Labor Day in the Queen Charlottes
Sept. 1-4: The 2005 Pacific Rim Saltwater Flyfishing Championships
At 7:30am, Wednesday morning, Les Johnson and Chris Bentson, a last minute sub for Trey Combs who had called in ill the night before, and I left for Vancouver, BC. We were off to the 2005 Pacific Rim Saltwater Flyfishing Championships, an invitational fishing tournament being staged at Peregrine Lodge in the Queen Charlotte Islands. After a one hour, 45 minute flight to Masset on a Convair 580 and a 45 minute flight in a chartered packed-to-the-gills Huey to the lodge, we met our fellow contestants: Kelly Davison, owner of Sea Run Flyshop in Coquitlam, Peter Morrison, tackle rep, Shawn Bennett of Weigh West in Tofino, Kathy Ruddick, owner of Ruddick's flyshop in Vancouver and Jerry Vodola and his son, Rob, a steelhead guide from Kimsquit, and Mark Pendlington, television producer.
The tournament was held for two days only from 8am to 3pm each day. Any Pacific salmon species hooked on a cast barbless fly on 12 pound test Maxima Ultragreen tippet while the boat was in neutral would be eligible. All salmon were to be released alive after the length and girth were taken and radioed in to the lodge with the total weight for two days winning the trophy.
Thursday morning at 5:30am, the telephone alarms woke all the contestants (as well as the other 48 guests at the lodge) and breakfast was served at 6am. We packed lunches, donned our floatation/survival suits, that made us look like fat little red and black Michelin men, grabbed our gear and were on the docks by 7, where we were interviewed by Gordon Howsey (MC) and Roger McGrath (camera/soundman) for the Canadian television show, "Sportfishing BC." My fishing partner for the next four days was Kathy Ruddick, who besides being a total hoot and helluva flyfisher, owns Ruddick's Fly Shop with her husband in North Vancouver.
After meeting our guide, "Hollywood" Tom (as Kathy quickly began calling him as soon as she got a shot of his shiny white tooth-filled smile) we were off in our 17 1/2 foot Boston Whaler. Fishing was tough. It was, after all, September in the north. The sockeye were long gone and the pinks were purposefully porpoising along their way in small schools through Virago Strait with only an occassional happy jump to mark their position. We also saw a few chums marking the smooth water with their multiple jumps. Our quest for the next two days should have been the big migrating coho but we all got caught up in trying to slam dunk the contest by catching a big "springer," or Chinook Salmon which are nearly impossible to catch on a csat fly. I found that black bass or "bombers" loved my popper and couldn't resist impaling themselves while the lordly kings dissed it. I will say that I had one shot at a feeding Chinook but it was too intent on running down a school of herring to pay any attention to my little fly.
It was a few hours before we heard the first call-in for weight came in. It was a small pink of 3.5 pounds. Not long afterward, Hollywood Tom called in a slightly larger pink Kathy landed. In the excitement, I released a ten-inch jack while nobody was looking. Fishing was tough and was going to get tougher as the weather began to turn. We had heard that the moochers were catching coho out in the deep and did a kidney busting flying run out where we could only wander the seas looking for signs such as diving birds, sea lions, killer whales, porpoises, happy-to-be-alive jumpers, other boats catching fish, or best of all, slashing feeding coho. It wasn't long before Kathy hooked and landed a 13.4 pound coho that vaulted her into the lead for an hour or so. The other guys fishing Deep Water Expresses, LC-13, Hi-D lines and various lengths of secret fast-sinking abominations soon took over the contest with some truly prodigious coho. I was so alone and insignificant on this huge swelling ocean of gray nothingness with my little popper.
We finally found a school of slashers. They were moving up and down a tide line five miles off shore over 420' feet of water. It was so foreign fishing this area – no structure, points or shoreline that we felt would hold and trap bait, only a long tideline of foam, loose kelp and other floating detritus. Who woulda thunk? We drifted in a line where we could intercept the fast moving schools of fish. Kathy began throwing a fast sinking line with an orange, chartreuse and white polar bear streamer while I stood by waiting to cast my chartreuse and white polar bear popper to the approaching marauders. Kathy hooked up first with a big nasty that whipped a huge knot into her running line that somehow made it out of her guides and into the water. While Tom and Kathy were dealing with her knotted line and rampant coho, I made a short cast to a swirling fish. The fly landed about five feet from the ring. I made two quick strips and the fish turned and charged my fly. I yelled, "Eat it baby!" and boy, did she ever. I heard Kathy and Tom cheering me on as the big fish lunged into the fly and immediately caught some big air just off the bow. "Come on, take out some line. C'mon, run. Let's go," I pleaded. I needed to clear the line off the deck, motor handle, fuel lines, chairs and the pointy stuff that's on a boat not rigged for flyfishing. She jumped five times then turned and ran. I reached down and kept the wildly whipping loops under control. It looked like spaghetti being slurped up off a plate by a teenage boy. At last, the line straightened and with a satisfying "whap" was on the reel. The fish ran straight down and was into my backing in a few quick seconds. I figured she took a good 120 feet of backing before coming unbuttoned. I quickly wound up, checked my fly and looked for another feeding fish. But it was over for me. Kathy and Tom lost her fish at the net, She guessed it to be at least 15 pounds. It coulda been a contender.
The camera boat cruised over next to us and began filming. They yelled over to Kathy to cast her fly onto the boat where they could catch and photograph it. While Gordon had it in his hand and was describing it for the camera, I saw a couple big coho come out of the water off to the side about 50 yards away. "Let's go," I yelled. Gordon dropped the fly just as Kathy pulled it away. Tom wheeled the boat around and we headed towards the birds and holes in the water. Day one ended as we spent the next two hours chasing down a few small schools of pinks and some happy jumping chums.
The next day, we agreed to forego chasing springers and concentrate solely on coho. It was a good idea until you spend half the day chasing down birds, random splashes and any boat with a bent rod. The weather didn't cooperate and neither did the fish. It didn't help that we heard the other boats calling in fish. We were having a bad day. All I could do was wonder why Kathy never needed to pee. Isn't it odd that on the river you never see women running up into the bushes like us men? The next day, Chris told me how his and Les' guide showed them how to use a length of thick brown kelp to facilitate pissing over the side. It should be called peeweed.
In the end, Mark Pendlington won, Chris Bentson (the last-minute sub) came in second and Peter Morrison took third. They will all receive automatic invitations to next years tournament. In the meantime, I'll have to begin work on a popper that will bring fish up from 400 feet.
Addendum: The next two days were "free" fishing days. I learned to jig for "hallies," as our Canadian friends call halibut, and mooch for coho. Kathy and I also did some bucktailing (illegal during the tournament) which happened to be just the ticket. She caught four big coho and I caught five on my popper . . . finally.