• Joe Walker

Joe & The Coho

Updated: Jun 29, 2020

As a life-long lover of the English language, I often find myself despairing of it’s insidious corruption by vernacular from ‘across the pond’. It is therefore always a joy to counterpoint that by noting words which we have successfully exported, particularly when they pop up in surprising circumstances. All of which, in itself, has little to do with fly-fishing, but bear with me on this point; it’s all in the context.

For example; Whilst fishing the lower Puntledge river on Vancouver Island, just a few hundred yards from the upper-most tidal stretches, the trundling passage of my fly was savagely interrupted a particularly powerful and foul tempered Coho. As Pacific salmon species go, this is the one with serious anger management issues, that tends to go off like a small thermonuclear device when hooked. And thus it was in this instance.

After 20 minutes and several blistering turns and runs both upstream and down, which had me apologising profusely to the half a dozen other frowning anglers whose stretches my Coho and I noisily gate-crashed on our way through, this livid 20lb'er (it had been identified as such during the 10 minutes out of the 20 it had seemingly spent in the air) decided it had toyed with me long enough and was leaving the party.

With astonishing speed it ran back down the river leaving me stumbling through the surging, thigh-deep water after it. Breathing hard and thrashing intently downstream in a desperate attempt to keep up as my spool began emptying, I became aware of frantic yelling from my pal Steve and realised that I was walking straight into rapidly deepening water. Lo and behold, the traction of my boot-soles alarmingly diminished and felt my legs begin to be pushed away by the forceful flow . This was a new and novel experience, as I now had an extremely uncooperative fish to contend with as well as the imminent prospect of being swept away, something I wanted to avoid on account of not having any spare pants with me.

Oh soooooo gingerly I edged back across the flow into the shallows on the far side and, after releasing the clutch entirely, the fish dropped into the pool below the rapids, and feeling the pressure come off, turned and held position in the fast water.

"Excellent!" thought I, as I steadied my stance and retrieved about 100 meters of backing, restoring contact.

Another standoff ensued. I attracted polite attention from an interested audience of fellow anglers on the opposite bank, looking on as the straining parabolic curve of my rod nodded and dipped with every move of my piscine adversary.

At this point my chum Steve, who had followed the action with much loud sniggering at my buffoonery, said something like "Oooooo....loook, there's seals down there...". And sure enough, 150 metres downstream, two large black heads bobbed around, watching with opportunistic zeal.

Time slowed, and the dread grip of unpleasant certainty settled in my stomach like a lead kebab with concrete coleslaw. The thought process went something like this; Need to wear this fish down - now... Just a bit more tension.....need to steer this fish into the shallows...bit more tension....biiiiit more...more......a little bit OHCRAP!

The Coho took umbrage to my attentions once more, turned and screamed off downstream yet again. 10...20...50...70....100yards.....this time the clutch slackening ruse did not fool the silver torpedo into turning upstream again and my Vosseler whined as would a small child being pulled up a hill in the rain.

The seals suddenly looked perky and alert...like overweight kids arriving at a McDonalds Drive-thru.

In desperation, I clamped down on the clutch as much as possible, but 'twas to no avail, such is the staggering power of these fish. In slow motion, I watched the backing peel out, and the seals' heads triangulate like surface-to-air missile batteries.....then they submerged.

The bearded, lumber-jack shirted Canadian standing across the pool from me spoke - his words banged in my ears and oozed into my consciousness:

"Uh-oh.....NOW you're buggered."

And there it was. A word I didn’t know was in use in North America. Score one for Great Britain.

As for the fish, there was a terrible breath-stifling pause...then the line went REALLLLLY heavy......and then - it wasn't! Seals 1, Joe and the Coho, Nil.

After wretchedly retrieving miles of backing and line, I finally looked forlornly upon my sadly deformed little California Neal fly, brutally bent out by several hundred pounds of peckish blubber. Nuts. No nice silver salmon, which meant $20 all-you can eat Chinese buffet for dinner ....again...which no colon should have to suffer.

Still...the trip wasn't all like that.

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