Great Damnation Update

My good friends Matt and Yvon envisioned Damnation four years ago, and I think they would agree it’s even more powerful than anyone could have imagined. From all the film-world accolades to becoming a rallying point for dam removal all over the world, it’s been a huge success. If you haven’t seen the original, I highly recommend it–inspiring, powerful and entertaining.

This short (above) updates what’s going on now as the film’s power reverberates. The inspiration continues. And as Yvon says, it’s “a reminder that activism works.”

Keep it rolling boys!


Meanwhile, Back On The Columbia…

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I was so far behind in work and chores from fishing all the time…I decided to go fishing. And when it comes to Columbia River spring Chinook (the highest fat-content salmon in the world) and an opportunity to hang out with my good buddy Smarty, well, there wasn’t really much of a decision. Had to go. And springtime on the Columbia means all kinds of weather, countless shades of green on the hills, and this year…fantastic fishing.

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I love springers. The kids love springers. In fact, I don’t know if there’s anything else we’d rather eat. Here are a couple of nice ones ready to be butchered. We’ll scale, fillet, steak and vac seal quite a bit for the freezer, then get ready for the night’s dinner: Springer shioyaki, salted then grilled over a hot flame. Our mouths are already watering here. Probably my favorite meal of the year.

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This is Skyla going to town as our head scaler, using a serrated knife to scrape the scales free. It’s more work, but completely worth it–the skin crisps up in all that springer fat and tastes delicious. I’m already dreaming of all the springer dinners we’re going to have in the coming months. Thanks, Smarty. Great times, great friends and great food.


BC Coast 4: Activism

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Sustained winds 30 to 40 kts, rising to 60 to 80 in the evening. Rain, heavy at times…

As we were gearing up in the early-morning dark for another day of fishing, the crackly voice on the radio told us we should start making other plans. Especially if we wanted to make our flight home any time in the next three or four days. With a 17-foot aluminum skiff the only available transportation, and 30+ miles of open saltwater between us and home, it was suddenly a race to pack up and get out of Dodge before the front hit. So much for fishing.

The good news is that we beat the storm back to town, and managed to dig a nice boot-full of steamer clams along the way. More importantly, our hasty departure allowed us to spend some extra time with our hosts, the people of the Heiltsuk First Nation, as they scrambled to protest a surprise commercial herring harvest opened by Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

According to William Housty, Heiltsuk Coastwatch Director and cultural leader, scientific studies (by both independent researchers and DFO’s own biologists) show that herring stocks along the Central Coast are too depleted to allow a commercial fishery. The Heiltsuk and DFO had an agreement that the government would consult with Heiltsuk leaders before opening the fishery and give at least 24 hours notice before any opener.

Instead, knowing the Heiltsuk would protest, DFO opened the fishery without consultation or any warning whatsoever. Rumor had it that DFO didn’t even announce the opener by radio, but instead contacted the fishing fleet directly so the Heiltsuk protesters wouldn’t have time to organize.

An entire hotel building was rented, we were told, to a “private party,” which we soon discovered was a large number of black-clad RCMP officers sent in to “keep the peace.” But to me, it looked ominously like they were there to protect the commercial fishermen.

And yet, word went out throughout the Heiltsuk Nation, and protests materialized in a matter of hours. People dropped what they were doing and jumped onboard. Heiltsuk boats raced to the fishing grounds to protest in person, while other members occupied the DFO office nearby. While the protest was too late to stop the seine fishery, ultimately, the corporate fishing fleet and DFO gave in, sending the gillnet boats home empty. For up-to-date video on the herring conflict from Pacific Wild, click HERE.

The fact that DFO would ignore both Heiltsuk sovereignty and the best available science to hold this fishery on a depleted stock is just further proof that when the Harper government talks about “First Nations rights,” “listening to science” or “sustainability,” it’s a complete joke. And not a very funny one, at that.

For me, this was a steelhead trip that ended up being about much more. From the tremendous wealth of wild food, natural resources and culture protected by the Heiltsuk Nation, to their inspiring confrontations with those who seek to destroy it, I learned much. And I returned home more convinced than ever of the importance and value in protecting what we love.

If you want more info about Heiltsuk conservation and cultural programs, click HERE. They’re doing some amazing work with grizzly bears, salmon, youth-culture camps and other projects on the Central Coast of BC.


BC Coast 3: Foraging

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It’s tough to go anywhere with Yvon and not stop to grub up some wild food along the way. And since I’m pretty much in the same category, when you put the two of us together, we tend to find the time–even in the middle of a steelhead trip. The crab pots paid off with countless huge Dungeness, right in front of camp, and Yvon, as usual, ate all the crab innards with a spoon while Will and I stuck to the succulent leg and body meat. Then there were limpets dotting the rocks along the beach, which I thought of as tiny abalone. We also found tremendous steamer-clam beds, and even a lack of implements and containers couldn’t slow us down. That’s the human backhoe mining for bivalves with a mini-raft oar above, and hauling our catch in someone’s discarded wading boot below. Who needs shovels and buckets?

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But crab guts and raw clams proved too tame for Yvon, and I learned some new tricks along the way. At low tide, near the mouth of one of the rivers we fished, we found the rocks covered in marine snails, or whelks. I was focused on the fishing at hand, and would have barely even noticed, if Yvon hadn’t started collecting all he could carry. Back at camp that night, he steamed ’em up, then used a special, improvised tool–hemostats and a #2 octopus hook–to pull the critters from their shells.

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Then he tossed the de-shelled snails in garlic butter, and I have to admit, it smelled pretty good. But I was still skeptical. Until my first bite. Amazing. Like tender, delicate steamer clams, only milder and more complex, with just a hint of the sea.

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Finally, as we were preparing to leave camp on the last day, Yvon started busting barnacles off the rocks, cutting away the shell and slurping ’em down. I would like to say they were tasty, or even good, but I will just leave it at this: Not really to my taste. Kind of like gooey-yet-chewy oysters with a little iodine twang thrown in for good measure. But perhaps I was just anxious to get going, as we were bailing early due to a near-catastrophic weather forecast and 35 miles of open water between us and town. To be continued…

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BC Coast Steelhead: Part 2

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Okay, here we go with the fish pix. As guests of our friend Will (who also kindly took  these photos), and the Heiltsuk First Nation, Yvon and I knew there was some self-imposed pressure on our hosts. No matter how much we told them we were just happy to be there to experience the place (and we were), I think anyone who invites fishermen to their home waters wants to show them how good it can be. We were more than happy to oblige, and fortunately, the steelhead were as well. That’s Yvon taking some pressure off Will by putting the pressure on our first fish.

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The fish we found were mostly in pools that don’t even exist on a high tide. Instead of long, meandering, silt-bottomed tidal pools, these rivers are filled with great structure and big rocks in tidewater. When the tide recedes, the pools reveal themselves, along with some very aggressive fish. Not a lot, but enough to reload the good water, and with nobody else fishing, we were able to take full advantage.

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Another interesting discovery is that the fish, from chrome bright to slightly colored, were all coming in on the tides. I think this is a factor of how little time coastal spring fish can spend in freshwater–some of them are ready to roll the minute they come in. Every fish pictured here had sea lice, regardless of color or maturity. Above: Chrome!

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While Yvon was old-schooling ’em with floating line and tiny comet (at one point, as the tide filled a pool and the current quit, he went full Bill Schaadt with a shooting head and slow-strip retrieve to hook a fish after I’d quit), I followed up swinging a bit of a sinktip and joined the fun.

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Here’s another one of Yvon’s floating-line fish, below. A nice hen showing some color but it had just come in on the tide about a half an hour earlier.

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This big buck, below, has to be one of the most beautiful steelhead I’ve ever seen. Absolutely pristine, with thick shoulders and gorgeous colors. Must have been four-inches across the back, too.

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And then, we were back to work, hoping the tide had brought in more shiny presents. Awesome. Stay tuned for more from the BC Coast…

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