THREE WEEKS IN BRITISH COLUMBIA – Bull Trout Fishing
PART 2: FISHING AND LIFE AT THE LODGE
The lodge itself is a log structure that has a big “living room” with large table for dining and a comfortable assortment of chairs and leather sofas. The kitchen stove runs off propane but there is also a wood stove.
Running water comes from an innovative system Ron created that traps water at a spring up the mountain and uses gravity to create most of the pressure needed to service the lodge, guest buildings and the family’s living quarters.
There is hot water and the shower was very welcome after ten days in the bush. The entire lodge is heated by one central wood stove. For most of the remaining 11 days, I was the only person sleeping in the lodge.
The hunters who had tagged out and returned had their own building and the family also had their own buildings.
9/19/21: Day Eleven: I spent most of my next two days at the lodge trying to help out and watching as Ron and Maria hustled around in an attempt to get the seven new hunters that flew in by bush plane that day out to the designated backcountry sites. Ron got only one group out before the wind became too strong.
Bare in mind that Ron’s float plane will carry only one passenger and their gear so when he is spreading out the hunters, he also has to move the guide and packer, as well. That is a minimum of three trips into each spot. Of course, with a float plane, the weather has to cooperate and it was really windy most of Day Eleven
9/20/21: Day Twelve: The wind was strong in the morning which grounded Ron but in the afternoon it laid down. Ron, and another pilot he hired to move people in a pinch, were able to get everyone out. It was an amazing flurry of activity that resulted in a camp that was suddenly empty. I spent much of the afternoon flying the video drone that I brought, filming the take-offs and landings for a promotional video I plan to do for North River Outfitting.
9/21/21: Day Thirteen: Time to go bull trout fishing. For the first time on this trip, I had my fly rod in hand with a serious intent to catch one of the bull trout for which British Columbia is known. I probably fished five or six hours and caught two bull trout and about ten grayling. Interestingly, the grayling all hit the huge streamers that I was using for the bull trout.
Those streamers are so big that I was shocked these fish could even get their little mouths open wide enough to grab them. Biggest bull trout was around six to eight pounds.
9/22/21: Day Fourteen: Got up this morning to find that a grizzly had torn part of the wall off the meat shed and made off with a moose hind quarter. The hunter was royally hacked off that the bear had stolen his meat and cussed for 15 minutes as we surveyed the damage. Ron and I went looking for the bear and must have ran him off his prize because we found the moose quarter about 100 yards into the woods, but no bear. We brought the meat back to camp, effectively stealing the bear’s meal.
In the afternoon, Ron and I jumped into his jet boat to run down river to a spot loaded with boulders where he felt I might find some more bull trout. As soon as we got there, I started to put my rod together and found that the entire tip section was broken in two places. I must have accidentally stepped on it in the boat. Dang it!
Fortunately, I brought two 8 weight rods and when we got back to the lodge, I quickly re-rigged but Ron had other things to do so rather than take the jet boat myself, I elected to just fish the river around the lodge. I caught several more grayling and at least one nice bull trout, probably pushing 7 pounds.
9/23/21: Day Fifteen: Bear came back during the night and this time tore the wall off the other side of the building where the guides work on and store the capes, antlers and hides from trophies taken by hunters. The bear took a Stone sheep hide (chewed the ears off, which we found) and a moose hide, which he destroyed.
Ron was fuming by this time and we began making plans to kill the bear as we fixed both walls of the meat shed. I guess bears don’t mess with walls that are clad in tin, so we scrounged around the camp and came up with enough tin to cover both of the damaged walls.
I think I fished a little bit after we recovered the hides and fixed the walls, but didn’t catch much. The rest of the afternoon was consumed with basic camp chores and a planning session for shooting the bear if he returned that evening. So far he had stolen a moose quarter, which we stole back and a couple of hides, which we also stole back.
We figured the bear would be increasingly aggressive because we kept taking back what he was stealing. We set up to cover the meat shed well enough to shoot the bear if he reappeared.
Later that evening, the bear showed up and we were able to get him killed. Ron shot him at about 30 yards with a .300 Win Mag. Dropped him right in his tracks, which was nice. It wasn’t a huge bear, but big enough to rip the wall off a building!
9/24/21: Day Sixteen: Interestingly, when morning came we backtracked the bear and saw where he had walked out on the dock where Ron keeps his float plane and pulled all three tires out of the water that hang next to the dock – between it and the plane – to serve as bumpers for the plane.
The bear just laid them on the dock as if a person had done it. Very strange. Ron said that grizzlies are very odd animals and some of them just like to chew on rubber.
The float plane was right there and since it had been used recently to bring meat in from the remote camps, there was still blood and plenty of odor in the cargo area. We felt very blessed that the bear hadn’t decided to investigate those odors by tearing the side off the plane! Good thing he was dead or he would have eventually torn that plane up just like he did that building.
By the way, despite closing the season for political reasons, it remains legal to shoot problem bears if they are threatening property or life, so Maria had to call the game department and report the kill as well as send photos of the damage that the bear had done to the building.
I fished for a couple of hours over the course of the day and caught two really nice bull trout, both in the 8 to 10 pound range. One of them was on a smaller white streamer I was using to catch grayling with my six-weight fly rod. That was a good battle that resulted in me following the fish about 50 yards downriver before getting him in close enough to net.
9/25/21: Day Seventeen: Ron and I decided to take a break and go explore what he calls Moose River. Not it’s real name. We stopped on a sterile high mountain lake to grab a cache of gear left there after a recent sheep hunt and then set down on a straight stretch of the narrow Moose River. This is no place to land on a windy day, due to the narrow confines, so it is not a place Ron gets to visit often. Despite the inaccessibility of the location, Ron keeps a jet boat here for use in moose hunts when the opportunity arises.
We landed safely and fired up the jet boat for a trip up the river and a bit of bull trout fishing. Fishing was not good for me. In two hours of casting to some pretty good looking runs I neither caught nor saw a single fish. I guess some waters have a lot of fish and some have very few.
Headed back to the float plane and lifted off only to encounter trouble with the engine. It began to sputter badly so Ron eased back on the throttle and slowly circled up to gain enough altitude for a dead stick landing should that be required.
Not a veteran of many bush plane or float plane “adventures” this was more than a bit unsettling for me. But Ron was able to side-slip the plane back down and land it on the river under power. After killing the engine it wouldn’t restart and we knew we were in for some more trouble.
Using the sat phone and In-Reach satellite responder, Ron was able to get word back to Maria to send a chopper to pick us up and take us to the lodge. Unfortunately, it was too late in the day for the pilot to make the 1 1/2 hour flight and then get us to the lodge before dark. Rescue would have to wait until the morning.
It was a long night trying to stay warm between short naps in the fuselage of the plane. Nearby wolves howling through the night kept us entertained. When morning came, we were more than ready to get out of there.
9/26/21: Day Eighteen: Helicopter arrived a couple hours after daylight and the pilot handed us each a much welcomed travel mug of hot coffee. During the night we had decided that it would be much easier to fix the plane if it was back at the lodge, so the chopper pilot’s first task was to attach the heavy rope sling and wing nets to the plane so he could carry it back to the lodge.
The wing nets spoil the aerodynamics of the wings, which prevents the plane from trying to climb while it is being towed. It has happened and resulted in the chopper pilot having to release the plane to crash into the wilderness rather than tangle and bring down the helicopter.
The nets worked great and the chopper towed the plane back to the lodge without incident and then returned two hours later for Ron and myself. It felt good to be back at the lodge where we warmed up and ate a big lunch.
Maria had arranged to have their aircraft mechanic flown in that morning via float plane with hopefully enough parts to make the repair. Immediately, he and Ron went to work. By evening they had determined that one magneto had failed entirely and the second one was partially failed. We were blessed that the float plane ran long enough to get us back on the river.
After a nap, I spent the afternoon bull trout fishing around the lodge and caught several grayling on my six weight rod and a very large bull trout in the 12 to 15 pound range on the eight weight.
I was throwing big weighted streamers and twitching them back, trying to produce the action of a wounded fish. Bull trout are very aggressive predators and when they are hunting they will hit anything that resembles food.
9/27/21: Day Nineteen: I fished most of the day and caught my biggest bull trout of the trip, one that I would guess to be in the 15 pound range. I caught another one that was in the 8 to 10 pound range, as well. A lot of casts for only two strikes, but I think the fish have moved on upstream.
9/28/21 – 9/29/21: Day Twenty and Twenty-One: Bull trout fishing not as good. I spent several hours each day casting and caught just one fish in the 4 to 5 pound range. The bull trout seem to have completely moved out in their upstream migration to their spawning grounds. I was a few weeks late on my trip if bull trout fishing had been my number one goal. Bull trout make a strong run to the head waters of the rivers in which they live to spawn and this run starts in August and ends in September. I was probably lucky to catch as many of them as I did. If I go back for the bull trout again, I will definitely either go sooner or fish farther upstream, probably both.
Ron and his mechanic got the plane fixed. But before Ron could thoroughly test it, the chopper pilot had to make the long trip out to sling the plane into the river so Ron could take off. Given the cost of helicopter flight hours, the cost of flying the mechanic in and the actual parts required, Ron figured that repair job cost him close to $20,000. No wonder these sheep hunts are so expensive!
After thorough testing, and a few tweaks to the magneto timing, the guys determined that the plane was working well and Ron began picking up hunters and game meat from the various remote camps and shuttling them back to the lodge to fly out to Smithers on the 30th.
9/30/21: Day Twenty-Two: We were supposed to fly out in the morning but as they day wore on, the weather got worse and worse. Rain storms, wind and brief snow storms between us and Smithers, BC kept the charter bush plane grounded. When finally there was a break in the weather it was a mad dash to get in and out before dark. I rode in the co-pilot seat and was mic’d up with the pilot the entire time as we flew under the weather (following river valleys through the mountains) all the way back to Smithers. It was a rough ride and left my lunch in the air sick bag before we made it the two hours back to the Smithers runway. That was a sight for sore eyes after that rough ride through the mountain passes under the snow clouds!
FINAL THOUGHTS ON THE ADVENTURE
I loved the trip and was shocked to learn that nearly everything these guys do in the course of a normal day is a major adventure for the rest of us. Those who make this rugged, remote country their life have my respect. Life and death hang on a high percentage of the decisions they have to make each day. This is not a land for the faint of heart or for greenhorns. If your guide says, “Run!” don’t ask him why – just run!
I plan to go back but now I know what to expect. I won’t be quite as awed by what I find the second time in, but I think this is the kind of place where you could say every trip to the region is the adventure of a lifetime – no matter how many times you go.