It was only about an hour drive to Castlegar where the Kootenay River joins the Columbia which then flows into Washington and Oregon. Rated the number one river in the fishing guide, it is much too big for us to handle in a canoe, but we thought we should check it out. Lawrence said we should go see the best and most prolific flytier he had ever seen. Parking at the visitor’s center, two nice ladies told us how to avoid driving over Kootenay Pass at 5,823 feet, saying we could go up to Kootenay Bay and take the free ferry across. It takes an hour longer, but is a lot less harrowing than driving the pass. Good, because we had difficulty with the last pass at 5,000 feet. It is always a bit unnerving to have 8,600 pounds pushing you down a mountain.
Understandably, the BC fishing guide rates the Columbia #1 as the river flows 2,000 kilometers, 801 of which are in Canada, and the province is named after the mighty river. There are 470 (http://www.cbt.org/uploads/pdf/HydroPowerDams_Final_web.pdf) dams on the Columbia in Washington and Oregon, the best-known being the Grand Coulee, which destroyed famous Kettle Falls where native Americans caught salmon waiting to jump the falls. Salmon could no longer run 1200 miles upstream to spawn. Canada has built 18 dams on the Columbia.
The fishing guide said the lower section of the Columbia is a great Rainbow fishery where 4-pound Rainbows rise to take a dry fly. Mayfly hatches are so heavy, fishermen may have to wear netting masks, and 10-pound Rainbows are not uncommon.
We arrived at Castlegar Sports Center and Fly Shop and looked around as Rod dealt with steady business. His fly-tying table was obviously heavily-used, and he had every fly-tying material imaginable. Everything you would want for fly-fishing was there – waders, shirts, rods, lines, leaders and all the accessories. There was also plenty of spinning gear. A lull in business allowed us to introduce ourselves and chat a bit. It quickly became obvious that Rod loves his work and his customers appreciate his expertise. We learned that he guides trips on the Columbia and he could take us tonight so we signed up. We bought some flies, a net, some leaders, and clippers and asked for an RV park recommendation. He said there was one at the top of the hill.
Well, the “hill” is a mountain, but we soon found the Castlegar Cabins and RV Resort where we met Dale, the owner. He informed us that this is the biggest holiday weekend in Canada and he was booked up. In fact probably every campground would be booked up. After some discussion, he said we could park in the “Jeff Daniels spot” right next to his office where he had parked his golf cart. Apparently Daniels, the actor, came in late one evening when the RV park was filled, so Dale told him to use this spot. We felt privileged and lucky to be able to stay.
Dale walked by the window of the truck while I backed it into the tight spot next to his office doing a great job of guiding me. I think he has done this before! At 72, he is about ready to sell the park and go fishing. He manages the website for the fly-fishing club here, also managing 100 other websites! “It keeps my mind working” he said. He was a bit disturbed he couldn’t go to the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. “Huh”
I asked several times. Finally Kelly told me it is a military program with drums and bugles or other instruments such as pipes in the case of the Scots. Dale had been able to watch last year’s Tattoo on the internet, but couldn’t find this year’s events on television or the internet, but it is on his bucket list to go one day. Anyone have extra tickets to Edinburgh?
We made sandwiches and relaxed until 5:00 hoping the threatening thunder storm would pass. As we got our gear together, Dale helped me put a new 12-foot leader on and let Kelly use his vice to try to fix a reel he had dropped yesterday. It was his Dad’s reel sentimental value. The rain stopped just as we prepared to leave. Since we would be fishing through dinner time, we bought a pineapple-mango smoothie at McDonald’s and made our way to Rod’s. Customers were still filtering in. A lady bought a few things and talked a bit. Obviously a regular, Rod promised to take her out fishing next week. A young man bought two flies (small black ants) on his way out to fish the evening. Apparently the mayfly hatch in the evening is the time to fish. After that Rod said it was time to go fishing.
He said he had all the gear, and we had bought the flies so he said we just needed one rod. Kelly took one that Mev VanDoren had let him use for the trip. A 10-minute ride took us to a boat landing where four gentlemen sat under a tree next to a table with many empty beer cans on it and one man was sporting a brand new trash bag raincoat by Glad. Rod asked them to guard his truck. Kelly put his rod together and Rod was impressed with the G-Loomis, but the drag on the reel was broken so he used his own reel and I used Rod’s 9 foot, 4 weight.
The river was beautiful, the water being very clear, and it wasn’t as huge as I had imagined. Rod started the quiet 30-horsepower motor and eased the boat down the river. As we rounded the bend, the river widened and we could appreciate the awesome power of the Columbia River. I have great respect for the power of water. This is not a river for those not fully-experienced, but I was comfortable with Rod driving. Still, as we watched a couple of large logs float by, we know the dangers. We first pulled into a little part of the river that flows through an island and anchored, quickly catching several small fish. It’s always a bit nerve-wracking to fish with a guide one a river you are not familiar with, but Rod was very patient, especially with me fishing in the back. I caught Kelly’s line several times and gave a nymph to a trout. Moving to the big river and a heavy flow with a smooth area on the near side, we would stay there the remainder of the evening. Kelly was having a better time of it in the front of the boat and landed some very nice fish, including a beautiful 4-pounder. However, in the back of the boat with Rod, I was getting great instruction from the master. I felt clumsy, trying to roll cast and backhand a fly 35 yards into the current. Patiently, Rod demonstrated how to lift, roll, cast to the back and then with one, easy flick of his powerful arm cast 35 yards into the current, landing in a straight line. I felt like I should just watch him fish for three hours. Maybe then I would get it. I caught a couple more small fish and lost several flies to fish, one just snapping the line as I set the hook. I didn’t really get a good feel, but you know it was a good one. The upside of that was watching Rod tie flies on the line, using a simple loop knot for wet flies and the improved knot that we are used to for dry flies. He told us why, but I’m damned if I can remember. Shooting line out, you have all this fly line at your feet. I don’t know how I did it, but somehow I stepped on the line and broke it. I said a few curse words I don’t think Rod liked, but he patiently tied a cool knot to mend it. It would do for the evening.
After Kelly caught a couple more fish, he offered to switch, sensing I was going to jump overboard and drown myself. I think he wanted to get some of that expert instruction too. At about 8:00 the mayfly hatch started as the sun went behind the mountain. It was slow at first and the light was low enough that you couldn’t really see them very well, but for the next hour we were there, the intensity of the hatch increased and fish were rising everywhere! I caught a couple and lost a couple. Kelly caught a few and lost a few. Then one hit my dry fly on as it swung around in the middle of the current, immediately coming out of the water. I said something like it didn’t look big to me as I got it on the reel and started to bring it in. Then it took went on a short run, stripping off line, and I said maybe it wasn’t so small. I reeled it in again, trying to get it out of the way so Kelly could fish, and then it went on a BIG run. It was out in that big, powerful current of the Columbia River, my reel singing. I saw a left-hand bend down the river, and this fish was headed for Oregon. Here I was using Rod’s gear with a mended fly line and this fish was taking it all down the river with reckless abandon. I gently put my hand on the side of the reel in an attempt to slow this fish down. As the reel spun round the handle touched my hand and that’s all she wrote. Pop! That great fish and Rod’s fly were gone to Oregon. For a silly moment I thought the fish had turned and was swimming back toward me, but Rod smiled and gently said “I think it took your fly, and we don’t have time to tie another one on”. I sat down mumbling to myself, looking at that incredible river while Kelly reeled in another fish. Looking around I realized it was getting dark fast. We pulled the rock anchor and made our way back upriver. I hoped there were no logs floating down river, because you sure couldn’t see them. On Rod’s suggestion, we kept two beautiful fish, reportedly the best Rainbow trout you will ever eat. As we drove back to town I kept thinking about that fish. The vision of that fish running down that river like a bonefish will be forever etched in my mind. I asked Rod if we could go tomorrow night.