It had rained
enough that our simple cabin with its Air-tight heater acquired a special and
luxurious glamour. When we got good and cold, usually the result of running the
boat in one direction while the wind took the rain in another, we would head
for the cabin, put some wood in the heater, douse it with coal oil and throw in
the magic match that made everything all better. This was the romance of the
heater. We played with the flue, adjusted the draft, and while the logs rumbled
and roared inside we tuned the thing like a violin. One afternoon when a view
through any of the windows would have suggested that the cabin was Captain
Nemo's vessel and that we were at the bottom of the sea, Frank leapt to his
feet with an expensive Japanese camera in his hands and began to take picture
after picture of the tin heater rumbling peacefully with our wet laundry
hanging around it in homage. You could say it was our little darling.
One of the
exhilarations of fishing new places lies in rendering advice into some kind of
obtained reality. Cast the fly, you are told, right along the bank and the
trout will rise to it. So you cast and you cast until presently you are blue in
the face and the appealing syllogism you started with is not always finished.
When it does not work, you bring your vanquished person back to the dock where
there is no way to weigh or measure the long face you have brought instead of
fish. At the first whisky, you announce that it has been a trying day. Then
someone else says that it is nice just to get out. Irrationally, you wonder how
you can get even for the remark.
But once, when
the British Columbia sky made one of those spectacular partings we associate
with the paintings of Turner or the handing down of stone tablets, we saw what
had been described to us in the beginning.
Large fish, their
fins showing above the water, were working schools of salmon fry: a setup. We
started the engine and ran upwind of them, cut the engine and started to drift
down. We had the goods on them. When in range I false-cast a few times, made a
long cast beyond them and gently retrieved into their midst.
I hooked a fish
instantly. It made a strong first run, then mysteriously flagged. I reeled. It
came obediently to the boat where Frank netted it.
that?" he asked. In the net was some kind of revolting giant minnow.
"It is Martha
Raye," I said bitterly. "She has been drinking." Later we learned
that it was a squawfish. No one ever caught one on purpose.
It was not until
almost our last day that the river began to disclose itself. We made a drift
past the Indian village where we were seeing occasional rises. The problem was
that the river was so clouded that the fish were unable to see a fly. The
condition was blamed on a stump desert left by nearby logging.
We began to
drift, blind-casting large Wulff flies ahead of us, mending the line to keep
the river from bellying it and dragging the fly. In very short order a bright
band appeared beneath my fly, moved downstream with it and inhaled. I lifted
and was solid to a very good fish, which was netted some minutes later. It
bumped heavily in the bottom of the boat until I could get the fly out and
We were startled.
A short time later another came, boiling the fly under with a very positive,
deep take—and was released. There were no rises to be seen any longer, though
fish rose fairly well to our own flies until we had six. Then the whole factory
shut down, and nothing would persuade a trout to rise again. While it had
lasted, all of British Columbia that had existed had been the few square inches
around my dry fly. With the rise over, the world began to reappear: trees,
lake, river, village, wet clothes.