“The Pacific Coast is the land of the mountain torrent. Only in the great valleys of the enormous rivers do we have quiet flowing water, and even here the quietness is not long nor is it without a fierce strength. Most of the streams we fish are rushing and rock-broken, alternations of deep pools and white water rapids, sometimes shadowed by canyons of solid rock, sometimes spreading among built-up gravel bars. They have their own quietness, but it is the quietness of accustomed sound; their own peace, but it is the peace of energy unbounded, leaping its free way through sunlight and shade to the never-distant seas. No fisherman could ask for better things than these to live with. They are trout and salmon waters beyond all other waters of the earth. They are beautiful, they are clean and clear, they are full of infinite variety.”
Roderick Haig-Brown – Fisherman’s Spring, 1951
The water swirled around my knees, irritated – briefly – at the dam that stood in its path. With a gurgle and a rush, it quickly bypassed my intrusion, and continued its journey, sweeping its way past rocks and babbling noisily over slick and marbled pebbles. The river ran in a mix of currents, and, casting into the river’s quieter flow, I watched as a gentler run caught my wing-tipped fly, and pulled it below the surface, to wend its way forward.
My mind drifted with the cast. This was Haig-Brown country – his favourite stretch of river, in fact, and it lay just yards from his home. The air went deep into my lungs like sweet nectar, sounds like softly brushed timpanis sang in my ear, and the hues of green alders, evergreens and birch softened my gaze. Standing perfectly still, I began to appreciate the passion that had burned in Haig-Brown’s heart.
As one of North America’s pre-eminent conservationists, Roderick Haig-Brown was a visionary, a naturalist and prolific writer, particularly on his first love – fly fishing. He is one of only a handful of authors on fishing who earned critical acclaim in literary circles. And today, nearly 30 years after his death in 1976, conservationists still draw on his words and wisdom in support of their arguments to preserve and perpetuate the richness of our natural environment. Of the more than two dozen books Haig-Brown authored in his lifetime, all but two were written from his home along this stretch of the Campbell River. I basked in the luxury of my surrounds.
My companion’s reel started to whirr and I was jarred from my musings. His rod began to bend and arch with the strain of the line, and an energy surged upwards from some unseen depth. Then, just as suddenly, the line went limp and the sun dappled waters engulfed the one that had just gotten away.
I whisked my own line out of the water. Holding the excess gently with my left hand, I threw my line back and forth with the other, until with a firm flick of my wrist, the line’s graceful loop flew to its destination, settling once more between the softly running gullies of water.
For fishermen who have not yet read Haig-Brown’s work, there is some envy from those who have, for it is said that the initial reading of a Haig-Brown book is like one’s first love, or one’s first trout or salmon. It is an enchantment never to be forgotten.
So it was that I had come to the river. I am a writer, and his words had so stirred my imagination, I wanted to touch the rivulets of his inspiration. And perhaps to feel the wonder of my first salmon.
I retrieved my cast from its travels, playing the line with poetic rhythm until intention cast the fly high, allowing the air to cushion its descent with such gentle grace, the fly barely kissed the water before it commenced its drift downstream once more. I watched as it traveled into a sunbeam that had trapped a haze of gnats about a foot above the water in a cloud of chaotic activity. Was I using the wrong fly?
My companion waded nearby, and I marveled at his sure-footedness over the slick and pebbly terrain. He held the joy of a boy on a voyage of discovery, alongside the contentment of a man at peace – a blissful union that only a communion with nature seems able to provide. This was, indeed, a very special place.
By now, I was into the hypnotic rhythm of a fly fisher, casting the line like a magician’s wand through the light and shadows, opening my mind to focus its destination and feeding the line as it gently yearned for more. I was bathed in the motion, and for a moment in time, at that same place of inspiration that surely Haig-Brown had come to know so intimately.
This stretch of river teemed with playful, iridescent salmon and soon, they and I would start the dance. Until then, this was sweet surrender to an all encompassing prelude to the day, which held the hope that perhaps for me, a salmon would also add wonder to my words.
Haig-Brown House Education Centre
Located just outside the town of Campbell River, on the east coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, the Centre operates as a resource, a museum, a unique bed & breakfast, and a base for a fascinating program of seminars, workshops and regional tours. Together with the woodlands and the trails, this is an outstanding setting for learning about natural history, fly fishing, gardening, and many other interests that were shared by the Haig-Browns. (www.heritage.gov.bc.ca/haig)
Where to stay:
To discover the most of what Vancouver Island has to offer, we recommend you stay mid-island where any number of fishing and outdoor adventure excursions are within easy reach. Tigh-Na-Mara Resort & Spa (www.tigh-na-mara.com) can organize activities such as guided fly fishing, shore-fishing, spelunking, and sea kayaking. Its comfortable cabin-styled suites are ideal for getaway travelers as well as for families.