By Dennis Dickson
Fly fishing BC steelhead rivers is so magical. Sure, we have had our rain outs, wash-outs, busted boats, and broken vehicles. Somehow, these memories all jumble up in a warm and fuzzy place, and I can enjoy them time and time again. As I get older, I find myself pulling out these drawers of memories, for a taste of the good old days.
It would be easy if not tempting, to reduce these fishing stories to, “how many, how big” but that would simply never reveal the whole experience. In the many years of being out in a marvelous land, would you like to know what I most often reflect back on? The people. It simply wouldn’t have been the intriguing experience without the people, and for that, I am forever grateful.
I remember an invitation I accepted to fly fish the fabled waters of the North. Mick was heading North every year now. Frank was going up, too. I became fishing buddies with both and subsequently jumped at the invitation.
It was there I met Plutonius. His name was actually Pluto, but Frank dubbed him Plutonius, and somehow the name had stuck.
Plutonius was an artist by trade, and a full blown philanthropist at heart. His life was reduced to generating just enough money painting to spend the remainder of the year fly fishing for steelhead. A true fly fishing bum. A badge which he wore proudly.
Pluto wasn’t what you might call a great fisherman. Mick could cast farther, and Frank consistently brought more steelhead to hand, but Pluto loved his sport and loved the one Bulkley River pool he was successful in. We dubbed this drift the Maple Tree pool and it consistently held steelhead for Pluto each fall.
Instinctively, the other boys in camp seemed to know this. The rest of us fly fishers might jockey with each other to get first water on pools like “Blow Down,” or “Easy Money”, but nobody fished through “Maple Tree.” That was Pluto’s.
Maple Tree was an interesting piece of water. It was actually made up of two pools. Upper Maple had a good head, where the water would enter the pool strong enough that migrating steelhead would often hold before negotiating up through the rapids. The river currents spread beautifully, then scurried into a deep hole that was tucked in delicately close to the river bank.
A wading angler was left with no choice at the deep water but to leave the river and hike around to the downstream side of an ancient maple tree before he could wade back into the stream to fish the lower run. Hence, the Maple Tree pool. On a good day, Pluto could catch steelhead in both the upper and lower pools.
For all his many days in the wilderness, Pluto had his phobia: bears. For some reason, Pluto was deathly afraid of bears.
He bought and carried a magnum .45 pistol. Every day that he was out on the water, this gun came with him. I shudder to think what would have happened if he had ever had to use it. I almost witnessed it once.
Mick and Frank would often engage in drinking games at the end of a long day of fly fishing steelhead. These guys could get pretty soused on occasion before stumbling off to bed, of which I didn’t particularly mind. These both were expert anglers in my opinion, and a hard night of drinking meant a late morning to the water. I never drink so if I happened to fish down the river first, I naturally swam more fish. Pragmatic really. I liked it when they drank.
So this one night Mick and Frank got to drinking and playing. They came up with an idea! They should pretend they have a bear in camp! Now Frank was a big guy and stronger than a bull. Pluto was camped out in the back of his little Ford Courier pickup. Drunken Frank staggered over to Pluto’s truck and leaned his shoulder into it’s canopy.
Drunker than drunk, Frank starts rocking Pluto’s truck back and forth, while growling the most unearthly guttural bear sounds. Awakened by the noise, Pluto launches out of his bed, still in his skivvies, (not a pretty sight) and onto the cold hard ground. It took tipsy Frank all of a New York second to realize ……Pluto is not alone! He has his gun out and, though still half asleep, waving it around, ready to kill anything that moved! Right now that anything was Frank.
Do you know how long it takes to go from sloppy drunk to stone cold sober? I had no idea the human metabolic processes could move so quickly, but one look at that long barrel .45, and Frank fairly dove out into the pitch black Canadian wilderness, with un-clad, gun-waving Pluto in hot pursuit.
All we could hear was, “Don’t shoot, don’t shoot! It’s me, Plutonius! It’s me!” Somewhere before dawn, Frank wandered back into camp, and, Pluto went back to bed. Eventually Mick and I stopped laughing, but that might have taken a couple days.
Somewhere in all of this, Frank came up with the idea that the whole thing must have been Pluto’s fault. He must be taught a lesson.
A couple of days later, Mick, Frank, and I spent the day fishing together. I so much enjoyed our time. Somewhere in the course of the day, the subject of Pluto and bears came up.
Now we all knew that in the daily report of who caught what, Plutonius would always innocuously ask, “So, did anybody see any bears?” Today we thought we would be ready.
The day on the river finished up in fine fashion. I think Mick swam the most steelhead (which was very common), Frank caught the largest, and I had a good time with my friends.
Plutonius always joined in the fishing report ritual, and sure enough he piped in, “So’d, anybody see a bear today?”
Frank in his most straight-faced way answered, ”Yeah, actually Mick ran into one.”
Mick just nodded.
Although we just went on in the conversation as if nothing had happened, Pluto’s mind was smoking.
“So tell me about the bear,” he asked simply.
Mick turned to him and said, “Wow, I am not sure if you are going to believe this but you know how we saw those bear prints down at Home Run Pool the other day?”
Everyone in camp knew Pluto wouldn’t fish any pool that had had any bear activity. It’s just the way it was.
“Yeah…” Pluto hesitates.
“Well this time I stopped in to fish it, and there on the shore was a great big pile of bear pucky and it was like this!” (He is holding his hands out the size of an elephant swat). Frank and I almost lose it right there.
Pluto eyes get big and he says, “NO WAY!”
Heck, he is hooked into this story, already.
“Yup,” Mick continues, “ and guess what? It was still steaming!”
“NO WAY!” Pluto exclaims.
Now Mick is really getting into this. He leans forward as he lies.
He says emphatically, “TOTALLY WAY.”
Plutonius urges, “So what did you do?”
“I did what I came to do,” Mick answered, “I got out and fished.”
“So then what happened?” begged Plutonius.
“At first, I am thinking nothing, and then I hear something in the brush behind me!” Mick says.
“NO WAY!” Pluto yelled. You didn’t stay!”
I swear I thought this poor man was going to have a heart attack right there in camp!
Mick continues, “Absolutely. I see this really big steelhead just roll, right out in front of me. I mean, how could I pass that up? Right?”
“So what did you do?” Pluto kind of whimpered.
“I did what I always do,” Mick stated matter-of-factly, “I went back to fishing, until…..”
“I thought I hung up my fly on the brush in my backcast.” He continued. “I turn to look, and I hear a huge ‘Woof!’” “Suddenly my fly line is peeling off my reel! Next thing I know, all my fly line, all my backing, is gone….!” Mick leaned back, sucking on his teeth.
“So did you get back in your boat?” Plutonius asks weakly. He is about spent just listening to this tale.
“Heck no. That’s an expensive fly line!” Mick proclaims. “I went back into that brush to find my fly line, by darn!”
I interrupted, “Did you find it?” Okay, even I was getting into the fabrication by this time, but it was a great story!
Mick turns from Pluto to me, and says “Yes. I did! But guess what?”
Everyone in the group says, “What!?”
Mark leans closer to his audience and says really quietly, “When I bent over to pick up the line… it moved.”
Pluto all but screams, “NO WAY!”
Mick can’t hold it anymore, he busts up laughing! Pretty soon everyone is howling with laughter…..everyone but Plutonius. He is still wondering how much of the story is true. We all head off to bed.
Now Pluto was never known as an early riser, partly because he knew that nobody was going to fish Maple Tree before he got there. I really don’t think Pluto’s gun slinging had anything to do with it, but I may be wrong.
Anyway, so next morning Frank heads his little pontoon raft off down the river like it is just another Bulkley River fishing day. What Plutonius doesn’t realize is that Frank is headed straight for the Maple Tree pool.
Knowing he is at least ten minutes ahead of Pluto, Frank rows his little boat into the shore at the lower end of the pool, pulls in, and stows his little boat and gear in the brush. He hides behind the Maple Tree. It isn’t long before he can see Pluto rowing his own little craft downstream. Pluto is headed directly for Maple Tree.
When you fish a piece of water, day after day, you kind of get it down to a routine. Pluto’s ritual was to park his craft at the head of the pool, wade and fish his way downstream, wade out and around the maple tree, then wade back into the river and fish through to the lower end of the pool. He wouldn’t hike back up to his boat until he finished. He went through this same drill, day after day.
The wading here could get a little deep, especially as one neared the water adjacent to the maple tree, so this was the one and only pool Pluto would unbuckle his gun and holster and leave them on the seat of his raft.
After fishing his way down through the upper run, Pluto did what he always did. He hiked out around the big tree and back into the water. Unbeknownst to him, he had walked within ten feet of the hiding Frank, lurking in the bushes.
Plutonius was still cursing his fishing luck. Although he had had a good grab in the upper pool, the steelhead hadn’t stuck. He recalled that he was contemplating fishing through the pool again.
As the events unfolded, Plutonius began reeling in, and walking back up along the shoreline as he finished the pool. He was about to enter back into the woods near the tree on his way to his raft.
Within his hiding place, Frank held a tree branch in his hands. He waited until Pluto got close. Frank broke it with a loud “snap!” Plutonius, not 20 feet away, froze in his tracks. He looked around. Instinctively, he reached for his gun. It was not there! He realized it was still lying on the seat of his raft…
Plutonius took a tentative step forward. Frank let out a low growl. Pluto had to get to his gun! Safety was only and all about getting back to the raft and his gun! He stepped forward again.
The woods rang louder, “Grrrowl”. Pluto simply could not go back through the woods, and the water here was too deep to wade. Poor Plutonius had another secret that only he and he alone knew…. he couldn’t swim.
Plutonius never made a big deal of this. Ever since Cabela’sTM came out with their water activated SOS CO2 Inflatable Life Jacket, he felt he could take on his worse-than-bear fear – - water! As rivers may be the epitome of water, with his Cabela vest on, he felt he had conquered life in it’s most rudimentary form; rivers actually made him feel alive.
So how did life take such a cruel twist of fate? Bears and water at the same time?! Plutonius looked around checking his options. He began cursing his late start. As all the other anglers from camp were already fishing downstream, there was simply no one left to rescue him in his predicament. Plutonius took a small feeble step towards the sound in the woods. Frank immediately let out his loudest growl, and rattled the brush, to boot.
Pluto later confessed he was ready to wet himself. Was he to die from drowning, or simply become B.C. bear fodder? Which would be the least painful? With the despair of complete hopelessness, he waded back into the river.
Frank later confessed he didn’t actually make Plutonius swim. Starting with a snicker, he exploded into laughter so hard he couldn’t stand it.
It took Pluto a moment to realize what had just happened. To be honest, his first thought was his good friend Frank had somehow magically appeared, scaring away the monster bear in the process. He was saved!
When he realized he was nothing more than the butt of a most sadistically practical joke, Pluto became incensed.
“You are really sick,” he muttered. Casting his eyes in the distance, he headed towards his boat.
Frank caught up with me while I was fishing the home run pool later that afternoon. He told me everything. We ran into some fish that kept us busy until evening. Neither noticed that Pluto had floated on down to the take-out. As we arrived at the boat launch, Pluto’s little truck was gone. He had left.
“Jeez,” Frank said, What happens if Pluto takes the prank poorly?” “A guys B.C. experience is kind of a sacred thing.
We shouldn’t have worried.
As we rolled into camp there was quite a gathering of anglers huddled around Plutonius. As we neared the group we could hear him say, “Yup, it was all I could do to make it back to my raft and gun, before that bear was all over me!” Frank and I decided, all is well. Pluto is just fine.
Such is life in the Canadian wilderness.