The small car sped north from Lake Country, raucous inside with the excitement of new friends and old anticipating a fine Okanagan fishing trip for Chinook salmon.
The scenic hills and lakes surrounding the roads seemed to lead us through the morning mist into the sun already burning on the waters of the Shuswap River where it flowed into Mabel Lake. I had never seen the river so high, flush with early summer rain and late snowmelt. One mountain still shone white-capped in the early dawn of that late July day. Captain Rod Hennig waited at our rendezvous near Rivermouth Marina, and our cooler of food and our personal gear was soon loaded aboard the red and silver Thunderjet. As usual, he was comfortably camped on the lake for his annual working “staycation” with his family, in their traditional way.
The Chinook fishing news was grim. No salmon had yet entered the lake, probably held back by the massive, turbulent brown flow of the Fraser River at appropriately named Hell’s Gate. The consummate professional, Rod was ready with his back-up plan, the hunt for Rainbow Trout, Lake Trout or Bull Trout. The Lakers and the Bulls were misnomers, actually members of the char family, not trout at all. We made obligatory trolls up and down the salmon runs on the west side of the lake. No fish were spotted on the sensitive sonar equipment of his boat and we were soon cruising north again to prime rainbow country. The cribbage game started in the comfortable cabin of our craft, and we played as Rod hunted our prey. My friend Karen was the birthday girl so she would fight our first fish, the games we played would be for bragging rights only. Her annual present from me, the glow about her on those trips was worth every penny to watch. My new friend Dawn was with us, and Karen’s new friend Doc had chipped in money and his time to accompany us.
The hard-fighting rainbows started hitting the lures, and card games were soon forgotten as we won and lost our battles with them. We landed nine as I recall, keeping three and releasing the rest. Many more outwitted us far from the boat with their speed and twisting aerobatics. Doc caught one 10 inches longer than any he had caught before, and as I watched him pose for pictures through my lens I realized once more how lucky Rod and I were to enjoy the lifestyles we do. To our friends, these are truly the fish of a lifetime, amid diving ospreys and soaring eagles.
We saw pictographs on the sun-baked cliffs of the shore, left by the First Nations people who taught us how to survive here and shared the bounty of the land they cared for with us. I do not want to think of how we repaid their hospitality, with ignorance and greed.
We broke out the lunches prepared by Karen and I as Rod led us to where he claimed to have a Lake Trout waiting for me and safe swimming for tired, hot anglers. We arrived at one of his numerous “honey holes” well-fed and eager to just relax and play away the rest of the day, except for Rod and I. I asked Rod to rig me out a “Buzz Bomb” to jig for the lakers far below. Developed by anglers on the coast for salmon, it is one of my favourite lures for all fish. I dropped the perfectly tied lure over the side of the boat and felt it descend, stopping it every 20 feet to check for fish ingesting it as it fell. Finally bumping bottom, I jigged about a foot above until I felt a strange, sideways motion and reared back on the rod. The fish screamed line from the reel as it ran and I let it run. Soon it tired, and as I worked it to the boat I realized the swimmers would be in the way of Rod’s landing net. Dawn hugged the side of the platform, not knowing where to go or what to do. We reassured her and Rod netted the fish from the side of the boat easily and dispatched it quickly. Eight pounds if an ounce, the fish was expertly filleted by our captain and laid on the ice in my cooler. The rest of its body was returned to the deep to be recycled by its competitors and kin, in the way of all living things.
The fish made four large meals, the first baked on low with sprigs of my fresh dill and slices of onion. My neighbours Merrill and Dar contributed fresh green beans, and a large zucchini which I made into a cake to serve with homemade blueberry ice cream. The second meal became skin-seared fillets on lemon-garlic sauce with vegetable rice. The zucchini cake went back to its carrot roots, with maple-walnut ice cream. Fish cakes on Caesar salad made the third, with carrot cake and black cherry ice cream for dessert. Fish sandwiches on whole wheat biscuits and cream of carrot soup completed a camping trip a week later. What a great place we live in! The culinary possibilities are endless here with our fresh fruit, produce and wild game.
I thanked the “Great Speckled Trout” more than once that memorable day, both for another beautiful one and for giving us all we need to live and prosper. As Rod and I said our farewells, emotion swept over me like a wave. Seeing my friends so happy, and my fishing guide doing so well for his family in a tough business brought more than a few tears to my eyes. I blamed them on the wind, of which there was none. I know “Cap” understood.
Doug Maves is a Kelowna-based freelance writer.