• Joe Walker

The Lob Of Faith

Fly fishing is very much a singular sport. By that I mean that for the most part, you’re the one in control; you decide on your approach, you decide on your tactic and you decide upon the risks you take to bag that personal best or trophy fish. In short, blind faith in a third party doesn’t play a large part in a day’s fishing. Just very occasionally though, extraordinary circumstances may require a drastic leap of faith in that direction, and that is not an easy scenario to surrender to.

To demonstrate just how much faith can be required, picture a novice salmon angler (for that was I) standing agog on the banks of a crashing, surging river Puntledge on Vancouver Island, Canada.

The river roared and steamed in the chill of a mid October late afternoon, washed weakly by thin sunlight. Three of us stood beneath the bank-side arch of an old-style iron and wooden bridge that spanned the wide course of the waterway, white water bludgeoning the supports that stood firm every 10 yards or so in the surge that raged against them.

It was a pretty daunting sight. What was even more daunting was that the frightening flow concealed monsters; huge Chinook, or King Salmon, ferocious and gigantic, fish of 40…50, even 60lb or more. And we were about to try and catch them for the first time ever.

Such was the power of the flow in the river here that even the expensive and glossy 10wt 15ft double handed set-up which I’d been given to try and tame both water and fish, seemed somehow both ludicrously heavy and woefully inadequate at the same time. The business end of the line was kitted with a long T14 ultra-heavy, super-fast sinking leader, and beyond that the tippet was further weighed down by three lead hefty lead swanshot, all in the name of getting the sparkly ‘California Neal’ fly down fast into the strike zone at the bottom.

The California Neal fly...killer pattern for Coho & Chinook!

It was insanely difficult to cast, as it felt like I had a bungie-jumper on the end of the rod. However, moving upstream of the bridge as instructed by our guide, I managed an ungraceful roll-cast and followed the fly down stream with the rod-tip. It took only a couple of seconds before it had swung round and needed to be re-presented. I moved forward, wading unsteadily over the lethal, boulder-strewn bottom to the very edge of the calm water, feeling a deep chill as it rose to over waist height. One more step and I would have vanished only to pop-up in the Pacific.

Another clumsy cast, but this time the rapid progress of the fly stopped solidly and a sweep of the rod into a strike yielded a solid weight and then a powerful yanking response. Over the deafening noise of the water I yelled ‘Fish on!’, and before my guide had a chance to tell me not to put too much pressure on, I put too much pressure on. The hump-backed Jurassic leviathan at the end of my line took off with the unstoppable force of a naval destroyer. The huge Chinook surged upstream, the reel screaming, the handle an invisible, knuckle-breaking blur. Then it abruptly stopped. My instant though was that I’d been broken off, but as the yellow backing tumbled down-stream and I began to retrieve the slack, a vicious jolt and twang re-connected me to the fact that the fish was very much still there and was making off down-stream like a drag racer…and to my horror, was heading between the middle supports of the bridge. If it turned back upstream and came up through a different gap, the line would be wrapped around the supports and the game would be up.

All I could do was hang on...and hope!

I couldn’t wade out anywhere near the middle gap under the bridge, it being over 25 yards further out, and the backing was rasping against the bridge support as it was. Surely this was a done deal – defeat. But Carl, my guide, assessed the situation and suggested a maverick solution.

He went downstream of the bridge, another rod in hand and shouted instructions to my pal Steve who was within earshot of us both. As Steve relayed Carl’s plan to me, I could scarcely credit what was being suggested. Carl could see the yellow backing under tension of the giant salmon that had stopped its rampage and was skulking 100m down river. He would cast a line over mine, snag my backing and pull it to hand at the side of the river.

Then it got terrifying.

I listened in disbelief as Steve told me what Carl wanted me to do. I swallowed hard and nodded. I loosened my clutch and Carl, an expert caster, skilfully laid his line over mine and carefully drew back until his fly snagged my backing and he gingerly pulled it across the water until he could grasp it. Wrapping it firmly around his arm (still with 50lb of enraged Chinook at one end) he bellowed at me to tighten the clutch right up as hard as I could…and throw the entire rod right out into the very middle of the thundering river so it would get swept between the middle uprights whereupon he would drag it in downstream of the bridge and I could resume playing the fish!

Carl lines up to receive the lobbed rod!

I couldn’t quite believe what I was being told to do, especially as the Javelin had never been a strong track & field event for me at school, but I took my cue from Steve yelling ‘Now, now, now!’ at me and, as if through treacle, I lobbed rod, reel and all into the air and out into the thundering water. It instantly disappeared and there was a horrible slowing of time and lack of breathing before Steve frantically beckoned and I thrashed back to shore and lumbered around to Carl who was miraculously holding both rods! Unbelievable. Faith in my guide’s seemingly insanely reckless ‘he-who-dares’ plan was in fact repaid! Shivering with cold and adrenaline, I took hold of the rod and the epic fight continued for another 40 back-breaking minutes.

The battle continued into the dark until...

Oh, I lost the fish of course…in the end it snapped the hook, but after such a brutal, nerve shattering encounter somehow I didn’t have the energy to be disappointed!

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