Kootenay’s a great destination for the trout fisherman.

I was meeting Jack at a Back-Eddie we had fished before. At no particular time, mind you, cause we were back running on Kootenay time. Mid-afternoon, we said.  

Me and Jack used to fish the Columbia together in 2014 when I was living in Nelson. That spring, me and jack spent most of our days exploring the stretch of the Columbia River from Castlegar to the US border, which is open for fishing year round. This stretch of water flows out from the Keenleyside Dam, which is a lake-bottom drawing Dam, which means cold, clear water even when everything else is high and muddy. During this time, we tried our hardest to figure out this mighty river, and tried to catch some of the big rainbows all the locals talked about.

But try as I might, I almost never ended the day with anything to show for it. I felt overwhelmed and intimidated by the turbulent and gargantuan porportions of the river. I could see the fish rising, but I couldn’t quite make it to them. My standard fly-fishing approach did not seem to be working. I usually ended up smoking to much and falling asleep with a Ball cap over my eyes. And to make matters worse, the crusty Kootenay locals with their bobbers and bait would be pulling out huge fish after huge fish.

 

Yes, my initial days fishing the Columbia were very humbling and also provided me with a great learning experience: If what you are doing isn’t working, do something different! Seemingly simple advice, but fly-fisherman can be a stubborn bunch. And also, don’t be afraid to learn a thing or two from those the fly-fishing community so often views as ‘inferior.’ aka Bait fisherman, bobbing, ect… Especially when they are catching fish and you aren’t!

The main thing I began to re-think on the Columbia is that maybe slack was my friend. Typically, fly-fisherman try to keep as little slack on the line as possible, keeping their tip up, in order to minimize drag and also to be more responsive when a trout takes the fly. Thats great. But unfortunately that doesn’t work when you are chest deep,  casting 40 yards from shore across swirling back eddies and fast currents. Your fly will simply not get down. So I began to rethink this and used much more slack, and allowed the current to take my fly wherever it wanted; hopefully right to the fish, and used the straightening of my line and light strips to feel for a take. And the second thing I began to do is super-size my fly selection. On the Columbia, bigger is almost always better.

With these few changes, I did begin to catch more and more fish, and while I certainly haven’t figured it out, I like my chances a lot more now then I did.

And a little hope can go a long way towards success.

 

Today, I felt with the utmost certainty that I would get some fish to the net.

And I was right; except that it didn’t end up happening for me until the next day. The first obstacle we faced the first day, and throughout both days, was the high water.  It was running high, which meant the shoreline was flooded and casting/ getting our flies out far enough was challenging. I missed on a few takes, and Jack was able to catch one smaller rainbow. We decided to begin moving back towards Nelson and met our other friend Dave at another spot on the Kootenay River, Shoreacres. We faced the same problem here. We could not wade out far enough to get clean casts and not snag the branches behind us. And the fish were out jumping just beyond where we could cast.

Dave, meanwhile, is new to the sport. He was using a spin rod with a big heavy bobber, and then had a sunk fly about 10 feet down from that. He was able to chuck his big bobber way out into the eddie. And while me and Jack were getting snagged in trees, Dave caught the first 2 trout of his life, including a nice 13″ incher. No wonder people around here wonder why people mess around fishing with Fly-rods.

Dave with his first ever trout!

 

After a great night of catching up and hanging out at Jacks place in Nelson, we headed out to the Columbia again the next day with even more resolve.

We went back to the same Eddie as before, and despite a slow start, things began to heat up. After about an hour, I hooked into a nice 14″ rainbow that gave me a good fight. 

Shortly after that I was hooked up with what seemed like a dandy of a fish. While I was fighting him, Jacked hooked into a rainbow just downstream from me. We both played and landed our fish with smiles and got them in the net for the obligatory ‘double-header’ photo. Mine eneded up being a beautiful Rainbow of about 20″.  We caught a few more and had some nice trout spit our hooks a few times. But all in all the day was great.

Double header on the Columbia

 

We took a break and then came back to the spot just before sundown. We fished a few spots with no luck. But then, right as I was starting to consider gathering up my line and calling it for the day, my line straightened up and I felt the pull of a nice trout. I fought him as the sun set, and he turned out to be the nicest fish of the day. It was the perfect way to finish another perfect day in the Kootenays.

A beauty at Sunset.

A few tips for Fly fishing the Columbia River:

The best set-up to have is a 6- 8 wt Rod, and a sink tip if going below the surface. The Columbia is best fished fished from a boat. This gives you the best mobility to fish several different back eddies and to get your flies right into the middle of them. During the summer, there is lots of hatches and dry fly action, particulrily Caddies flies. Using huge caddis patterns, like sz. 4 or 6, is usually how I’ve had my success. Sunk flies also work very well; so don’t feel the need to re-cast your dry fly when it begins to sink and swirl about a few feet under the water. the fish love this and sometimes works better than a nicely floating fly. Using an indicator or a bobber a few feet away from your dry fly (similar to how Dave was using his spin rod) can help you recognize takes. This trip, we caught all our fish on nymphs, with the best Fly being a big bead head prince. These fish seem to love bright colors, so anything with pink, red, purple, or blue is often the ticket.

If your heading to fish the Columbia, stop in at the Fly shop in Castlegar and you will find a great many flies that will work great in the Columbia. Rod ties them all himself and he knows how to catch his big Rainbows. But, don’t expect to get to much advice from the guys in here; they are pretty tight lipped and guarded bout divulging too much info. They’ll let you figure it out 🙂

 


Kootenay Peace of Mind

The next day, I’m sitting in the revered Oso Negro cafe sipping on a latte and reminiscing about the fish of the day before. The colors and patterns of the whimsical Xeriscape Garden patio pulsed all around in the Kootenay sunshine. The hummingbirds buzzed around as people sipped their drinks and enjoyed each others company. I was about to hit the road again; back towards home and the summer of work that awaited me. But I was in no rush; the easy swing of ‘Kootenay time’ had taken me over and I felt no need to leave this moment.

After 8 months of living here, and many trips back, I have firmly come to decide 1 truth. The Kootenays are a fairy tale, ruled by some magical force.

And Nelson is where this magical force emanates from.

I’ve never been to a place with such a lively dynamic of human life living in harmony; Outdoor junkies, adrenaline enthusiasts, hard working blue collars, hippies, old people (old hippies, too), and homeless people, all sharing one commonality; there’s no where else on earth they would rather be.

The universe.

Maybe it’s cause everyone has been puffing on the good stuff, or maybe it’s cause everyone is there doing something they love, surrounded by beautiful lakes and mountains, or maybe it was just the good coffee; but the cafe buzzed with an energy that seemed to consume everyone within. The city buzzed with the hope of spring. Everyone seemed genuinely stoked. And I felt amazing.

I finished up my coffee, jotted some notes down in my journal, and became very conscious of my gratitude towards this world. I was exactly where I was supposed to be. Thoughts of a great summer ahead filled my mind, and all the adventures and lessons it would bring. Images from this great roadtrip flashed through my head. Not a ounce of regret was present in my mind.

Yes, being in Nelson is the best reminder that life is only as complicated as you make it. The ‘real world’ can be this simple, and beautiful. And if you make your goal in life to be as happy as possible, there is an endless amount of ways to make this possible.

So then I hit the road, and made for the Crowsnest pass; the exit portal that would mean I would shed the Kootenay cloak of contentment and re-enter back into the ‘Real world’. Yet, somehow, the real world seemed better now; more enchanting, more hopeful. I wasn’t sad that the roadtrip was ending.

I was glad that it happened. And looking forward to another.

And as with Trout fishing, a little hope can go a long way.

 

Whirling disease in the Bow River

Whirling disease in the Bow River

As most anglers in southern Alberta are aware, this past season of fishing came with some very scary and dreaded news.

Whirling Disease has been discovered in our treasured and world renowned Bow River.

This was accompanied by a general feeling of dread and fear, as past case studies (Montana being the most commonly noted) have shown how destructive this particular parasite can be. While this is scary, we feel as though the most logical approach to solving, or at least mitigating the ill effects on our fisheries is through education; learning about the disease, and knowing what we can do as anglers to be part of the solution. And then ensuring our provincial government is doing what needs to be done to deal with this effectively.
For those of you that are not familiar with this parasite, below is a short overview of whirling disease in Alberta, written by a friend of the Bushwhackers Society, Joseph Morgan Casat. He wrote this piece for his class in the Fisheries and Wildlife program at Selkirk college and also appeared in the castlegar paper for his work. Enjoy!

Whirling down the Bow River

Joseph Morgan Casat

What a surprise, yet another invasive species we have to deal with.  This time however, the invader is tiny, microscopic.  This invasive species has made its way to the Bow River system in Banff National Park. A first appearance in Canada, the microscopic organism causes Whirling disease, affecting fish in the salmon family like Rainbow trout, everyone’s favorite game fish.

This disease causes a deformed spine and blackened tail, making it look as if someone has pinched and bent the spine near the tail.  It also reshapes the head, making it squarer.

Whirling disease showed up in North America first in Pennsylvania in 1956. Because this disease is endemic to Europe, the fish there have gained a sort of immunity to the parasites. In North America, our fish have little immunity to the disease.  Currently fish populations are being closely monitored around the Great Lakes since it was detected in some American hatcheries, but still was never recorded in Canada…until now.

While there is no risk to human health when consuming infected fish, it can be lethal to the fish it infects. The parasites first infect sludge worms, a common worm found in the sediment of most lakes and rivers.  At some point, infected worms are then consumed by juvenile fish and causes skeletal deformation and neurological damage.  Both of these lead an awkward corkscrew swimming pattern, usually belly up, giving the disease its name. Due to the effects of this disease, it becomes difficult for fish to feed and they are more prone to predation. Once the fish dies, the parasite returns to the water, are consumed by the aquatic worms and the cycle continues. The parasites end up in new places by the movement of infected fish, infected worms, contaminated equipment, birds or water

On August 23, 2016 The Canadian Food Inspection Agency confirmed Whirling disease to be present in fish found in Jonson Lake in Banff. In an attempt to control spreading, the lake was closed soon thereafter.  The concern was that it would flow out of the lake and into the connecting river systems.  Jonson Lake flows into Cascade River which then connects to Bow River.  

On September 7th, a fish taken from just below the confluence of the Cascade and Bow Rivers tested positive for Whirling disease. Recently there have been more cases including several in unnamed commercial aquaculture facilities in Alberta.  It’s also been found in a section of the Lower Bow river to Tunnel mountain, Carrot Creek, all of the Cascade River as well as Cascade creek, and Spray river upstream of the confluence the Bow and Cascade rivers.  It’s spreading quickly.

There is no known cure for the disease but that doesn’t mean we are helpless. Anglers and recreational river users can take steps to prevent the spread of the parasite. Clean, Drain, Dry is a slogan used in attempt to stop the spread of other invasive species via boats. It also applies for the spread of Whirling disease.  The program is intended to encourage boaters to clean, drain and dry their boats before transporting them between different water sheds.

Dispose of fish entrails and carcasses when done fishing. Clean your footwear, waders, lines and flies in a bleach and water solution when moving to a new area, stream or water body. Check online for reports of the disease in waters you intend to fish. By learning to recognize the symptoms of the disease and not transporting infected fish whether dead or alive, you can also reduce the chance of the disease spreading.


For more information and updates on Whirling disease in the Bow River, I recommend heading over to Alberta Fishing Guide Magazine. Dave Jensen is a prominent fly-fishing figure in Alberta and is certainly in the know when it comes to these sort of things. Below is a link!

Whirling Disease Update & Information

 

Remember, when it comes to these sorts of things, knowledge is power! All of us have a vested interest in keeping this issue as minor as possible, and we must hold everyone accountable. So, while we all sit around and go crazy awaiting the return of fishing season, maybe its time to go and bleach our waders and boots and do our small part to tackle this issue!

Hope everyone is enjoying their winter and that the shack nasties are not hitting to bad. There is a chinook on the horizon for Southern Alberta; if you can, maybe go out and sneak in a few casts!

Cheers,

The Bushwhackers Crew

“I am God’s gift to fishing” : Reflection’s from the Local Pond

“I am God’s gift to fishing” : Reflection’s from the Local Pond

-Written By: Mark Rossi

“I hope my wife calls,” he chuckled through his thick Russian accent “every time she calls the fish start biting.”

“ All the more reason to not answer!!” laughed his friend in the wheelchair at the end of the dock.

I overheard this conversation as I sat on park bench on the hill behind the dock and I watched the scene in front of me with with a sort of amazement… “this is what fishing is about” I thought.

A man in a wheelchair on the dock with his immigrant friend fishing for bass using bait and bobber rigs; a father and son to my left, the father teaching the fundamentals of a roll cast to his son; two kids walking down the path towards the other side of the lake, school backpacks and lunch bags packed together with their spin rods and tackle box; a young man in his waders and belly boat wearing his worn in Patagonia hat and polarized Smith glasses working the drop off for trout with slow retrieve chironomids. All of these people were here, together, sharing the experience of fishing.

I was at Shannon Lake, for those of you from the Okanagan, you will no doubt be familiar with the location. Within city limits, a small local lake with a park on one side, golf course on the other and houses in between. I am sure your community has some similar type of park/pond combo where fishing is laidback, central, accessible and public.

I’m not sure what motivated me to go to the lake; I was bored, I was curious, I was feeling the sadness of not being able to fish the streams and lakes of the high country since the snow had set in. All these are valid reasons. Regardless of why I went there, I was really glad I did.

I sat there and reflected on the fishing season that was. It was great, some awesome highlights, personal bests, new species caught, new basins explored! More than I could have asked for. The thing that struck me most about it though was that, at no point had it looked anything like the scene laid out before me.

 

At what point did I stop pursuing this kind of fishing experience and why?

 

I think back to my teen years and the many hours spent on Lake Bonivista in Calgary with my highschool buddy Andrew. We rowed around the small urban lake everyday after school trolling mepps spinners for stocked trout (Sometimes we would sneak some beers out with us hehe, sorry mom). We were rarely the only ones out there. Many others: old and young, boat and shore, fly and spin all enjoyed the same experience. These were some of the most enjoyable fishing experiences of my youth.

As I got older, cooler and more hardcore I think I stopped thinking about fishing as a shared experience. I took on an opinion that many fly anglers often do; “fly fishing is superior to all other types of fishing”

Enjoying a nice hatchery rainbow in the days of my youth.

Over time I became better than everyone on that lake, my thought process was something like “I catch more fish than you”. Not just that, “I catch more fish with a fly fishing rod. I am god’s gift to this sport.” I started to avoid these places where the inferior fisherman fished for dumb, stocked trout together. My brother and I ventured deep into the woods on backcountry roads finding a bounty of wild trout and char in some of the most beautiful places on earth. Through this rejection of urban pond fishing, I found a new community and took on a new view of fishing. Gone were the days of drinking beer in a tin boat chucking metal lures at hatchery rainbows I was now a part of a community of wild trout fly fishermen who value wild places, solitude and mastering the art of fly fishing…for this I am grateful, I am glad that I have grown into the angler that I am today. I’m just not sure that I’m proud of how I got here…

As I sat there watching the scene at Shannon Lake that evening I couldn’t help but feel guilty. I thought that this type of fishing was inferior? That these people were somehow lesser fisherman?

I realized that I was the lesser fisherman. For years I had been missing out on this brilliant shared experience, catching fish, finding peace and making memories with people from all walks of life who are out there because they like to fish. The fact that I couldn’t see that made me upset.

Maybe you can’t afford that $400 fly rod.

Maybe you don’t have a 4×4 truck to take you into the backcountry.

Maybe you don’t even own a vehicle and need to take the bus.

Maybe you only have 2 hrs to go fishing.  

Or maybe you no longer have the use of your legs.

YOU CAN STILL FISH!!!

 

And that, in my opinion, is pretty awesome.

So, thank you urban fisheries! Thank you for providing an accessible and approachable option to anglers of all walks of life. The role that the urban fishery plays in developing the sport, and developing a society that understands and values the natural world is really immeasurable.

Fishing turns people into conservationists. If you like fishing and want to continue fishing then you are undoubtedly a supporter of pristine waterways and healthy ecosystems. Living in a city makes it easy to fall out of touch with nature and to lose sight of the joy and value that it can bring to our lives. The urban fishery bridges that gap by providing city dwellers a glimpse into the beautiful natural cycles of nature as well as access to the fantastic and therapeutic pastime of angling.  
So as the sun set over Shannon Lake I hopped off the park bench, grabbed my rod, tied on a big green woolly bugger with some split shot and walked down to the banks to join my fellow anglers and shared that perfect moment with them. And it felt just as good when I hooked into one, feeling a newfound respect for the local pond

Late Season Physcosis

Late Season Physcosis

The day is Halloween. Also today. is the final day for fishing in the high country streams of Alberta. It is a monday, and I should be at work. But I am not. I am at home, bored out of my mind, hooked up to an IV unit and wondering why I am struck by poor luck when it comes to getting these obscure and random injuries.

I sit in my living room and bend my sore and infected elbow and wince a little bit with the pain.  I look down at the needle and IV tube stuck into my left arm; seeing the bubbles pulse as a dose of antibiotics flows into my veins. The drone of the take home IV pump unit the hospital gave me whines in the background of my quiet house; a constant humming, every 5  or so seconds. I knew it would be irresponsible to drag a $3000 dollar medical pump out fishing with an IV needle stuck into my arm. And i was supposed to be resting my elbow, which also happened to be my casting elbow. I had already resigned myself to the fact that I would not be fishing any small water until next year. And that the beautiful brown I had caught a few days earlier would likely be my last.

priddis4

But after about 10 minutes of hearing the whining drone of the IV, my mind began to wander… It wandered to a place no more than 3o minutes away from my front door. A creek no more than a yard wide in most places; filled with pretty brookies and the odd Brown Trout. And specifically, it wandered to a deep plunging pool that brushed up against the outside bank and then flowed underneath an overhanging tree… I saw the flash of the fish I had now hooked twice and had not been able to land- a big one, by this creeks standards. I saw in my mind where he would be; right underneath the tree, and I saw my fly drifting underneath perfectly… I thought of the long winter upcoming, and the thought of not catching any more until spring…

Ahh, what the hell. I thought as I grabbed my IV unit and headed for the front door, with a mug of coffee and a couple of advil.


brookie2

You see, the strange rationalization process described above is what I have come to call “Late season Physcosis,” an affliction affecting anglers around the world as the season comes to a close. A process whereby the daunting thought of a long winter can lead to anglers creating an alternate reality in which catching ‘one more fish’ literally becomes the only thought they are capable priddisof manifesting. Case and point: I spent hours trekking deep into my creek a few days ago just to catch ‘one more fish,’ which I did, and I told myself I was happy with that being true. It only took a single day before I was once again back on the river in search of ‘one more fish,’ hacking and slashing away and neglecting my other responsibilities. This is an affliction I’m sure you are all familiar with; we, as anglers, are pretty deranged. And this is the time of year when we get especially anxious about having to come face to face with the fact that our ‘one more fish’ might not be for another 6 months.

So, despite being pumped full of antibiotics and carrying around a little backpack with a bag of drugs and an expensive medical unit and a sore casting arm, I was in the car this morning making haste to that one pool beside the road that I was sure I could catch a fish in.

I didn’t even bother putting on pants or waders. Just went out in my shorts and sneakers like it was the middle of summer. I had one goal in mind: One more fish. And luckily for my physcosis, I got to say that many times as the little brookies gobbled down their halloween candy all morning and I sneaked around what may or may not be private property with my IV bag and fishing rod.

brookie3

Turns out, I didn’t catch that one fish in that one spot underneath the tree in the hole right by the highway that I had been dreaming about. That would be too perfectly poetic and kind of corny. The type of thing that only happens in Jim Mclennan books and on Instagram. I came close to that kind of fairy tale story. I hooked him on my first cast in the pool, but just like the first two times, he shook my hook and floundered back to safety. But this was a blessing. Becasue I countinued further into the willows in my pursuit for one more fish, and despite my freezing legs and feet, I was able to catch 8 brookies, and I think I dealt with my physcosis permanently.

I ended my short stint of fishing today with a very nice sized brook trout in the pool right beside the one I came for. A nice and fat 11′ brook smashed my nymph as soon as it landed in the pool. I truly savoured this one; the feeling of the pull, and the looks from the people on the highway, suprised to see someone fishing, and catching fish, in that tiny creek. It was the best fish of the day. Maybe the best of the season. Even if there will be one, or perhaps many, more still to come. 🙂

brookie4
The brookie that the doctor prescribed. What an amazing ‘last fish of the year!’

Thanks for reading! With the closing of most of our streams, and the snow up on the mountains, it is certainly time to start thinking about the winter and skiing. There is, however, some good streams in Alberta still open to fish (the Bow!). It’s been an awesome year of Bushwhacking, thanks to everyone who showed there support! There will likely be a final blog post coming soon about winter fishing, and what to expect from us through the winter and into next season!

Thanks to you all and Happy Halloween!

Kevin Rossi

Short Story: Shit out of Luck

Short Story: Shit out of Luck

The small spring creek burbled gently, with big foamy white bubbles pressing against the undercut brush of the outside bank before rushing over a log and into a wide, deep pool. That log had claimed 3 of my flies in the past hour; the big brown who relied on it for refuge seemed to have gone incognito. So there I was, alone with the burble of the creek and the sounds of birds and wind, and my cigar that lit up and shrunk with my long, drawn out inhales; my last attempt at trying to salvage some sort of inner peace.

—————————————————————————————————————————————————-

So I leaned my head back with that cigar dangling from my lips and I looked up at the clouds, swiftly moving by in transience against a deep blue canvas of sky behind them. The suns rays moving in and out of hiding; the edges of the clouds illuminated brilliantly, like a halo, where a spectrum of light burst from the straggling water escaping the clouds pull. My own puffs of smoke wafted up in front of me, lingering briefly in the stillness, before being swept away by a light breeze coming from the west.

As my cigar disappeared into ash, I closed my eyes and fell into a calm, peaceful river nap.

I awoke a time later; a time that could have been 5 minutes, or an hour. One never knows when he drifts off to the sounds of the river. Instead of awaking with a newfound resolve to catch fish, I awoke with a deepening resentment towards this seemingly evil little creek, and a lame resignation that I wasn’t cut out to catch these fish. The thing is, that was truly why I was on this creek anyways; because of my deepening resentment towards my own life, and the lame resignation to myself that I was literally blowing it. It was fitting therefore that I felt this way now; it is amazing the parallels between life and what happens on the river.

It wasn’t that life sucked; there were just many parts of it that sucked, and I was resigned to allow them to be so. Complacent, one might say. Unsure of every move that was to be made next. Rash in my decision making. Fearful, instead of bold. Accepting an unsatisfactory fate before even really considering a different alternative. And then lamely rushing to the river side and meekly pretending all of those things didn’t exist, convincing myself that as long as I could fish all would be well. But all was not well; because all of these things were now being perpetuated on the river, all of the harsh realities of my own corrupt brain, and here I was on the riverside once again, resigned to leaving the river without what I came for.

I had come to this creek 5 times, all in the past month. My refuge, of sorts. And out of all those times, only once had I ever caught fish. A day when the beautiful Browns came early and often; but had left empty handed every other time. And they would always show themselves; I would watch a large brown gorge on something for 5 minutes and then disappear once again like it never happened. And then the entire creek would sleep; for hours, and hours on end, lifeless and without hope, while that image of the big browns tail breaking the surface gnaws away in your memory, seeming less and less real with each passing minute…

Lifeless. That was the only way to describe the creek right now. As I gently mosied back upstream from where I came I saw no sign of fish of any sort. If I didn’t have that image of that big brown in my head it would be easy to believe there was no fish in this tiny little creek. I was sure most who drove this way didn’t pay it a second thought; unless they were like me, and enjoyed torturing themselves. Walking around a river and feeling sorry for themselves. I lamely cast my fly to a couple of the good looking holes; holes that I knew I wouldn’t catch anything in because I already fished not a thing came to show themselves. Slowly, I made my way to the final stretch of water before the bridge and my last real chance of catching a fish; my last chance to stop myself from spiralling deeper into the rut I was digging for myself each day of my life.

So I smoked another cigar; urging myself patience, willing myself a good approach to give myself the best chance. I changed and added extra tippet to my line. I switched off from my dry fly and put on a nymph, thinking maybe the phantom browns might like that better. I sat and awaited any signs of a trout that might be interested in bringing me out of this rut. For a time, it was the same thing; nothingness. I decided to drop the nymph into the pool in front of me and see if a flash of light might emerge from the depths. As I fished, I noticed something different…

The birds; I watched as they began to congregate in a mass feeding frenzy, right up ahead near the bridge. A Hatch! The bugs were coming off. Surely the fish were not too far behind. They circled and weaved and darted in and out among each other. The zipped and glided inches from the water surface and flew through the willows.  There numbers grew larger, like a swarming buzz of oversized mosquitos. There voices and rings echoed through the meadow. The hatch was clearly in process… But where were the fish?

And then I saw a rise ahead in the next pool. And then another. There we are, I thought, so smugly, like I was a some sort of prophet who had prophesized the coming of this moment, there are the fish. So keenly did I want that perfect moment I totally forgot about the beautiful pool in front of me and quickly pulled my nymph up from below, and hastily threw on a dry fly. I crashed and banged through the willows up ahead. All I could keep seeing up ahead was risers and fish feeding; at the front of the pool, at the bottom. Each rise registered keenly in my brain as my opportunity to break away from the lameness of my life. I ducked some barbed-wire and got to the pool.

 I began casting to where I had last seen a rise, covering it with what I thought to be a perfect cast. Nothing. But no matter, again, up ahead, I heard another rise and saw the riffles where he had come up, I worked my way forward and began casting to that fish. Nothing. Quickly, I changed my fly; hearing splashes of rising fish all the while, invigorated by the sounds of fish. I snipped off the excess and waited for the next rise. It came right in front of me, but it didn’t look normal; certainly not a large fish. Any fish is a good fish, I told myself as I began casting wildly to it. And then another abnormal rise came, so gentle you couldn’t even see the fish come out of the water. These fish truly did seem tiny. But I really didnt care if they were tiny; I just wanted to catch one so bad that I wildly flung and re flung my line out into the endless chorus of splashes and tiny fish rises.

They were everywhere! I had never seen browns rise like this before. I had no idea there were this many tiny fish in this creek! I again switched my fly, this time getting it all tangled up, having to retry several times. I finally got it on and looked up. And in that moment, everything I had been thinking in the past hours  about my lame life, about how poor of a fisherman I was, and how much I hated this little creek came piling up on me, like some cruel, cringe worthy joke by the trout gods.

 I saw a plop, heard the same sound as I had been hearing, and a little riffle on the water no more than a foot in front of me. A blotch of white bird poop dispersed itself into the current with it. I looked up at the hundreds of birds above, and then back down at the river, where blotches plopped and plopped all over…

 

Silently, I gathered my line and walked to the car. I took off my boots, got in the car, and departed home; thinking all the while about what kind of idiot is stupid enough to stand in a shower of bird poop and think that his luck was about to turn. 🙂

– Kevin Rossi

 

Short Story: The World of Gods and Men

Short Story: The World of Gods and Men

The hulking peak rose up to my right and the large river canyon plummeted away to my left. The air was hazy; thick with smoke from nearby wildfires, choking our breath as we trekked down the double track path, down and down, towards the confluence where two trout rivers met, and the spot that marked our arrival to the land of the gods, where the realms outside those of men have been colliding for generations.

——————————————————————————————————————————–

It was hot. It was only 9 am and already the sweat beaded down my spine, the sun penetrating through the thick haze that hung in the air and stamping my exposed skin. My mind was also hazy; trying to comprehend what the day before had meant in my life. The complex, inner-workings of the human mind; what that long walk, on an abandoned BC road, under the swirling stars and moon-illuminated trees had done to me. We spent the last day driving in a heat wave across the interior without air conditioning, or good music, or much to say. I had too much on my mind. Too much to contemplate; and one conversation that lingered above me like the haze that lingered in the sky.

The haze gave the surroundings a sort of surreal feeling; as though the mountains were etched in water color, painted on canvas, perhaps no more than an illusion of the mind. Maybe it was the haze; maybe it was my newfound appreciation of life, but the mountain on my right seemed bigger than I remembered, towering high above the basin, reaching for the gods in an inspiring showcase of our own insignificance. I always felt insignificant when I wandered into this valley; a place where no man could access save by his own two feet. A place more wild and rugged than anywhere I have ever seen, tucked away into a little corner of the rocky mountains, so close to everything; yet seemingly so far, once the labyrinth of logging roads and the long hike down carried you further and further away from the impurities of the human realm of existence. And into what ever realm of existence this was.

I could feel the bear. It’s presence permeated throughout the valley. It felt as though every time we rounded the next corner it would be there waiting for us. A guessing game. Perhaps a game of probability. But he was in here; somewhere in this wide expanse of pristine rocky mountain wilderness, foraging for berries, gracefully roaming the meadows of the colossal avalanche paths, created by the gods in another realm of existence; the realm of winter, and snow, and darkness.

I contemplated that for a moment; I supposed that maybe they were the same realm after all, all part of an intricate, perfectly crafted cycle of life. I thought about the cold water in the river below, and the months of silent snowfall that would sustain that pulsing rhythm of the river throughout the months of summer. Before the basin once again would recede into the shivering cold of winter, and the cycle would start anew. The bears would disappear into another winter of slumber, lost into the recesses of whatever happens in a bears mind in winter; the trout would move into the deep pools and waver motionless in suspended animation for long months, in some sort of surreal comatose state of nothingness; the flowers in the meadow would be suffocated by the heavy blanket of accumulated snow crystals, and shrivel into lame piles of frozen matter, in stark contrast to the beauty of their present state. With the sun rising and setting all the while, shining the same light onto the same peak that rose up to my right, throughout all the days of winter, until those days would begin to grow, and the snow would begin to recede, and the subdued canvas of life would emerge once again. The contrast of this reality was undeniable; perhaps it was not one realm of life after all. Maybe, it was two realms, in a constant, and ever lasting battle for reign on earth. I wondered which realm was winning.

As always when my mind wandered, I think I ended up being more perplexed then before. One might call it clarity; but the reality of being one searching for answers is infinitely more questions. Questions that we, as petty creatures on earth, have no hope of ever answering through our own corrupted logic. The mountain on my right took millions of years to form; what then could I possibly infer about the nature of things?

But I could still feel a bear, and that had not changed because I just contemplated which realm of existence we were entering. We were in his realm, and that much I knew for certain. So we began to yell. We let our human voices violate the expanses of the canyon with our yells, which served as our request of passage into this bears home. The mountains boomed right back to us, echoing our voices off the granite peaks and dispersing them across the canyon in a lower, more imposing composition of our request. The language of the mountains; making our foreign presence in this place known for all who lingered in its expanses.

We stopped on the edge of a cliff and stared down at the clear blue waters at the bottom of the shale canyon on which we were flanked. The canyon weaved and meandered into a higher mountain plateau to my left; the basin and flood plain where it joined its brethren was just visible down and away to my right. My feet dangled over the edge and into the abyss; I tumbled a rock over the edge and watched gravity take it course, as the rock bounced and plummeted towards the bottom for what felt like an eternity. That made me think back to a time when there was no canyon; a time, thousands of years ago, when my feet would have been dangling in the cold flowing waters of the stream that was now hundreds of feet below me. I thought about the thousands of generations of battles between the two realms I had at somepoint in the last 20 minutes accepted as the higher powers in this valley, at least for my own comprehension, and all the floods, and storms, and snowfalls that carved this wound out the left flank of the mountain to my right. I imagined the valley morphing and changing and placed myself in the center of geological time and watched it unfold. And then I thought about that rock tumbling down to the bottom and realized that I was a part of it; if even for a second, when I decided to displace a rock.

Then another thought entered the hazy ramblings of my current state. And that thought was of a Cutthroat trout darting out of the river that once ran right where my feet now dangled, thousands of years ago, slurping up a hatching Caddis fly who’s life now seemed almost as insignificant as my own.

And down below, the Cutthroat Trout were still there. And, as odd as it seemed, they were the only reason I was in this valley in the first place, admiring the big mountain to my right, and the canyon to my left, and letting my mind wander to places I didn’t know it could comprehend while breathing in the hazy air and sweating through my shirt in the mid-summer heat.

And that thought got me on my feet again, and making haste towards the wide flood plain where those trout were waiting for me and my caddis fly pattern. Where I would finally be able to stop thinking so damn much. Thinking too much about things that I could only really pretend I knew anything about. Thinking about the surreal memories from the night before that pestered my mind and had me searching for any excuse to think about anything else.

The trail got steeper and as we started to get closer the bottom more trees lined the trail, giving us some much needed reprieve from the sun. In the shade my cooling sweat on my shirt pressed coldly against my back and sent shivers down my spine. The haze was beginning to clear, the sky returning to the color of blue; like a veil being lifted by grace of the gods. Really, it was the winds shifting and driving out the invasive smoke. Whatever it was, the change was welcome. The anticipation of catching fish was building inside both of us. We traded fish stories, talked gear, and discussed the stretch of river we were about to fish. We made a wager; whoever caught the biggest fish would be treated to coffee and food on the way home. But really both of us were just trying to avoid the inevitability of what we had heard the night before. And it weighed on both of us as we made our final descent towards the river; words that carried more weight then all the stars that had seemed so miraculous as we stared up at them that night, and cried; for reasons that didn’t seem to make sense anymore.

Because that night, I realized, more than I ever had, how lucky we are to be able to experience life. Of what is encompassed in our journey as we experience it; the love, beauty, and sorrow of human life. And, at the same time, I realized that this experience is only important to us as individuals. Each and everyone of us will die; some sooner than seems fair, some longer than is necessary. But our lives don’t really matter. Not to the gods that exist in the realms of where I stood. Not in comparison to the stars of our universe, nor to the grandeur of the peaks that surrounded me. But the finite amount of time we have here is a gift that I saw clearly, as my friends spoke words to me that I never wanted or expected to here. Words that made me seriously contemplate death, and the bleakness of what it might entail, for the first time in my life. And as I continued to contemplate this darkness as we walked along an empty highway in BC, I saw life as I had never seen it before.

So as I walked down the trail towards the beautiful Wigwam River on that hazy July morning, where the Lodgepole joins it under the imposing Mount Broadwood, I contemplated life. My life, my friends life, the life of the bugs and the fish and the bears, of the flowers and the trees, and whatever other higher life there was that I couldn’t understand. All these thoughts that had been festering and morphing and growing since that night until I found myself in a place where I could actually make sense of it all.

And then we could hear the sound of the river rumbling in the distance. The sound of purity, and things that aren’t nearly as confusing as what happens inside of a human brain. Things that are dictated by the fundamentals of nature, and not by rationale, or any sort of reasoning. Things that happen because they have to, because the realm in which they exist dictate them to do so. The world in which we have so unceremoniously dismantled and corrupted in our own fruitless human pursuits. Just in the way we corrupt our own minds with substances, through stress, and work, and relationships; by thinking too much about things we can’t control.

We emerged from the trees and in front of us was a deep emerald pool, where the Lodgepole plunged into the depths of the Wigwam, with large shadows wavering gently in the bottom, just as they had for thousands of years. And then we saw him. Just as we both knew we would. On the other side of the River was the Grizzly who had kept our senses on high alert since we began on our journey, no more than 40 yards away. We froze, and admired the powerful creature. I felt a spike of danger rise in my gut, as the Grizzly turned and stared us right in the eyes, sizing us up, wondering what creatures such as us were doing in a place such as this. My senses sharpened and my heartbeat slowed. I wondered what the Grizzly thought of us; whether he contemplated our lives in the same way we contemplated his. Whether he considered charging us and taking our petty souls. Whether he knew how miraculous the world that surrounded him was, and how many other grizzlies had come before him to bring him here. I wondered if he could see in my eyes that I envied him, and the timeless wisdom he contained in his chest. And then he turned and darted away, sprinting up the mountainside with a powerful elegance that, for once in my life, left me without any more questions; only understanding.

IMG_0894