A ghost arises after the disappearance of the old John Hart Generating Station

I was taken back to the glory days of the Campbell River and Roderick Haig-Brown’s Fisherman’s Spring

In my address to the BC Federation of Fly Fishers annual general meeting in May 2017, I spoke of resurrection to that august body.

I spoke of bringing something back to life that had long been dead. I spoke with hope of the re-incarnation of a beloved piece of history.

In Fisherman’s Spring, 1951, Roderick Haig-Brown wrote:

“The first August steelhead I ever caught in the Campbell was the ideal of the unexpected fish. I was working a number six silver brown with a 2X leader on a long, slow swing across the tail of the Canyon Pool, expecting nothing more than a three- to four-pound cutthroat. I was secured in the expectation by the experience of six or eight seasons.

“The big fish took midway on the swing, right on the surface, with a splash that sent a spout of water several inches into the air above the smooth pool.

“I let the drag of the line strike him and he ran upstream from the pull, keeping well to the middle, away from all troubles, wearing down his first surge of strength and giving me time to realize what it was all about.”

The fish Haig-Brown landed was a 16-pound steelhead.

That is awesome enough, but more interesting is that he caught it in the Canyon Pool. The Canyon Pool is that stretch of water from the mouth of the canyon, where the upper watershed eventually delivers its magic to create what is the main-stem Campbell River.

For fly fishers, and world-wide readers of Haig-Brown, it is legend.

The Canyon Pool, however, virtually disappeared in the early 1950s when BC Hydro put in the powerhouse, dams and generating station.

In 1959, Haig-Brown said this about his precious Canyon Pool after the generating station had been put in:

“As for the Canyon Pool or the Powerhouse Pool or whatever it should now be called, I am both glad and sorry to have rediscovered it. It is an awkward and unsatisfactory place to fish. I don’t care for the blind windows of the powerhouse looking down on me as I fish, nor for the insult of the slashing-out right-of-way where the power line crosses the head of the Upper Island and climbs the hill below the pool. I don’t care for the roar, surge and hum of the generators, in what was once a lovely silent place, nor the stagnation of the canyon water.”

BC Hydro has recently taken out the powerhouse. It’s incessant hum and blind windows are gone. The new underground facility delivers after-generation water from a tunnel on the south side of the canyon mouth.

At BC Hydro’s regular flow regime, the pool is awkward, ill-shaped and about as inviting as sticking a butter knife in the toaster. As are most of the runs and pools Haig-Brown made famous throughout the river at those levels.

But the dry weather recently forced BC Hydro to reduce the flows to the Campbell and a magical thing happened. The Canyon Pool, as much I can figure, was reborn. Its deep, quiet water strolled out and into the pool. The bottom rises on a slow grid from the canyon mouth depths to the riffles and rapids of the river downstream.

On Sunday I walked the trail in my waders to the Canyon Pool. It is still awkward to fish but beautiful and challenging.

When I got down to the water, I imagined I had travelled back in years. This, I knew, would be the closest I could ever get to Haig-Brown’s Canyon Pool. The closest anyone had been for close to 70 years. It was as beautiful and graceful as he described it.

I cast out a Steelhead Bee, a fly tied and made famous by Haig-Brown. The first cast brought a fish up but it missed the fly. My hands were shaking. Again and again I cast, but to no avail. And then, managing to get the cast out “on a long, slow swing across the tail of the Canyon Pool” a cutthroat took it. Its violence on the take didn’t reflect in its size. It certainly wasn’t a three- or four-pounder. But it was a solid cutthroat and I could actually see it swim to the bottom of the canyon pool after I released it, take up position and await another morsel from the canyon waters.

In that address to the BC Federation of Fly Fishers I also told them of hopes and dreams; that, some day, the Canyon Pool would be back

To that gallant body, and Haig-Brown followers, I say this of the Canyon Pool: “I fished its ghost. It was magnificent.”

RELATED: Roderick Haig-Brown named Person of National Historic Significance

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A cutthroat trout takes a fly in the Canyon Pool on the Campbell River. Photo by Neil Cameron

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