June 09, 2014
With those innocuous words, the bush pilot manning the controls of the float plane over the wilds of British Columbia, nodded toward the earth far below.
But there was suddenly very little of that earth below us, at least as far as solid ground was concerned.
The sudden absence of terra firma came quickly after our flight up and through a gap in the craggy mountains around Tweedsmuir Provincial Park. What was one moment a solid ridge-top filled with evergreens reaching skyward, suddenly plunged into a yawning chasm more than 2,000 feet deep.Nearly a half-mile below, a tiny ribbon of blue flowed, giving at least some cursory evidence as to the reason for our flight into the Canadian high country.
"Boy, did the Creator have fun here," I thought.
When Ian dipped the controls and banked the de Havilland Beaver down and to the left on the ultimate roller coaster ride, I leaned forward, straining to catch the first glimpse of our alpine destination.
As the plane turned and began losing altitude, the turquoise waters of a glacier-fed mountain lake came into view -- a deep and foreboding body of water surrounded by jagged peaks, but one also filled with cruising coastal cutthroat trout and Dolly Varden.
Minutes later, as Ian trimmed the craft's air speed down for landing, I felt the quick tug of resistance as the plane's pontoons reached for and finally discovered the water's surface in a swoosh of white spray.
The engine was cut and our outback taxi glided to a stop near the shoreline, gently rocking in the stony, shallow water. One by one, our band of anglers stepped onto the plane's pontoons, grabbing rod tubes, vests and backpacks before taking a wader-clad step. That step would begin our adventure among glaciated peaks that utterly defined the word spectacular. Having finally ventured far from my Texas roots to seek large, wild cold-water fish on the fly, the Dolly Varden (Salvelinus malma) was perhaps the most unfamiliar element of the Canadian bush ... that and the nightly serenades of loons.
Before all was said and done, I hoped for a proper introduction.
Named after a colorful character in the 1841 Charles Dickens' novel "Barnaby Rudge," North America's Dollies -- chars closely related to bull trout and Arctic char -- are found around the rim of Alaska and down the spine of coastal British Columbia to Puget Sound.
On this glorious summer day, Dollies would be found -- we hoped -- cruising for an easy meal or two around miniature gravel deltas where the creeks dumped their icy discharge into this mountainous sea.
As I rigged up my fly rod, our guide, Matt Sharpe, a immensely talented twenty-something guide from Vancouver, began putting anglers on the various rocky ledges that jutted out into the lake.
He reached into his bag of tricks and handed out flies along with last-minute instructions as the Beaver plane's engine roar faded in the distance.
Finally, the rod was rigged and it was my turn.
"Lynn, if you don't mind, I'm going to put you over here on this last stream coming into the lake," said Sharpe.
"I want you to cast this sink tip out as far as you can -- watch the trees behind you -- and let the fly sink before stripping it in with quick, short bursts. If you feel a take, let 'em have it." "No problem," I muttered, peering through my polarized shades into the milky tinted but otherwise clear water that sloped off steeply into an azure abyss, wondering if we were on the British Columbia version of a snipe hunt.
I began casting, trying in vain to decipher the physics and geometry of tossing a sizable subsurface fly on a 5-weight graphite fly rod with tall evergreens reaching out to try and disrupt each cast.
On one of my first half-dozen casts of the morning, I felt a sudden resistance at the end of my fly line.
"Set the hook," my mind screamed as it tried to send the right synapses to my rod hand.
A millisecond later, the struggle was on.
"Hey, Lynn, is it a big fish?" Sharpe queried from down the way.
"Can't really tell," I answered back as I saw the first brief underwater flash of the hooked Dolly some distance away.
But as the watery game of tug-of-war waged, it soon became apparent that something out of the ordinary was at the end of my tippet.
For every yard of fly line I would gain, my aquatic adversary would strip out at least two. At times the fish would gain a burst of energy and make a strong run into the deep that caused my fly reel's drag to sing with that big-fish whine, truly one of the best sounds in all of the outdoors world.
Slowly, however, the battle began to turn as my unseen challenger began to tire, allowing me to finally make some headway in retrieving the fly line.
As the fish approached, Sharpe peered into the depths for its shadowy form.
Suddenly, he turned around and looked at me with saucer-sized eyes and whispered, "Oh, my gosh!"
A few moments later, after the 29 ½-inch, eight-pound fish had finally been landed, I too was muttering as we admired my first -- and only -- fish of the day.
"Hello, Dolly," I mused. "How very nice to meet you."