Dana, better known by his instagram handle, @kootenay_kid, summed up my latest visit to the East Kootenays perfectly when I asked him how things were on the water. “How’s the fishing,” I asked. “You mean the casting?” he responded sarcastically. Honestly, he wasn’t far off. Spring bull trout is just that, a lot of casting with not much catching. However, for those willing to make the effort the rewards can be unbelievable; a fish truly worthy of 1000 casts.
I had wanted to head out to the Kootaney River in search of spring bulls for some time now. With an upcoming spring break for my students it felt like there was no better time to practice my casting on an unfamiliar river. I somehow convinced a good friend of mine, Marc, to tag along and drag his jet boat too. Who would have thought someone else would be just as idiotic as myself? Yet, he figured it would be a great way to start the season, flying around the river not knowing where hidden obstacles lay. Plus, he had already hit a rock at full speed with me at the front of the boat on the Bow. He knows I’ll land safely on my face, groaning in agony.
So, with the plan firmly laid out, we got our butts in gear. Friday afternoon rolled around and we packed the truck up and jet with gear. Stopping only briefly for food, we soon crossed the Alberta/British Columbia border, feeling the warmth of Canada’s heaven on Earth. It’s strange how when you break through the canyon walls and emerge in Radium, it’s like the whole world changes. It’s like going through a portal, where the landscape evolves from cold and hard mountains to reveal this ominous desert. No snow, no cold, just miles to look upon in awe.
We arrived at our “hotel” with the evening sun setting quietly in the background. Our hosts, the owner of the seasonal campground greeted us warmly and handed us our keys. She looked curiously at the boat, as if she thought us mad. However, unfazed, we rushed to check out the crude natural boat launch that awaited the dipping of our boat in the morning. The slightly murky water swirled beautifully, as to signal to us there are hidden giants clinging to the bottom below. To my left, a bridge vibrated with vehicles hurrying to their weekend getaways. However, I was lost in the spinning water as it danced its way around the turbulence created through millennia of erosion. Fishing would have to wait though, the sun was almost gone.
Not much sleep was had that night. Those murky swirls had haunted the few dreams I had in the night. With a quick breakfast down the hatch, and excitement used in place of coffee, we shot out the door like hound dogs on the scent of a elusive fugitive. We inched our way down the steep incline towards the boat launch, with the wet mud skidding us ever so slightly. Each moment seemed an eternity, as we prepared to drop the jet in her maiden voyage of 2019. Finally, she was dipped into the water and we hopped on board in eager anticipation. With a turn of the key she fired up with enthusiasm. Marc turned the boat and throttled her upstream. The river looked shallow, but nothing this baby couldn’t handle, right? Wrong. The engine sputtered and we came to a stall. The boat spun and we quickly tossed anchors to figure out the issue. Suddenly, Marc yelled, “The drain plug isn’t in!” Water was pouring in and Marc jumped into action to stuff the bleeding. Finally, with his hands screaming in pain from the cold, he was able to get the plug in. With boat half filled with water and the engine dead, we sat there mercilessly. The bilge pump was going and full power while we turned slowly from side to side in the current. Looking at the emergency paddles, I soon saw what a joke they would be to use, so, instead, to tossed the anchors toward shore and pulled ourselves slowly in. At this point Marc and I felt too worn out to use the jet, we needed a second plan of action.
We dropped the boat off at the hotel and decided to meet up with Dana and his brother at the mouth of a tributary. After a long walk along the frozen shoreline, we arrived to the meager dumping of water at the edge of the Kootaney River. Soon Dana and his brother arrived and we began our casting clinic. Cast after cast yielded nothing. As I stood in the freezing glacier water, it was apparent that last year’s pin hole leaks needed a drain plug of their own. Icy cold water filled my waders and I stood shivering and casting fruitlessly. We stood around a riverside fire contemplating our lives and the decisions we made to get to this point. Dana figured the tributary was too frozen and not enough water was coming in to bring the fish nearby. So, again, we left disheartened.
After begrudgingly walking back to the truck, we drove back to the boat launch for more walking, and most likely, more disappointment. Marc had enough and headed for a warm shower and a nap. However, my delusions of monsters persuaded me to push forward. Dana had brought me to a second tributary, which had other anglers fishing it. We spoke with them briefly to make sure it was fine to move downstream of them and make a few casts. After Dana’s brother hooked into a small bull and myself losing something, our spirits lifted. Soon the other anglers moved off the confluence and we swooped in. We soon heard a giant splash, and our hearts beat quickly. Dana moved towards the ripples of the splash, with the water almost bowling over the edge of his waders. After cast 999 I heard Dana say, “Shit, I’m snagged. “Wait, no, it’s a fish!” Soon his rod was bent to the hilt and his reel was screaming. Dana called out to his brother to witness the glory that was what I could only dub, the beast. With each foot gained, it seemed like two feet were lost. Dana’s arms ached and yelled out in pain. Eventually, the beast began losing ground. Dana was beginning to win this battle. Soon the giant head of the beast was sliding into the Fishpond net. Dana stood there, exhausted, in awe, overwhelmed by emotions. His personal best fish lay quietly in the net he cradled. I knew then, cast 1000 was worth every empty handed cast made.