Larry and Homer's
Most Excellent Adventure
to Bend and BC

by Larry Mitchell

November 2003

Homer Eaton and I began our journey on a Saturday, September 13, and ended a week later. Four days driving and four days fishing may not be the most productive use of time, but the scenery and fishing were great. Fall colors had just begun in Bend (at five hundred miles), and leaves were in brighter shades in Mission, BC, our destination some thousand miles from home.

Nymphing the Deschutes

Our fishing companion in Bend, Clane Compagna, is a high school science teacher and the son of a woman friend who traveled with us to China and Japan in 2002 and 2003. He wrote a book on fishing in the Bend area about twelve years ago. He now concentrates on the Deschutes River, fishing for steelhead and trout.

On Sunday Clane hosted us on a drift trip down the Deschutes, stopping at select shore wading spots. We used weighted nymphs on ten- to twelve-foot leaders with foam indicators. The weather was mild, and other fishermen were scarce all down the length of our drift. According to Clane, the river was running an estimated 7,500 cfs.

The river is shared with local Indians who are allowed the usual privileges of Native Americans. It always amazes me that locals seem to begrudge the freedoms given to local native tribes. We took their country, heritage, and resources, and we still can grouse about their remaining rights and possessions. We were allowed to fish both sides of the river, but not permitted to land on the banks of the Indian side—not a problem for fly fishermen.

The fishing was lean, and although this writer was skunked, Homer landed a trout and a whitefish. We threw beadhead nymphs, such as the Hares Ear, Prince, and Pheasant Tail. Clane fared better than we did, but not as well as he expected to. He landed five fish, but he never had a steelhead on his line all day. The day and locale were beautiful, though. High, colorful canyon walls framed the river along the whole fishing trip route.

Dead Horses, Stone Bugs, and Million Dollar Properties

At one point we passed an island called Dead Horse Island, named because it once served as the final resting place of a mature, but deceased, equine that remained there for about two years, feet up, until the river finally washed it away. Another spot, called the Scorpion, was identified by scatter rock formations shaped like this critter, high up on the canyon walls. A third spot of interest was a five-acre residential site that sold several years ago for six million dollars.

Canada or Bust

We left for Canada on Monday, 15th. We saw gas prices become ever-cheaper as we headed north until we reached Canada itself, where gas costs $.75 Canadian per liter, or a little over two bucks US per gallon, pretty much like home. Late Monday we finally arrived in Mission, BC, about ten miles north of the US border, forty miles or so east of Vancouver. We were now a thousand miles from home. The beautiful rural countryside was in constant view during the trip, and southern British Columbia has lush green fields and much greater rainfall than we're used to in California. We drove to the home of Vic Carrao, the owner of STS Guiding Service, where we joined a Brit who had taken three weeks vacation to fish in Canada. By the end of the week he estimated he had caught about a half-ton of salmon.

Pink is a Beautiful Color

The next morning, after a continental breakfast, we left to meet our guide, Jordi. His roomy boat was waiting for us about twenty miles west of Mission on the Harrison River. Jordi furnished the rods, reels, flies, lunch, and put us on excellent wading spots on the river to "rip dem lips". We used barbless hooks, and we each had a hook-up on just about every other cast! All fish were released and our guide told us that approximately twenty million fish were counted this year. The pink salmon were schooling upstream into the interior and also into the Fraser River for spawning. We caught fish until our arms were sore from fighting these five- to ten-pound pinks. We both realized this was a first for us in excitement and in quality and quantity of fish caught.

After six hours, we were ready to call it a day. We estimate that we caught thirty-six pinks during our six-hour day. We always used the same hot-pink nymph that looked somewhat like a Wooly Bugger without the hackles. After a fine dinner at a local pub we slept like logs and anticipated the next day's adventure.

Fishing for Prehistoric Monsters

We went to another locale the next day and resumed fishing for pinks when it began to mist and drizzle. Our English friend had caught a seven-foot sturgeon the day before we arrived, so we decided to give that a try. The rod of choice on the boat was a deep sea trolling rod and reel - not exactly fly fishing! Each rig had a two-pound weight at the bottom of the line and a sliding sleeve containing about a sixteen-inch length of leader with a hook buried in a mesh bag of salmon roe. We dropped three of these lines from rods placed in holders and waited. It was not long before we had a bite, and a sturgeon was on and fighting.

Homer and I each caught two of these prehistoric-looking monsters, which were scanned and released to grow to larger sizes. Our modest sized sturgeons measured thirty-six, fifty-one, fifty-four and fifty-eight inches and were estimated to weigh between forty and fifty pounds. They are real fighters and are all catch-and-release in BC, though local Indians are allowed to keep a few. All guides keep a kit for implanting microchips into the fishes' heads and a scanner to read implanted chips. We pulled our fish into the boat to measure the length and girth. Larger fish, which can weigh up to four hundred pounds are towed to shore, recorded on film, and released in shallow water. We finished the day by returning to the pink salmon that were schooling in the river, followed by another evening of fishing tales, dinner, and tired muscles.

The last day was a repeat of the first, but at yet another shore area. There was some mild rain and mist and some other fly fishers, but again the fishing was excellent.

Back in the US of A

We were disinclined to leave the next day since we faced a two-day drive. We split the trip home at Grants Pass in Oregon. We have handouts from the guide service and will be happy to share them with you. A word of caution about the usually easy border crossing: Since 9/11 passports are now generally needed for access to and from Canada (remember, illegal aliens can now get a CA driver's license). Be alerted, but by all means try Canada. We're going back next year in mid-October for the coho and sockeye runs.

BC fishing licenses are available in one-day and eight-day versions for aliens, with the eight-day costing just a little more than two one-day licenses, about $48 Canadian. They are often available in gas stations.