Every fibre of my being is focused on the flash of silver leaping out of the water. The fish is desperately trying to spit the hook, to break the line inseparably linking us.
I’m thinking Hemingway: the old woman and the sea?
All right, a bit pretentious perhaps. At the end of my hook is not a giant marlin, but a modest Coho salmon. But for the moment, we are locked in combat no less dramatic.
I don’t hear the ticking of the small outboard engine, or see the dramatic panorama of land and water that make up British Columbia’s own version of fjords (Norway, eat your heart out).
“Let him go a while,” commands John Reid, as the fish makes a run, zinging away the line. This is critical. Lock the line and the fish will easily snap it and be gone. When it slows he says, “Now pull him back in.”
I slowly, painstakingly rewind back those metres he snatched with his last speeding attempt at flight, the clickety-clack of the reel my accompanying music.
My right arm is getting tired, but so is my silver adversary and finally….finally, I reel him close enough for John to slip him into the net.
My catch! My first ever catch on my first ever fishing trip!
He weighs in at under 10 pounds, but no one is going to convince me he isn’t a giant. And I catch a second Coho soon afterwards.
When Ed’s line starts to play, John knows immediately that this one is a halibut, knowledge born of decades fishing in Knight Inlet. Halibut, it seems, go straight down and don’t use the same tactics as salmon.
He is proved right as my delighted partner lands a 20-pound halibut, dull yellow brown but with a pristine white underbelly. “Good eating,” John assures us.
John Reid started Sailcone Wilderness Fishing more than four decades ago. In those years it has seen some very illustrious visitors, including company presidents, a group of Nixon’s personal advisors (“We don’t talk about the Watergate guys”), and celebrities like Graham Kerr (The Galloping Gourmet), who charmed everyone.
Sailcone’s wooden lodge on Minstrel Island, within the safety of a sheltered lagoon, is one of few man-made structures among these towering BC forests. Meals at the lodge are gourmet feasts featuring fresh crab and prawns straight out of the traps, their flesh so sweet I eschew the dipping sauce. Indeed, those prawns with a glass of wine while sitting on the verandah are my idea of perfection after a day on the water.
Today, John’s son, Angus runs the operation, expanding it to include grizzly bear and whale watching trips up the inlet as well as some of the best fishing in Queen Charlotte Sound. In these clean, cold waters the catch of the day could be salmon from the sockeye, chum, spring and Coho families; ling cod; halibut and more. The lodge cuts and cleans the fish, freezing it in vacuum bags for guests to take home.
But, I learn, fish is on the menu for more than the human visitors, and over the next few days we discover that fishing techniques differ considerably. On our second day, we head down the inlet to see an expert catch fish by hand, or is that paw?
A mama grizzly, intent on feeding her three cubs, ignores our little boat 50 metres away. We watch as she catches a fish in a shallow salmon stream, swatting it out of the water, and sharing it with the little ones. I’m impressed with her skill.
Our third day is overcast and windy, so we stay close to the lodge, enjoying the peace of the area and watching our neighbours, two great blue heron who seem to have made the lodge breakwater a home. A very noisy eagle has chosen a nearby tree for his lookout. The eagle soars and dives to the water, coming up with a fish. In sharp contrast to the human technique, his method of fishing requires a sharp eye and speed.
Someone has spotted a bear nearby, so we head out in the boat. Sure enough, a sleek black bear is searching the beach for shellfish. “He’s a healthy fellow,” says John. “Look at the shine on his coat.” Busy with the task at hand, the bear pays us little heed.
Perhaps the most impressive demonstration of fishing comes on our fourth day. Puttering toward Telegraph Cove, we watch a frenzied group of gulls, wheeling and diving nearby. “They’re feeding off a school of herring, just below the surface,” explains John.
But as we watch, there is a sudden flurry and screeching as the gulls take flight. Into the melee rises a huge humpback whale, who has patently decided some herring might be just the thing for lunch. Only up for a minute, the gentle giant dives again. We watch as he rises and dives several times, making his slow progress across his domain.
I’m thinking there can be nothing quite as magnificent as the breeching tail of a humpback, when we spot a black and white head coming toward us − then several more. It’s not long before we are in the midst of a pod of orca swimming by, intent on their journey.
They rise and dive in a breathtaking black and white ballet. First two, then three more, then too many to count. My head swivels from side to side to watch as they swim along on either side, quickly outpacing our drifting boat.
It’s back to fishing for us. I mention that I have never tasted ling cod, so John takes us into another spectacular inlet. Ling cod are huge, seriously ugly, but delicious, I’m told.
John baits the lines and we drop them deep into the water, pulling up occasionally to create the illusion of movement. After our success earlier in the week, I’m expecting quick results. Instead, I discover what every fisherman must find out eventually − whether or not they have the deep well of patience required for the task.
I’m quickly bored.
It’s our last day. Sad to leave Sailcone, there is one more adventure in store. The small float plane that brought us here and will take us back to Campbell River on Vancouver Island offers a very different perspective of the magnificent vistas of Knight Inlet. I hate to leave. For me, waking each morning to the huge sky, shining water and towering forests has been an inexpressible joy. But for the creatures who live around − and in − those deep, cold, blue-green waters, it’s all about the fishing.
First published in Forever Young Newsmagazine, June, 2015