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Ten Thousand Miles Through Canada
Chapter XIV

Game fish—Variableness of the season—Primitive methods of angling—Salmon species—A thousand miles’ swim—The conoe—The sockeye—The humpback—The dog salmon— Trout species—The common trout—The steel-head—The Kamloops—The Great Lake trout—The Dolly Varden—Brook trout—Distribution of salmon and trout—Angling reaches— Death of salmon after spawning—Theories—Fly and spoon bait—Fishing rods—The course of the Fraser River—The Coquihalla and Hope rivers—Angling on the Harrison River— My Indian guide—Scepticism and faith—A fight with a twenty-five pounder—The Harrison described—A second captive— Invoking Adjidaumo—His blessing on a twenty-six pounder— A visit to the Harrison Rapids—The conoe run.

GAME fish are plentiful throughout British Columbia. The rivers and lakes vary in their seasons, and a long and fruitless journey may be made by rail or canoe, only to find that the visit is ill timed. Water good in the spring is worthless in the autumn, and vice versa. A good deal of valuable time might be saved if reliable information could be obtained on these points. I found it extremely difficult to get any, as good anglers are by no means plentiful in the province, and it is so vast that the information is generally confined to a local, and therefore a circumscribed, area. The primitive methods of angling that prevail in the Dominion generally are a further obstacle in the way of hints that one angler is always ready to give another. A man who is an expert with a hand line is not necessarily an authority on rods and a trout’s taste in patterns of Ephemeridse; an Indian skilled in the use of a spear does not constitute a guide in the choice of favourite pools where the light impact of a fly brings the sweep of the broad tail of a resting fish. Dynamite and dry flies do not harmonize, and to such base uses one finds the magnificent trout and salmon subjected in out-of-the-way places. Fortunately the angling instinct serves in deciding where to fish, and it is often superior to the kindly but ill-judged advice that one listens to politely and prudently ignores.

There are five species of salmon in British Columbia waters. The spring salmon, the cohoe, the sockeye, the humpback and the dog salmon. So far only two out of the five have been known to take any angling lure, and it is the general opinion that only the spring salmon and the cohoe are game fish. The former is widely distributed. It is known in California as the quinnat; in Alaska as the tyee and king, and in Oregon as the chinook, or Columbia. It is the Oncorhynchus tschawytscha of Walbaum, the naturalist. From a commercial point of view the spring fish is regarded as the most valuable of the salmon species. In shape it is short and thick, with a small head of metallic lustre, growing sharp towards the snout. The anal fin has 16 rays. There are 15 to 19 branchiostigals and 23 gill rakers. The tail is forked, with black spot markings, which also cover the dorsal and adipose fins. The back has a bluish tint, becoming silvery below the middle; the scales are very small, numbering 135 to 155 in the lateral line.

In spring its flesh is red and rich, becoming paler as the spawning season approaches. As the season advances the fish becomes so dark that it is called the black salmon. It is said to run to 100 lbs. weight. One was caught with the rod in the Campbell River in 1897 by Sir William Musgrave that weighed 70 lbs. There is a plaster cast of it in the Victoria Museum.

They run up the river in spring and summer, travelling in some cases a distance of over a thousand miles to the spawning beds on the far inland streams.

The cohoe (Oncorhynchus alias Kisutch) is a much smaller species, running up to 10 lbs. weight. It has 14 rays in the anal fin, 13 branchiostigals and 23 gill rakers. It has 127 scales in the lateral line. It is a silvery fish, with greenish-tinted back and iridescent hues when taken in the salt water. In appearance it resembles the grilse of the European Salmo scilav. It is small-headed and well shaped.

The sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus narkd) weighs from 3 to 10 lbs. There are 14 rays in the anal fin, 14 branchiostigals, and 32 to 40 gill rakers.

The scales are small, numbering from 130 to 140 in the lateral line. The tail is narrow and well forked. The back is blue-tinted, running to silver below the lateral line, giving the fish a handsome appearance. During the spring season it undergoes a complete change in colour. Its sides grow carmine, and the head and tail change to deep olive green.

The humpback {Oncorhynchus gorbuscha) becomes hogbacked in the autumn to a degree of malformation that accounts for its name. The scales are very small, 180 to 240 in the lateral line. Black spots cover the back and fins. It has 15 rays in the anal, 12 branchiostigals and 28 gill rakers. It has a bluish-tinted back and is silvery beneath. It weighs from 3 to 6 lbs. It grows darker in shade towards the back; the head is pointed, and the upper mandible crooked like an old cock salmon.

The dog salmon (Oncorhynchus ketd) is from 10 to 12 lbs.; 14 rays in the anal, 14 branchiostigals, and 24 gill rakers. Its scales are much larger for its size than the spring fish, 150 in lateral line. The head is longer but not so sharp. When taken from the sea the dog salmon is a dark silvery tint with black fins. In the river it turns dusky, and the sides grow red, the head becomes distorted, and the front teeth grow large and dog-like in appearance, which accounts for the name.

There are five or six species of trout. Points of differentiation in some cases are so slight that a distinct species is questionable. Taking the natural history as we find it, the following is the classification: The common trout (Salmo nay kiss). The steel-head {Salmo gardneri); the Kamloops {Salmo Kamloops); the Great Lake trout (Cristvomer namaycush); the Dolly Varden (Salvelinus agassizii); and the brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalus). The steel-head is very like the European salmon. It is migratory and spawns in the rivers, and like the latter returns to the sea. It runs up to 20 lbs. in weight. It frequents the mouths of rivers, but is also found in lakes. In the Okanagan and Kootenay lakes the steel-head is said to remain without returning to the sea.

The Kamloops trout is classed as another species, but many naturalists confess to the difficulty of differentiating it. Its scales are much smaller than those of the steel-head, and it is marked with diminutive black spots almost absent from the latter. The caudal fin is broad and forked, the dorsal is set rather low on the back. Its tint is dark olive on the top, bright silvery below the middle, with a broad light rose-coloured band. The back is covered with pin-head black spots, becoming more numerous posterially. The dorsal and caudal are thickly covered with these marks, but few are found on the adipose, and the lower fins are quite plain.

The Great Lake trout is spotted with grey, its body covered with thick skin. It runs to a large size and averages 15 to 20 lbs. It is found in the great lakes from New Brunswick to Vancouver. At certain seasons of the year it grows almost black.

The Dolly Varden’s body is slender, with a large head and broad snout. The caudal fin is slightly forked, and its sides are an olive tint marked with round red and orange spots. The back is similarly marked, but with smaller spots. It is of the Chary genus.

The brook trout has a large head; the pectoral and ventral fins are particularly elongated. It is a dark olive colour with mottled or barred markings. It has red spots on the side, and the dorsal and caudal fins are mottled with a darker tint.

Salmon and trout are widely distributed over British Columbia. The Fraser, Columbia, Thompson, Kootenay and Skeena rivers are the main watercourses by which the salmon ascend to their far-distant spawning beds. The tributaries of these rivers are equally well stocked, and for sporting purposes are in many ways superior to the main watersheds. An idea of the quantity of the salmon may be gathered from the fact that the returns from the industry amount to from £600,000 to £1,000,000 annually.

There are also extensive lakes, such as Kootenay, Okanagan, Quesnel, Shuswap, Harrison and innumerable minor basins, which form the habitat of fish.

From the angling point of view, the lower reaches, the mouths of the small rivers, the creeks and tideways, are the favourite places to obtain sport. When fish travel a long distance inland they are becoming heavy with spawn, and the deteriorating stage begins. If they take any lure then, there is no fight in them, and as a sporting entity they are worthless. As a comestible they are even less valuable.

Of the great shoals of spring fish that press up fierce rapids and are battered against sharp rocks, none are said to return alive. Ichthyologists find an analogy between them and the Ephemeridae which die after they deposit their eggs. The immense quantity that float down the rivers after the spawning season gives plausible ground for this belief. The rivers are glutted with dead fish, so much so that the effect in places is almost pestilential. It is beyond doubt that a large proportion of the fish perish, probably all that have travelled long distances—a thousand miles for instance.

On the other hand, it is impossible to say whether those spawning nearer the coast perish in the same way. I saw excellent spawning ground below the rapids of Harrison River, which is quite near the coast, and reasoning from analogy there is little doubt that spring salmon spawn there. Salmo salar of European waters survive spawning, and it is in keeping with the fitness of things that British Columbian spring fish, which are larger and stronger, should, apart from accident, also survive. It would be interesting to ascertain whether the fish that choose the coast spawning ground die like their more adventurous companions that make for the heads of the rivers. The whole subject needs more careful investigation.

Mallock’s theory—that salmon that have spawned are spotted on the gill covers, and in support of which he gives corroborative if not conclusive data—might be easily applied to the fish netted in the Fraser and other rivers. Mr. John Pease Babcock, Provincial Commissioner of Fisheries in British Columbia, in discussing the incredulity of Atlantic and European authorities, says that they did not generally know that the Pacific salmon was not identical with Salmo salar, which returns to the sea after depositing its spawn. That statement scarcely disposes of the matter. The spring fish caught in the rivers of the province up to 70 lbs. weight must, on Mallock’s theory, be from 15 to 20 years old. It is difficult to reconcile the fact of a fish going all those years without discharging the natural function of its kind.

It may be laid down as a general rule for angling purposes, that whenever there is a river flowing into the sea, salmon will frequent it. As the British Columbian coast extends 7000 miles, and the rivers are legion, the opportunities for the indulgence of the rod are numerous. There are conditions, however, essential to good sport, which must be borne in mind. Some rivers, like the Fraser, are too highly coloured


for the use of fly or bait. A glance at the river from Lytton to Westminster gives indisputable proof of this. The Canadian Pacific Railway keeps close to it all the way, and at no point does the water grow clear, owing to thick glacial deposits. The colouring makes it all the more prolific for net fishing.

There are, however, important tributaries which are clear and in good order for the indulgence of the angling craft. The fish soon leave the main river and press their way up these all along the coast.

I sailed up the Fraser many miles, and although on the look-out for salmon, which were running at the time, I saw none breaking the water. The moment we entered a tributary where the water was clear they were to be seen rising all round us.

Another condition to be noted is the depth. The main rivers are very deep, especially when they reach the low-lying valleys and are nearing the sea. Fly-fishing in such places is out of the question. Salmon that take the fly are generally found in pools in comparatively light water, where they rest for a day or two on their long journey. It is on these the angler depends for sport. The running fish rarely takes any lure. Among the boulders and swirling eddies, one instinctively looks to find him. There sheltered behind the big stones which break the force of the water, the fly is likely to attract. Even spinning or trolling is not very profitable in the great depths unless one happens to cross a resting fish.

In a clear river such as the Galway in Ireland, where the movements of salmon can be studied, a fly covers the quarry many times before he takes. He can be seen raising his head as it crosses his resting-place, moving off a little and returning to the same spot again, as if irritated by its persistence, and at last shooting towards the top and seizing it.

The only bait that can be seen in the deep Canadian rivers is a large spoon or minnow, which sinks deeply and flashes vividly. The charge brought against the Pacific salmon of not taking the fly should by rights be laid against the nature of the river.

The best rod for the purpose is a regular spinning or trolling pattern. It should be about u feet long, and supple enough to control the movement of the fish without breaking the tackle. A four-and-a-half-inch diameter check reel, capable of holding from 120 to 150 yards of fine silk line is needed. Green-heart, carefully tested, is suitable material, or the very best built cane. Both of these I included in my outfit. I was also provided with a 16-feet cane salmon fly rod, Hardy Bros.’ “Connemara” pattern, and a Houghton 10-feet fly rod for trout, by the same makers.

The Fraser River flows through the great Cariboo and Lillooet districts, into which several broiling creeks empty themselves. Of these Alkali, Dog, Canoe, and Big Bar creeks are the chief. Fish Lake, from which Canoe flows, is suggestive of piscatorial

resources. North Fork joins it above Lillooet, and Seton Lake and Cayoose River below it. The ample volume of Kamloops Lake and River debouches into the Fraser at Lytton, and there are numerous creeks between that and Keefer on the Canadian Pacific Railway, such as Skuppa, and Neklipium.

Salmon River, below Keefer, is a short spawning stream, but too far off the coast to hold clean fish. The Coquihalla River at Hope is more promising, the distance to the sea being under 70 miles. It is a fine sweep of water, intersected with creeks, at the mouth of which there are good angling pools. The principal tributary of the Fraser is undoubtedly the Harrison River, 45 miles from the sea. At the rate which salmon travel it is only about a day’s journey from Westminster.

The Harrison rises in the lake of the same name, 6 miles from the Fraser. The lake itself is about 25 miles long. It is fed by the Lillooet Lake and River.

I stumbled on the Harrison on my way up the Fraser, and propos of the paucity of information, no one seemed to know anything about its angling qualities. It is as broad as the Thames at Hammersmith, beautifully wooded, with peeps of mountain ranges, some of them snow clad. A steamer plies between Chiliwack and Harrison Mills, passing through the Fraser Canon.

As soon as the boat turned into the tributary, I noticed salmon breaking the water in various places. Two Indians in a canoe were drawing a drift net, but the boat rounded a promontory before they made a haul. There were local men on board the steamer, belonging to Harrison Mills and Chiliwack, and I made the round of them in the hope of obtaining information on the angling. Trout could be got in the rapids, a few miles up the river, but salmon would not take any lure. That was the sum of the information obtained. I tried the captain, but drew another blank.

On landing at Harrison Mills all aspirations to mount my rod and try my luck were discouraged Nobody, it would seem, had cherished ambitions of the kind before. There was an Indian settlement on the river, and I made my way towards it. A squaw informed me in broken English that the “braves” were away hop-picking. I explained my object, and was directed to a shack lower down stream. There I found an Indian in the antepenultimate stage of dressing, who bundled on a jacket, and came forward to answer my questions.

“Any salmon fishing on the river?” I asked.

“Yes, with a net,” he replied, eyeing the rod in my hand, as constituting part of the question.

“Won’t they take a spoon-bait or fly? You see them rising,” I added hurriedly, noticing his lips beginning to shape a “no”—but it came all the same.

“Why not?”

“These big fish take no bait in this river,” came again the emphatic declaration. “We can net some,” he said, as a concession to the disappointed shrug of my shoulder.

“Look here,” I said, “I have three hours before my train goes. Take me out for that time. I will make it worth your while.”

“Yah, sure! but we’ll catch no fish. How will that suit you?”

“Never mind, you won’t lose anything by it.”

We started in a light boat, and I mounted a 2-inch spoon, gilt on one side and silver on the other, using a strong gut trace with a light sinker. Flies I judged out of the question in such deep water.

Taking the centre of the river, the Indian rowed me down-stream for a quarter of a mile. I utilized the time in carefully noting the direction the fish were taking. The centre, where the water was deepest, did not seem to be their course so much as the sides, that nearest the right bank being the favourite run. The current took that direction, and there were a good many large rocks and other conditions favourable to the formation of pools where the fish rested. The water on the left bank was weedy in places, which indicated a slackness in the stream in that direction.

I trolled a short line on the way down, but fishing with the current is never very successful. The Indian, who evidently knew nothing about angling, possessed the next best merit for my purpose—docility—and made himself a willing machine. Up-stream I let out about sixty yards of line, and exhorted my guide to row slowly. For half an hour nothing transpired, and I varied the experiment by using a longer and at times a shorter line. Passing round a rocky island there was a sudden convulsion imparted to the rod, and the reel gave a vigorous shriek. I had hooked a fish. I awaited the rush which generally follows when a salmon is hooked under such circumstances, but it never came. Like a great many fish, my introductory specimen unkindly severed his connexion at the earliest possible moment. My guide looked incredulous, and fortified his unbelief by the theory of a rock or weed.

We had not to wait very long, however, for the triumph of a nobler faith. A hundred yards higher up the river the reel again gave out signals of distress, and continued to roar after I had accepted the gage of battle and used all the resisting power of the rod. The fish made slightly down and across stream. I applied all the brake I could with my finger, but the pace was rapid, and the friction of the line nearly cut the skin. The usual wiles of the playing fish were adopted in turn by my first Harrison River captive. He rested after the run, giving me time to recover twenty or thirty yards of line, filling in the interval with vigorous head-shaking and jiggering. I directed my guide to row towards him. The pause on the fish’s part was a brief one. The slack caused by the movement of the boat stimulated his activities, and he dashed off again, not crying halt until a distance of one hundred yards was covered. The rush brought him to the surface, where he rolled over like a porpoise, showing a fine broad side and a huge tail. The water divided before him with a hiss, and a white-flaked surface marked the place where he floundered.

“After him!” I cried to the Indian. A salmon like that, if he has a mind, can empty a reel. Sharp as the line could be recovered, I wound it in. A fish that breaks the water after a long run is generally tamed for a few moments, and every angler knows how to take advantage of the pause. When next he began to move, only about a length of a dozen yards separated us. He headed up-stream, and doggedly resisted, keeping pace with the steady strokes of the oar. I had met that kind of fish before; it is the usual policy of the springer “to take it aisyjust to rest himself after racent exertions.” The counter policy is to make the resting stage as hard as possible; I bent the rod in pursuance of it.

“How long is this going to last?” I wondered. I had not to wait long for the answer. He was only sitting out a dance, and was at it again “like the divil,” as my Irish gillie would say. Twenty minutes elapsed before there was any change in the tune. Once more he turned down-stream, as if he was getting into strange water and hankered after more familiar haunts. I encouraged him, and the boat was brought round. Off he went, but saving his gills by taking a slant—straight down-stream is drowning for a fish. Again I called to the guide to be after him. The impassive countenance of Hiawatha leaped into life, the spirit of the chase inbred in his blood underwent a resurrection. The oars flashed. “Yah, sure!” he cried with alacrity.

I tried to get below my quarry, and so command the course, an old trick of toning down a fish given to mad rushes, but he saw through it, and slanted off despite vigorous pressure. A clear hour passed before there was any sign of capitulation. Then the runs grew shorter, and I got him nearer to the surface. I could see the fine proportions of the prize, and if he wanted a little longer time, I was not going to hurry him.

Meanwhile, a telescopic gaff in my game bag was placed in readiness. The grunt of surprise that the Indian gave as he saw the fifteen inches drawn out to five feet, I place amongst the interesting incidents of the day. At length, I got the fish to the surface, and drawing him within reach of the steel, gaffed him.

An hour and ten minutes had passed from the time he drew the first screech from the reel. A noble fish, perfectly fresh, and in magnificent condition. He scaled 25 lbs. exactly.

“You have forty minutes yet to catch your train,” was Hiawatha’s comment.

“Are you good for the day?” I asked.

“Yah, sure.”

“Then we shall spend it on the river.”

We landed, and I replenished my stock of tackle and laid in luncheon for the day. The Indian suggested going higher up. There were plenty of fish everywhere, but the river widened out so much that they were scattered. I had to spend a couple of hours discovering the new lie. I did not think we improved our angling prospects by the change, but making the best of it, I watched the salmon, and discovered two or three distinct lines where they were showing. The Indian’s sharp eyes were of great service in the scouting business, and the way he brought the boat on them showed considerable skill.

The Harrison above the bridge takes a broad sweep, washing the base of a pine-clad mountain, a favourite resort of bears.

Wild duck, feeding in a bed of weeds, drew out of cover at our approach, and in well-ordered file followed their leader into more remote shelter. A large saddle-backed gull was settled on a narrow sandbank abreast of the mountain. Far down the river the sunlight was streaming through a gap between the hills, and lit up a patch of water with a brilliance that made a more striking contrast with the dark^ background of forest pines.

Another fish soon rewarded our vigilance. A good part of the morning performance was repeated, but the item was got through more expeditiously. In forty minutes the salmon was in the boat, and scaled 24 lbs.

We did nothing more before luncheon, except to lose a spoon-bait which had proved the attraction to the two fish landed. A good many uprooted trees and sunken logs are scattered over the river, and one of them appropriated it. Another spoon, but an inch longer, replaced it. It was a huge weapon, a vulgar thing, inconsistent with the good taste of a well-bred salmon, but it was “Hobson’s choice,” and up it went. The rise seemed to go off between 1 and 3 o’clock, and I proposed returning to the lower reaches, where so much time would not be wasted in getting on the fish.

We passed two or three island rocks covered with blueberry bushes in full fruit, and had to resist the temptation to tarry and eat. “I must get the third fish,” I exclaimed to Hiawatha, as he gracefully plied the oars with scarcely a splash. A loud clatter from a fir tree that overhung the bank called attention to a squirrel. He shot up a great arm and, ensconced in the fork, swished his tail over his head in an attitude of defiant security. Ah, Adjidaumo, “Tail in air, the boys shall call you,” befriend us, as thou didst the great Hiawatha. We too would catch the "king of fishes”; and Adjidaumo swished his tail again, and gave us a send-off chatter.

The sharp prow of the boat silently parted the water on either side, and clear of the wake of the skiff the great spoon revolved, its blend of silver and gold sending electric flashes through the river. It clears a shallow here, dips into a deep pool lighting a space all round it. A Dolly Varden sees it and sidles out of the way. A cohoe plucks up-courage, is about to make a snap at it, hesitates for a moment, and it goes by. But higher up-stream, in the shelter of a boulder, rests the modern Nahma, “king of fishes.” His great tail sways to and fro, his head flicks from side to side in swift glances at drifting twig and fallen leaf. His old environment in the far-off sea, still and calm with the silver sand beneath him, is forgotten, and he rises to the surface once more, and breaks it in exuberance of life. A glimpse of metallic light is caught as he slowly returns. He twists half round and instinctively stiffens himself, simulating the lifelessness of a log. Nearer comes the rash invader of the king’s territory, and swift as lightning there is a plunge, and his great jaws close on it like a vice in a masterful grasp. But the hidden sting of his captive smites him to the bone. “Ah, Nahma, thou hast been rash in thine onslaught this time. Put forth thy best strength now. Masterful as thou art, thou wilt need it. Biter that thou hast been, truly art thou bitten!”

He is across the stream, plunging and shaking his great head in mad resentment of such unwonted infringement of his liberty. How mighty he is in battle, and the decks must be cleared to snatch from him the victory; a jam in the rings, a tangle in the reel, and he will smash like packthread the stout silk line, or snap in sunder the most powerful rod!

In response to his first plunge the reel gives. He mistakes the act of yielding for weakness, and seeks to better the odds by increased pace and fiercer battle. In the forty-mile swim from the sea there has been nothing in the pace to match that sample. He rises for a moment, so close to the boat that Hiawatha sees him, and exclaims, “Oh, if I had my spear!” Shame on thee, Hiawatha! Think of thine ancestor who wrestled fairly with the green corn until he mastered it. It is not thus we fight the Nahma of the stream. Skill against strength is the principle; a fair fight and no favour.

An hour goes by . . . another half follows, and by this time the captive had traversed up and down a mile of water. Now he lies on his broad sides, inert on the surface. The hands of the watch marked five minutes past four when he was hooked; it had reached ten minutes to six when he was gaffed. I was almost unequal to the task of lifting him over the gunwale, and sank with aching back and limp arms from the prolonged strain.

“You fish for the sport of it,” said Hiawatha, in a final comment, as if a new vision of the chase had stirred him.

Again there was a chatter in the pine tree,

“Oh, my little friend, the squirrel,
Bravely hast thou toiled to help me
Boys shall call you Adjidaumo.”

The fish weighed 26 lbs., a hen species, and, like the others, in the pink of condition.

These salmon are made for fighting. They are short and thick and possessed of great muscular power. If English anglers, who speak disparagingly of their powers compared with the European species, would use lighter rods and tackle than those generally employed on the Campbell and other rivers, I think they would find a sporting entity in them in no respect inferior to Scotch and Irish springers.

The capture of three fish aggregating 75 lbs. created a little sensation amongst the villagers, who assembled en masse to inspect them. Some of them looked at the apparently frail rod and fine line and shook their heads in incredulity. It seemed impossible that such tackle could hold out against such odds.

The next morning the proprietor of a large sawmill took me in his motor-launch up the rapids. The fish passed through them on their way to Harrison Lake and the Lillooet River, which constitutes their spawning ground. It is an ideal place for the fly, delightful streams and swirling eddies, where a Jock Scot or a silver doctor would soon give a tight line. It was impossible to fish it from a motor-launch, and I had only two hours to spare before catching the train which I gave up the previous morning.

The conoes run about the time of the spring fish, and they are as ready for the fly as the European grilse. I read in the Harrison River rapids the possibility of the best salmon angling, and the application of the gentle art in its most scientific form.

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