Fishing Haida Gwaii: That time on the Tlell

“Petry Heil!” “Petry Dank!”

By Darrell Oike

Helmut and Rolf stood 10 metres apart, waist deep in the coffee-coloured Tlell River. Their $500 Simms waders kept their substantial physiques warm and dry.

“Ich frage mich, warum die Fische nicht beißen,” said a frustrated Rolf.

“Hoffnungslos! Wir werden nie Einen fangen,” replied Helmut in disgust. He reeled in his line, and from his khaki fishing vest, produced a pair of titanium clippers and removed the fly from the leader. It was the twelfth fly of the day, ineffective as the previous eleven. Perhaps he needed to switch to sinking line. He had two spare aluminum spools, $280 apiece, but chose a quick change of line on his $1,200 Einarsson reel. He switched spools, rethreaded his $1,500 G Loomis custom spey rod and once again opened his fly box. Surveying the rainbow of assorted flies, he chose a gaudy pink and purple fly — a pattern that proved successful the previous summer in Iceland.

“Vielleicht wird dies funktionieren,” said Helmut as he rolled out a perfect cast across the river.

Child’s laughter echoed off the forest. Two boys approached, bantering excitedly as they dragged their sneakers along the muddy riverbank.

“Any luck?” asked one.

“Not yet,” said Rolf as he surveyed their gear with slight amusement. Their cheap fibreglass rods were missing eyelets, the old plastic spinning reels were reinforced with duct tape, and they had gigantic yellow lures bouncing off the rod tips.

As the boys passed, Rolf turned to Helmut and said, “Viel Glück. Sie werden es brauchen.” Helmut chuckled as he laid his fly lightly on the still water near the opposite bank. He was proud of his casting ability and fond of his hand-built Sage. The rod cost over two grand but it cast with precision and was perfect for salmon. It was one of his favourites. He stripped in his fly and cast again.

Downstream, where the men had just been fishing for the past hour, the two boys walked into the river and crossed to the other side. Soaking wet, they began casting, their lures making loud splashes as they launched them across the river.

Helmut and Rolf were from Hamburg and this was their first trip to the fabled Tlell, a world-class salmon river famous for large aggressive fish that are eager to attack a cast fly. On this day though, neither could entice a bite. The fish were here. They were jumping, but not biting as Helmut stripped his fly in slowly, deliberately. The river’s glassy surface shattered as a silver coho exploded into the air.

“Got one!” yelled one of the boys, and he ran along the riverbank following the fish, line singing off his reel.

“Was? Unmöglich!” mumbled Helmut to Rolf. They watched as the boy quickly played the salmon to the shore and kicked it up the bank with his foot.

A large boil in the water formed in front of Rolf, who quickly rolled his line in the direction of the fish. He retrieved his fly with quick twitches, focussed through his polarized lenses at the place where his fly would be, waiting to view the subtle wake of a salmon rise behind it.

“Fish on!”

The other boy was now running up the bank towards the men — a large buck coho was attached to his lure and jumping frantically. In a couple of minutes the fish was on the shore flipping madly in the mud as the boy found a large enough rock. Three sharp raps on the head and the fish was subdued. The grinning, mud-spattered kid looked over at the Germans.

“Scheisse,” said Rolf. “Der Bengel,” said Helmut.

Helmut and Rolf decided to walk around a bend to try their luck upstream.

For the next hour they cast upstream and down, tried slow retrieves, quick retrieves, with an assortment of flies and line weights. The river was quiet but for the periodic echoes of panicked splashing and shouts of excitement coming from downstream. This dark and lazy river was teasing them, laughing at them. But with the faith and determination of true fishermen, they kept offering.

When the boys returned, from a distance Helmut and Rolf could see that each had his limit of two fish. Reaching the two men, the boys put down their heavy fish to give their tired arms a rest. The men ignored them and cast. Suddenly Helmut’s rod doubled over hard and he leaned back setting the hook.

“Fisch! Fisch!” He bellowed excitedly to his friend. No salmon came to the surface, his rod remained bent over. “There’s a big log right there.” said one of the boys. Helmut knew he was right. “Verdammt!”

As the boys walked away with their haul, Helmut reeled until his line snapped. He attached a new leader to his fly line and brought out his box of flies. He chose a big yellow pattern and tied it on.