Sunset. Just a few morsels of smoked jack spring left on my tin plate. Across the creek separating me from the Dean and on the gravel bar a lone fisherman casts his lure into the darkening shadows. He appeared downstream, while I was preparing dinner. Now he had worked his way along the campground run to a point between my campsite and the main arm of the river.
"None today. How about you?" he responded.
"Just a humpy and a few doggies. No keepers."
"Where are all the fishermen?" he queried. "Really slow for late July."
"Maybe the weather reports are keeping the charter flights and the fishermen away," I said helpfully. "Where are you camped? Haven't seen anyone for three days, except for the two game wardens."
"I'm working at the logging camp. Just a few of us here now. Windin' down the operation," he replied.
"Tomorrow's my last morning here," I said. "Felix is picking me up in his pickup at 10:00 AM, where the road juts by the river. Twenty bucks I paid him to look after me. He has also arranged for the bush pilot from Bella Coola to pick me up at the logging docks."
"Twenty bucks. Good deal. Felix is a good guide. He's been living at the mouth of the Dean for as long as I've been here," the logger said.
"Did you see the black bear on the other side of the Dean about fifteen minutes ago?" he asked.
"Looked pretty brown to me," I laughed. "Guess he was fishing for salmon."
"Good thing you camped well away from the riverside. He might cross the river on the bridge, near the rangers' cabin and work his way down river. Did they tell you about the one that ripped their cabin apart?"
"Yeah, they did. Don't worry. I'll be careful. After I finish clearing up here, I'll tie my pack and food bag in that tree. No point inviting trouble."
"Keep a sharp lookout anyway. Better I get back to the logging camp before it gets really dark. That's why I carry this Durabeam with me. See you later."
Camp duties completed, I stoked up the campfire and reflected on the events of the last week.
Fishing for summer-run steelhead on the Dean was a dream I had finally realized. Summer steelhead are pound-for-pound the hardest fighting fish in existence.
My first evening fishing had been hot. But a broken leader, a hook straightened out and another hook broken off at the shank left me zero for three. Either Dean River fish were too powerful, or my reflexes and techniques had not adapted to the conditions on the river.
On my first morning, I broke the top guide on my steelhead pole, trying to dislodge a forty-plus pound spring salmon from the deep current of the Dean.
Switching to my fly rod didn't help. Although I hooked a steelhead, I was quickly left with just my sinking fly-line; the fish last seen heading downstream with my red fly and leader.
The second morning, I tried my spare spinning real and my six-foot pole. In a large pool, one-quarter mile upstream from camp, I hooked and landed two small salmon of about two pounds each. Both were mature fish, ready to spawn — a jack and a jane coho or spring.
Smoked over an open fire, these salmon went well with the rice, cabbage, and ham that are the mainstay of my wilderness camping.
Then two days of rain made fishing too uncomfortable. The two youths working as game wardens showed me about ten miles of the river. Mentioning my broken rod guide, one of them quickly fashioned a makeshift guide from some wire, twine, and black tape.
Now time was running out. Here I was on the Dean without a steelhead to take back with me. As I turned in for the night, my only thoughts were of the bear we had seen and the steelhead that I intended to hook and land tomorrow.
Before sunrise, I ate breakfast, broke camp and stowed my gear in my packsack. Only my steelhead pole, reel, and small tackle box remained. No point in fly-fishing. If I hooked a big one, I was going to land it.
Two hours until my rendezvous with Felix.
My best chance to hook one, I thought, a pink 'spin and glow' with fifteen-pound test line. Bottom bouncing — with pencil lead and surgical tubing. No swivels — no leaders, just straight line and my Avon Royal reel for best control of a hooked fish, but no strain on the line. Fight it until it beaches itself with the ten-foot steelhead pole.
Creep to the gravel bar. Get up slowly. Short casts and then longer casts at the top of the run. Work slowly down the river. Short casts and then longer casts. Try the far side with a really long cast. Short cast, medium cast, the middle of the river, the middle of the run.
Mid-morning in the summer on the Dean River — 9:00 AM. One hour left.
Then my rod bends over with a powerful tug. The reel drum screeches in my right hand. The fish swims straight toward the opposite shore of the river. Within twenty yards of the opposite shore, he turns suddenly and swims straight towards me. It's no spring! But it sure felt heavy, like a spring.
Now my reflexes are there. I reel in and let out the line, whatever the whim of the fish, applying as little pressure as possible. On its own, the fish makes three round trips to the opposite shore and back. Still applying no pressure, but each run shorter than the last.
Then, struggling into the gravely shallows, the fight is at an end. I step back and pull with my rod. The steelhead, glistening silver, wriggles and flops onto the gravel bank.
Check the time: 9:30 AM. One-half hour to land this fighting, elusive, summer Dean River steelhead. Mid-summer, 1978.
A few minutes later, while still catching my breath, I hear Felix honking.
"Over here," I shout.
Felix and one of the game wardens appear above the brush along the river's edge.
"Bring your scale."
Sure enough, I had done it. A summer-run, doe steelhead. Nineteen pounds, and one ounce. The heaviest fish weighed in that season, according to Felix and the game wardens.
Not the heaviest steelhead that I have caught. But now I can say that, pound-for-pound, the Dean River summer steelhead is the best fighting fish I have encountered.
Works Cited and Consulted
Wiens, Elmer G. "Summer Success on the Dean." British Columbia Sport Fishing. Oct.-Nov, 1989: 12-13.
Wiens, Elmer G. "Summer Steelhead on the Dean." British Columbia Sport Fishing. Aug.-Sept, 1993: 54-55.