Back From The North Country

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Apologies for the long gap in posts here, but I’m just home from a little trip up north. It started with a surprise birthday party for my good friend and conservation mentor, Bruce Hill, who lives in Terrace, British Columbia. But what self-respecting steelhead bum visits Skeena Country in September without fishing? So the trip turned into a weeklong gig with Bruce and another great fishing buddy and mentor, Yvon Chouinard. I also got to spend some time with Gerald Amos, yet another longtime friend from whom I continue to learn. Hanging with these three environmental superheroes is inspiring, educational and a ton of fun. That’s YC above, giving Bruce and me a tenkara fly rod demonstration. (The remarkably fun and simple tenkara technique uses a rod without a reel, and I actually caught a fish the first time I tried it.)

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As luck would have it, fishing was lousy. Headwater rains following a summer-long drought had the Skeena running low and dirty, and most of the fish had already moved through the lower sections. But fishing was really the smallest part of the whole trip. Mostly it was about hanging out with good friends, cooking together, eating and telling stories. And boy, did we eat. We were joined for part of the time by Chef Colin Sako and had free run of the Hill family’s incredibly well-stocked freezer. Wild mushroom season was in full swing, too, with matsutakes (aka pine mushrooms), chanterelles, oysters and porcini sprouting throughout the nearby woods. In the picture above, Bruce and YC are just getting started with appetizers of coho ikura (which we made from a gorgeous silver we caught earlier that day) and white king salmon sashimi. The main course involved lightly smoked black cod broiled with balsamic vinegar glaze, salt-broiled coho bellies and aromatic matsutake mushroom rice. A truly memorable meal. Hard to believe, but by the end of the week, we’d eaten that whole bowl of salmon eggs–over chicken eggs and toast for breakfast, on crackers and bread for snacks and on pretty much everything else at dinner.

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We did find a few fish, too. Had to range far and wide, bust brush, scramble down steep banks and, one day, even hike across a wildly beautiful lava field to reach good water. I think a lot of it was simply to work up an appetite for the evening meals we dreamed up while fishing. That’s me with a 37-inch hen steelhead taken on the last day. Huge thanks to Bruce, Anne, Julia, Aaron, Amanda and Zosha Hill, YC and Malinda, Colin, Bob Clay, Tom Derry, Lindsey, Lisa and everyone else who pitched in to make it a week I will savor for a long time.

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