Trip 3: Rafts, Coves & Coho
Written By: Toby (“keep-on-keepin-on”) Reid
It all began with a crazy idea. Back in August of 2004, my pal George and I had canoed down a remote river estuary near the northern tip of Vancouver Island, to reach a secluded beach. Our goal was to camp and surf, and to generally laze about in the late August weather. Everything went according to plan, except for the surf: it was absolutely flat. The saving grace was the fact that we were able to witness, for the first time, the amazing fall run of the Pacific Coho salmon, who returned year after year to spawn in this area. We spent four great days of lazing about and vowed we would return one day for epic surf, fishing rods in hand.
Fast forward to September 2007. With paddleboarding as our new ‘modus operandi’ for getting about on the Pacific waterways, we decided it was time to try our luck up at Cove. We were going to paddleboard this time for a little fishing and to avenge our skunked surf from three years before. To our knowledge, nobody had ever paddleboarded down this river to the ocean, so there was extra excitement.
When all was said and done, the trip was still a West Coast classic. The weather at the put in was ideal. After a brutal Pacific rainstorm ravaged the island the previous four days, a high settled in over the coast. Under clear blue skies and in 25oC temperatures, we portaged all of our gear to the put in through knee deep mud created by the recent rainfall. There sure was nothing like an all-natural mud bath spa treatment for the feet. We timed the tides so that the current was with us on the way down the river to the ocean, and in all, it took us only a few hours to make it all the way to the beach. Exhausted but elated, we set up camp and dined on some beautiful steaks and wine, before lazily passing out for the night.
Over the next three days, we managed to catch some smallish but fun surf. 3 footers peppered the river mouth at high tide, with no lineup. Our fishes were the ideal boards for a few fun rides. However, the meat of our aquatic adventures was the fall Coho run. The Salmon were leaping every few seconds on the surging tides, their huge silver bodies shining like mirrors in the sun. Some would leap so close to you, you’d think you could grab them with your hands. Our fishing had been unproductive up until the day before we had to leave, when we managed to nab ourselves a beautiful 8 pounder. We declared it to be the most delicious fish we’d ever eaten, and basked in the glory of a Cabernet Sauvignon infused connectedness with the local Coho stock.
As we paddled back up the river on our way out the next day, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the meager run of Pacific Salmon that was observed up the Fraser River this year, traditionally one of the largest runs of salmon in the world. While we were fortunate enough to be in such a remote and unspoiled environment where healthy, wild salmon thrived, the stark reality of the overall heath of the Pacific salmon stocks was on my mind. Pollution has had a dramatic effect on them. Maybe one day the Fraser run will recover to hit the massive numbers it once had. Maybe one day we will share pristine waterways with these fantastic creatures. Their only hope could be through the efforts of a few concerned humans, who, with a little luck and lot of passion, might be able to help this amazing species regain the health and vitality it was once known for.
According to traditional Coastal Natives, salmon were actually people with superhuman abilities and eternal lives. It is in us to do our part to honour these amazing animals, and we have an opportunity for our actions to echo across future generations. If you’re interested in learning how you can help, contact the Waterkeeper Alliance and try to do what you can in your own backyard to be just as superhuman as the mighty Pacific salmon. There’s no denying our responsibility: we are all in this together.