California Department of Fish and Wildlife/Flickr                                Chinook can be big, and powerful. As Crying Craig can tell you, it’s best to let a big Tyee take line when it wants it.

California Department of Fish and Wildlife/Flickr Chinook can be big, and powerful. As Crying Craig can tell you, it’s best to let a big Tyee take line when it wants it.

Fishing Haida Gwaii: Roland Rolls-With-It and Crying Craig

“Just let it take line when it wants.” I said. “You don’t want to snap it off.”

Haawa for all the fish caught this week. Crying Craig was a guest of mine when I worked as a fishing guide out of Masset. On his first trip to Haida Gwaii, out with another guide, he’d hooked and lost a massive salmon. They’d had a good look at it and figured it had to have weighed around 50 pounds. Crying Craig would return to Masset from Idaho annually with the hope of landing a slab like that. To be sure, over the years he had had some amazing fishing; days where chinook over 20 pounds were hooking up all day.

The first time he cried was after a long battle with a tyee. Eventually it came to the boat, turned on its side to look Craig in the eye and spat the hook. He yelled “No!” And swore a few times. Then his eyes welled up. He put on his shades and sat down and didn’t say anything for the next hour. For a guide, these moments on the boat are very awkward.

The second time he cried was a couple of years later. Fishing had been slow and the salmon were on the small side. On the last day, it happened. Craig’s rod bent sharply and line started peeling from his reel. A massive tail fin broke the surface and then the fish sounded. Craig, looking nervous, just held on as the fish headed to open sea. I turned the boat around to pursue it. Half an hour later Craig had gained line and the fish was up on the surface. When it porpoised we all knew it would go at least 40 pounds. I could see that Craig was starting to tremble, his brow furrowed in concentration.

“Just let it take line when it wants.” I said. “You don’t want to snap it off.”

The line snapped with a loud crack and we all knew. Craig reeled in frantically holding on to the slim hope that the line was still attached to something other than a swivel. I knew better than to berate him over his mistake and instead offered him some standard guide phrases designed to console dejected fishermen. After the expected and warranted barrage of profanity, Crying Craig put on his shades, retreated to the stern and silently cried to himself while the rest of us, with an awkwardness hanging in the air, continued fishing.

In contrast to diehard fishing tourists like Craig, there is the visitor who doesn’t come to fish but might try for a salmon at some point, knowing Haida Gwaii is a premier fishing destination. Roland, my wife’s cousin, was this person. He and his family thought it would be fun to get out on the water one day for some fishing. Unfortunately I was guiding every day during their visit. I told them that I could take them for a couple hours in the evening after work.

They were waiting for me when I pulled in to the dock with Crying Craig and his friend. They admired the salmon and halibut I pulled out of the fish box. My new crew was Roland, his wife and two daughters, 7 and 9, my wife and our four-year-old girl. We pulled out of the harbour and made a short run out to the second green can, hoping for a coho or two. I gave Roland a brief lesson on how to catch salmon, and put the lines down. In a few minutes we hooked up.

Roland, whose last fish had been an eight-inch trout when he was six years old, started reeling backwards. By the time I realized what was happening, the fish had shaken the hook. A half hour later, another coho hit and this time Roland reeled forwards but forgot to let the fish run and the line broke. While retying a leader I reminded him to hold the rod up and to let go of the reel handles when the fish runs. It was getting near the end when the rod popped again. I passed it to Roland and let him know that this was a bigger fish. He played it well, having learned from his mistakes, and 20 minutes later, a tank of a chinook came to the net. When we hung it from the scale, it read 51 pounds. Roland smiled with satisfaction. That was our day. We put the gear away and headed back to Masset.

The next morning, Crying Craig was right on time for another day of salmon fishing on the beautiful waters of Haida Gwaii. He asked how we’d done the previous evening. I showed him my camera. We headed out to the second green can, a familiar awkwardness in the air.