Neil Cameron’s fly fishing vest was given to him by Van Egan and is adorned with a Haig-Brown Kingfisher Creek Society crest. Photo by Neil Cameron

Gobsmacked on the Quinsam River

Strange things have happened to me while fishing, none stranger than on this past Family Day.

I had been watching the Quinsam River level for weeks. It stayed brown and high. Just before Family Day, its colour cleared.

The girls agreed to my Family Day celebration suggestion. They dropped me off at the river and took off to do their own thing. I started at Eric’s Riffle, near the hatchery, with plans to fish down to the Campbell and walk home from there.

I never wear a fly fishing vest, as my friends will attest. But for this fishing I needed room for water, snacks and 4.3 million flies. Former teacher, writer and best friend of Roderick Haig-Brown, Van Egan gave me his vest prior to his passing. I never used it until that day.

On the upper right shoulder is a badge of the Haig-Brown Kingfisher Creek Society. I slipped it on and it felt worn and smooth and as comforting as a grandfather’s hug.

For a fly I looked over a collection of Van’s flies and found one with a small name tag, identifying it and who tied it. It read: “Gob Fly. By Peter Broomhall, Vancouver B.C.” Pete is a dear friend, an undying advocate for wild salmon and steelhead for years and was the Langara College English Instructor.

He probably tied the Gob Fly in the 60s or 70s.

As with all flies of heritage there are two questions, “Frame it?” or “Fish it?”

I tied it on. And I strode down that river feeling I had lightning in one hand and thunder in the other. Karma had to be on my side. I passed several runs I could have fished. There were a couple of other anglers in some and not enough fishiness in others.

Before I knew it I was halfway down the river without having made a cast. Just above the Argonaut Bridge my first cast caught and stuck in a tree limb above my head.

So much for Karma.

Carefully I pulled on my line, bringing the branch down to within my grasp. I grabbed the branch and the fly was within reach. But the branch was aching to snap back up which could embed the hook into my hand. I put my fly rod between my legs to free up my other hand.

I shifted to get a better reach and the fly rod fell between my legs into ankle deep water. I disregarded it and reached again, taking the fly out, throwing it clear before releasing the branch that rocketed back to its original position.

I reached down for my fly rod and it was gone. I found it humorous, knowing it would be a little ways downstream in the shallows. It wasn’t.

Cold fear enveloped me. This wasn’t just a fly rod and reel. This rod had been my companion for 20 years. It was a Sage, six weight, two-piece I purchased from River Sportsman. The reel was a Leeda, a graphite reel I bought from Tyee Marine at the same time.

My friends Rick, Brent and Lorrie have all cast with it and knew it was one of the best. Mayor Andy Adams (way before he was mayor) had used it in an impromptu fly-fishing lesson I gave him and broke two inches off the tip. I remember Andy, ashen faced, apologizing profusely, willing to pay for repairs or a new rod.

I had a new eyelet tip put on and, surprise, surprise, the rod cast even better than before, two inches shorter.

And it was gone.

I felt like puking.

Trying to search for it going downstream was lethal. The currents from me roiled the surface so I couldn’t see the bottom. What harm the Quinsam River could do to it was nothing as bad as me inadvertently stepping on it. The rod was dark green, the reel black. Try spotting that in two or three feet of water. There was only one thing to do .

I went 15 metres downstream and waded back against the current. Nothing. I went 30 metres downstream and waded back against the current. Nothing. Then 60 metres and about 100 metres. Nothing. Only those who have waded rivers would realize the effort it took. It had taken two hours. I was done.

Legs shaking with fatigue I knew I only had enough left in the tank to wade out deeper and downstream. Nothing.

I couldn’t go further downstream because at that point the Quinsam bunches itself up and rollicks wildly to the Argonaut Bridge. There was no way to follow further. I screamed the F word four or five times. I thought of the vest and the fly and how the Quinsam had shattered my arrogance. I thought of my rod and reel and the only thing tougher than wading back to shore, were the tears in my eyes. Yes, I cried.

Staggering back to shore, I didn’t care if I went down. I was angry and sad and feeling sorry for myself when I saw The Gob. It was stuck to a small log.

I picked it and the line up and followed it downstream hoping beyond hope. And there, in the shallows just beside the rapids, were my rod and reel.

I reached down through the cold water and grabbed the cork handle. Everything was intact. I began reeling the line in and realized there was still 30 feet of it out there that could get hooked on bottom and I might lose The Gob.

I pulled the line into the air and half-assed cast it into the head of the fast, tumbling water of the run leading down to the Argonaut Bridge, reeling like mad to get the line back on the reel. It snagged. Then pulled. A six-pound steelhead came out of the water with The Gob in the corner of its mouth.

Five minutes later it came to hand. I took hold of the fly, released the steelhead and stood up, rod, reel and fly in my trembling hands.

I know now what Gobsmacked really means.