5 min read

#3: Chasing Pinks in Campbell River

A few months into the COVID-19 pandemic, I picked up an old 6-weight fly rod that I bought 10 years ago (and forgot to use) and hit up the Cowichan River in search of Brown trout.
#3: Chasing Pinks in Campbell River

A few months into the COVID-19 pandemic, I picked up an old 6-weight fly rod that I bought 10 years ago (and forgot to use) and hit up the Cowichan River in search of Brown trout.

I didn't catch anything that day, but spending 8 hours alone on the water reminded me why I needed to get out of the city more often and chase fish instead of my next pint.

As a new father, I don't have much time to dedicate to my hobbies, but I've managed to carve out time for a few fly fishing trips every year.

One of my standing trips is to Campbell River in August to hunt Pink salmon in the Campbell River and from the beaches.

Last year was my first trip up island with the purpose of hooking pinks and it didn't disappoint.

On a muggy Thursday afternoon, I packed up my Sage rod and reel, kit, and a case of beer and kissed my wife and son goodbye.

My previously stressed and busy mind was instantly clear as I exited Goldstream and hit the open road. I'd miss my family but I knew it would be helpful for all of us to spend some time apart.

I burned up the Trans-Canada highway with my windows down and a Fontaines DC album blaring.

I arrived at the Comfort Inn around 8:00 in the evening and started prepping my gear for the morning while sipping on a bottle of Fat Tug.

I decided to hire a guide for my first day to ensure I could find fish quickly (this turned out to not be a problem!) as well as increase my chances of hooking up.

Beyond my staples, I brought the following gear with me:

  • 6-weight Sage rod and wheel - I think a 6-weight is ideal for pinks, some people use a bit more rod though (i.e., 7-8 weight)
  • Cortland clear intermediate fly line – the Ghost tip – this line is used for chasing finicky fish in pressured conditions
  • Several Airflow polyleaders – in case I needed to adjust my sink rates
  • A mix of pink salmon flys

I had to be up at 4:00 am so it was lights out around 10:00 pm. My stomach was anxious with anticipation for the next day. I'm not sure what it is, but I often experience a bit of anxiety before a day out on the water. Of course, it may have been the hoppy Fat Tugs sitting heavy in my gut.

I awoke with a mild hangover that a cup of hotel Keurig coffee fixed up and proceeded to wader up in my room. It was still dark out and I didn't want to be fumbling with gear when I got to the river.

I met my guide (and another fly angler) in the parking lot of the River Sportsman and we proceeded to the fishing grounds about 15 minutes away.

We trekked along the river in complete darkness (I bought a headlamp when I returned home from the trip) away from where the masses were expected to congregate later in the morning.

After rigging up my line, the guide directed us to move in front of a rocky structure protruding from the edge of the river. He explained that this early in the morning, the pinks would be near the edges of the river and taking refuge behind the boulders that were plentiful in this area of the river.

I made a short roll cast, threw a mend in the line, let the fly sink, and started the swing.

I love the feeling of the fly line going taught and gently pulling on the rod as it gracefully swings through the current.

I always imagine what the fly must look like underwater as it reflects bits of light, zipping by fish and tempting them with its seductive motion.

I wasn't there 15 minutes before a pink hammered my fly on the dangle.

The Sage reel screamed as the fish ripped into my backing. After turning up the drag a bit and a few more runs, I landed my first pink.

One of the things I love about fighting fish is the deep flow state I get into.

"Oh yeah, Derek's in the zone," the guide chirped at the two of us.

I landed another and we proceeded to our next stop: the beach.

Fishing was quiet for the rest of the day and I was planning on heading home that evening, but I changed my mind on the drive back to the hotel.

I strongly believe that when you pick up new skills and knowledge, you've got to apply them yourself – the sooner the better. For me, it's the best way to encode new knowledge and develop muscle memory.

I decided to stay another night (luckily the hotel was quiet due to the pandemic) and head back to the river solo the next morning.

I got into my room that evening and peeled off my gear and cracked a lighter beer this time.

My feet were blistered, my arms were bitten, and my face was cherry red from the sun, but none of it was a nuisance.

The streets were silent in Campbell River that evening as I walked around looking for something to eat. Unfortunately, I found nothing.

Every restaurant and pub in my area was shut down early – it felt like a ghost town. For a moment, I was lonely.

I ended up driving to a grocery store to pick up food from the deli. After polishing off a couple of Coors Light and some samosas, I FaceTimed my wife and son and retired to bed.

I fell asleep wondering if I could replicate the success I had today, tomorrow, without the help of a guide.

The next morning, I located a new spot on the river that looked similar to the one I fished yesterday.

Unfortunately, there was very little room for backcasting so I used a roll cast and a  double spey to send my line delicately shooting out into the river.

A quick mend and lift and my line cleared a bolder directly in front of me about 40 feet out from where I was standing back against the river bank.

The swing started.

Nothing.

Cast again.

Nothing...

Well, a couple of snagged and lost flies.

I suppose I was expecting the same results as I obtained yesterday – I was immediately frustrated.

"Christ," I said to myself, "you've only been here 20 minutes."

This approach and presentation will work, I thought to myself. It should work.

I rolled a cast out, repeating the same mend/lift technique, and WHAM!

At the end of the swing, a large pink hammered the fly.

"There's something mental to it, Derek," the guide said yesterday.

"Part of the mystery is believing that what you're doing is going to work."

I landed five pinks over the course of a few hours that day and left the fishing grounds feeling elated.

I'm like a young Brad Pitt out here, I thought to myself.

Let's face it though, with a strong run of pinks like the river experienced last year and excellent timing, it didn't take a whole lot of skill to be successful that day.

Still, as I packed up my gear and prepared to make the 4-hour journey home, I had a sense of accomplishment.

On the way home, it was quieter in the car than on the drive up and I reflected on the solitude I was able to experience over the course of my two-day trip.

While I enjoyed the peace and quiet the river provided, I imagined my son finally being tall enough to join me on the river and experience the pull of a salmon.

Perhaps getting out of the city and my crowded apartment was one driver for picking up fly fishing again, perhaps another was to find a hobby I could share with my son.

I realized it would be several years before he'd be able to join me, but time is passing faster than ever these days.

That's OK, this amateur needs all the time he can get to hone his skills and technique. A few more trips should do it.