Haawa for all the fish caught this week. It was a glorious late September day. By mid morning, the sun had burnt off the dawn chill and reflected off the river’s black, mirror-like surface. I was fishing for coho in the tidal section of a remote Haida Gwaii river that will remain unnamed. There was not another soul around. I had the river to myself. To the end of my leader, I attached an Umqua pattern tied by the legendary Bob Crooks. A quiet wake formed in the middle of the river and travelled slowly upstream. Downstream, a sudden swirl sent concentric circles toward the shore. The salmon were here. Standing at the river’s edge, I pulled line off my reel and cast toward the opposite bank.
Moments like this remind me of the magic of Haida Gwaii. After a few casts, the wake of a salmon emerged behind my fly. I stripped the line in steadily until I felt the weight of the fish. I lifted the rod and held on as line flew through the eyelets. The fish raced downstream with backing peeling off of the reel. The black water erupted as a thrashing 12-pound coho broke the surface and raced back toward me.
I reeled frantically, trying to gain line as the fish jumped again and then headed upstream. In a few minutes, with the fish nearly subdued, it swam down and wrapped around something. Feeling only dead weight and unable to pull any line, I realized that the fish had wrapped around a dreaded snag. I let down my rod with a modicum of dejection knowing that this situation rarely turns out well for the angler. I was pondering my predicament when a tail suddenly finned across the surface. I knew that the fish was still attached and that I still had a chance if I could untangle from the unseen obstruction.
Guessing the problem was about four feet under water, I knew my options for landing the fish were wading in and getting my clothes soaked, or wading in naked. Given the circumstances of gorgeous weather and complete solitude, I opted for the latter. Stripping down, I walked into the cold water following the line down to the submerged log. Holding my breath, I dunked under, blindly unwrapped the line from a branch and immediately felt the strong pull of the salmon again. Flailing back to shore, I picked my rod back up and resumed the battle. The fish, seemingly determined not to be conquered by a naked angler, bolted across the river tearing at the river’s surface. The hook held though and soon the tired coho came in on its side and lay exhausted on the grassy beach.
Then as I was revelling in the glory of the moment, another large wake cruised across the surface of the river. I scrambled to get dressed and with one leg through my underwear stopped to reconsider the necessity of clothes in this moment. I threw the underwear back on the pile of clothes and grabbed my fishing rod. My fly landed just forward of the wake and I watched as the wake turned and followed my fly. A heavy pull, a quick hook set and an explosion of water as a bright fish, as naked as me, launched out of the river.