The Thompson River

I always wish that there could be a way for me to accurately retell every detail of a steelheading trip, or even just a single moment of it. Unfortunately every way I try to explain what it is like to be there falls utterly short. Journals and stories can only tell others so much, and photos can only rarely describe the underlying and intangible spirit of the country they were taken in. Occasionally a story or a photo will hit the nail on the head and for a brief moment we are let into the true nature and feeling of being part of the experience.

In the Fall of 2002 some friends and I traveled to the Thompson River in British Columbia. The Thompson is a river that flow through the arid hinterlands of the Canadian Coastal Range. The river is not known for it's kindness anglers, or for it's numerous Steelhead. The Thompson is however known for being a river where devout anglers can test there faith and grit against tough wading, freezing nights and mornings, and a strong possiblity of going a week or even two with not so much as a grab. But if the steelhead gods smile and the stars aline you may just hook the fish of a lifetime.

I went with my friends Dave and Billy and we spent a week fishing the runs around the town of Spences Bridge by day and hanging out at the Log Cabin Pub by night. In the frigid nights that haunt the Thompson's steelhead season, the pub is the best place to escape for warmth, food, and to hear stories of the rare fish told by some of the greatest Steelheaders on the planet. On our trip Billy, Dave, and I spent our evenings hanging out with two guys from the U.S., Steve Choate and Bill Williams, Steve had just won the world spey casting tournament in the UK and was busy helping to design fly rods and spey lines, in between floats down the Thompson. Bill was Steve's mentor, or that is what I gathered. We also Ran into many faces to put with Spey pages names. I also struck up a small friendship with an angler named Jon Barlow, and now I hear his name all the time, every body seems to know and like Jon.
So the nights were fun, Having beers and ripping on every one else for either fishing or not fishing long belly lines, or big or little flies, weight or no weight since we fished two-handers, what else was there?

The first day we fished hard and got nothing. We got to see a young Canadian guy land a nice fish in front of us. As the fish ran, his friend encouraged him to palm the reel, and he shouted, or maybe he whined, "I Caannn't it's a Haaaarrrdyyy". Billy and I love our hardys, but that is still one of favorite shout outs.

The next day was also an exhausting sun up to sundown seige on the river, and at the very end of the day Dave stuck our first fish. He was behind me on the Grease Hole and I heard his reel screaming, I turned around to see the last of his fly line slip out the tip of the rod. Dave ran down stream, hopping boulders, and even managed to save him se;lf from a gnarly backlash. Then it ended with me tailing a great big buck in the shallow water as dark rolled in. It was an amazing fish.

The next morning Billy and Dave headed down to fish the River right side of the Hotel Run. I chose to stay and fish the Grease Hole again. I did not get any thing on my first pass throught the run, but as I neared the tailout, I saw a few fish slowly roll, so I decided to go through again. The first pass I fished a large Black G.P. now I tied on a big orange intruderish fly and fished through again. This time it paid off. half way down the run the rod bucked hard and backing was racing off the reel, I don't even know what happened to the loop I was carrying or the rest of the fly line. The fish was instantly into the backing and going through it fast aqfter about 75yards or something in that area the fished slowed and I was able to turn it. over the next 15-20 minutes a game of tug o war was held between us, an finally he was less than a rods length from my feet, but I could not see him yet, so close, any second now. A head shake and the hook came loose, it was over and I never saw the fish. We fished hard the rest of that day, but found no other fish.

On the fourth Day it was Billy's turn, and though I led the way through the Grease Hole, and Dave followed me, It was Billy who got the fish. I was at the camp when I heard the sound of Billy's reel, so I grabbed my big camera and ran down, I went through 3 rolls of film on the fight and landing of the great fish, and it was truly great 43" long with a 26" girth, the biggest steelhead that any of us had ever seen.

As we were looking at the fish, I noticed that even though it had been hooked in the lower jaw, it had a big red red bruise on its upper lip. I mentioned this to Billy, who imediatly saw where I was going with this line of thinking and told me that this was absolutely not the fish I hooked yesterday, and to guit trying to horn in on his fish. Yeah, he read me pretty well on that one.

Well, after the rest of day four slipped by with out another grab, I started feeling pretty desperate. Both Dave and Billy caught fish and I had lost my only opportunity. On Day five I again hooked nothing a repeatedly fished the grease hole in the morning and the evening, while Dave and Billy had gone out to fish other runs, that evening when Billy and Dave returned from fishing John's Rock, they told me of the great Hen that dave had brought up to and landed on a skater, a greased liner.

I was happy for Dave, but  not as happy as I should have been, I was mostly sad for myself. How could he be so lucky? I now know, after several years have passed that he was and is just that good, and that I cursed myself by narrowing my focus so much, and wasting valuable time being childish. I started realizing this while we were hanging out at the pub, with Bill, Jon, and Steve. Dave and Bill had a great plan for some different water we should pioneer the next day, and Jon who seemed to be catching more that anyone that week, was encouraging me to try some smaller flies, and I decided that I would at least get the mental monkey off my back, stop worrying and start having fun, whether I landed a fish or not.
The next morning we all got going a little later than usual, alot cause we were tired and a little cause it was cold. We rolled in to the local gas station on our way up towards the Martell Islands section of the River. When we arrived we stopped at an orchard to buy some cide and fruit and asked the owner if we could hike through his orchard to get to the river. He said sure and even let us drive a good bit of the way on his property.

We fished across the river from a run that, I now know, is called Fantasy Island. Steve Choate was across the river on that run, a great soft water bay that takes a huge cast to fish right. The water I was on almost seemed too deep and structureless, the bank was steep and I could only stand ankle deep, any more would be a drop over my head. I thought I might have a chance on the hang down, but the grab came on beginning of the swing.

The Grab was the softest I have ever felt, like the weight of a small leaf. The fly kept swinging the small weight unchanging, then there was the slightest TICK, so small it was almost nothing, but I set the hook. nothing happened, I set right into a rock, way out there in the deep water with a floating line and a #3 spade, but I couldn't see a rock. Then the shit got started, the fish just ran and ran my line racing down stream, and the fish jumped 30yards up stream, then again 50yards up stream, but the line was still racing out down stream, pointing unchangingly at the boil of a yugo sized boulder. In the end it I was able to get her around the boulder and in, I can hardly remember it. Some moments last and others fade.
Dave helped me land, photograph and release the fish. Steve Shouted and gave a fist pump from across the river, Billy gave the steelhead fist pump that is truly unique to him, and I got all giggly cause I caught a steelhead. That night Dave and I fished the Orchard Run and each hooked and lost big fish both fishing the surface. When mine took it was getting dark and Dave had finished the run and was talking on shore with Bill. I was fishing caddisy/muddlerish thing and just like that morning a slight weight just started swinging with the fly, I set, and the fish just sat there. I called to Dave and Billy. They stopped talking looked up, saw me, rod bent, but the fish didn't move. Assuming I was up to my usual antics the went back to talking. I screamed "come you f&%*ers, I'm serious" and right then the fish bolted to the other side of the river. The fight was dramatic, The fish was huge, Billy later said that he saw it from the high bank and thought it would go an easy twenty, but at the end I went stupid and pointed the rod at the fish and it broke off just before we could land it.
We partied that night an in the morning, our last morning, Steve and Bill came by to teach us about casting long bellies. It was great and Billy and I really were sold on it. I would have told you then that I wasn't and for years after I went to shorter and shorter line, but My imagination was captured, and now I love fishing and casting long bellies when I can.

So the Thompson was good to us on that trip, we hooked 7 fish in 7 days. One fish was the biggest any of us had ever seen. I went back a couple of years later for four days, the trip was great with tons of memorable people, and animals, and events, but no fish. Thats the Thompson I had always heard of, she'll lure you into loving her and then and then make you watch as she loves some undeserving bastard.