By Doug Maves
The full moon set slowly, silver and blue against the predawn black of the horizon. Grays crept in, then light, turning the clouds coral and the sky purple in the brief pause before true dawn. Against that backdrop the moon sank out of sight to the west, as if to hide from the rising sun. I dressed to endure a full day of spring sunshine on the water, knowing full well the danger of our powerful Okanagan sunshine reflecting from and magnified by the water of Okanagan Lake. A large breakfast of french toast with black cherry syrup took much less time to disappear than the moon had. Throwing a small duffel bag with lunch, snacks, water and my camera over my shoulder, I was soon driving to my rendezvous with Captain Rod Hennig, my professional fishing guide.
The drive to the Westbank Yacht Club went smoothly from my home in Lake Country, most traffic travelling in the opposite direction at that early morning hour. I pulled in to the parking lot, puzzled by its fullness, and waved at Rod as he prepared to back his red and silver boat into the water at the launch. We were soon shaking hands and I held the boat on shore while he tried to find a place to park his truck and trailer among the vehicles of the local business owners who were using the club for a meeting, uncaring of or ignorant to anyone using the boat launch. We were soon aboard though, engines growling, then purring as they warmed in the chilly air. We chatted a bit, catching up, then settled down in the comfortable seats for our run to our first fishing area. I had asked Rod to target ling cod for me today, a delicious white fleshed fish almost completely overlooked by local anglers. With a full day of fishing ahead of us, he knew we would also have time to hunt the large rainbow trout of the lake he had guided my friends and I to successfully so many times before. The boat slowed to a stop, then crawled ahead as we rigged out our lines far astern. I thanked my personal deity, the “Great Speckled Trout” for another beautiful day and for helping us all, then recited a pirate’s toast I had heard somewhere,” Here’s to all of them like us, of which there’s damn few, and most of them’s dead.” Who ever said anglers are superstitious anyway?
We followed the carefully maintained routes on his GPS/Fishfinder, dotted with the sizes of previously caught fish, released or kept. I remembered the 12, and the 14 he had found for us last Christmas, when the big fish were still feeding crazily, preparing for winter. We did not expect to have the same luck this time, our late spring had not allowed the water to warm to between 50 and 55 degrees F, the preferred feeding range for large trout. The bucktails far behind the boat were clipped to 10 feet sideriggers, to stop the fish from being spooked by our passage. We sipped coffee, joking and laughing about previous trips. One of the long rods bent slowly backwards and “Cap” was all over it. The siderigger returned to its trolling position, not a hard enough strike to release it from the clip or hook the fish. He took the siderigger from its holder, and swept it back to the fish, imitating stunned prey. The fish struck again, hard enough to release the line from the clip, and Rod was soon setting the hook and handing the fishing rod to me. I felt its desperate lunges, and watched as it leaped once, then twice more. Fighting furiously all the way, I soon had it to the boat, then in to the net. The 51 centimetre fish would limit us to only one more large Gerard rainbow, so we released it back to its home. I told it I would look it up again in about five years as it swam away. For me, releasing a healthy fish to continue its life ranks right up there with the best of all feelings.
The ice being broken for fish catching, Cap and I dismantled our rainbow set-ups and drove the boat into a moderate chop to a spot near the new bridge. Rod had won a tournament here once, the fish of he and his clients taking the top five places. We were soon jigging worms and squid over a bottom littered with the arcs of fish on the fishfinder. I watched Rod’s jigging technique and listened to his instructions. Almost immediately he was handing me his rod and taking mine as I played my first ever ling cod. Strongly it fought, then slowly surfaced. Doomed by the depth of water I raised it from, it floated sullenly, unable to fight anymore because of the unreleased pressure in its body. Soon dispatched, it waited for more to join it in the fish storage box. Regaled by Rod with stories of how it would be “one after another” once the fish were located, we jigged and jigged some more, futilely. We changed locations at least five times, always marking fish on the bottom, never able to make them bite again. Three ospreys came to fish near us, soaring and plunging, just out of range for good picture taking, and almost impossible while jigging anyway. After about an hour, we returned to fishing for rainbows near the south end of the lake, Rod telling me not to worry, I would have many more opportunities to fill my ling cod limit. I’m sure that is what jinxed us.
We released another small rainbow and lost two more, one big one by its weight on the rod before it threw the hook. We jigged every ling cod hole Cap knew of, and a few he had never tried before. He told me of the morning he and his clients saw a group of Dall sheep feeding and drinking on the eastern shore, and later on the same day, a mountain goat on a ridge. Bears and deer are common, and we saw what I think was a golden eagle flying along the shoreline south to north. We laughed and talked and blamed each other for the poor fishing that day, completely at ease in each other’s company, both knowing that fishing can be like that. I’m sure Rod was glad it was me he had for a client that day, one who understood the vagaries of fishing and how hard it was for even an experienced professional to find fish for his paying customers. I hope someday soon some of you readers will have a chance to fish with him and learn how lucky we are to live here, and wonder why snowbirds and others leave our great country to vacation elsewhere, adding to our newly made national debt. We know the politicians who created it will be well taken care of by the automakers and banks they bailed out with our taxes. No wonder so few people bother to vote.
I watched as Cap carefully filleted the ling cod, an operation easier than with the bass I was used to since ling cod do not have the V-shaped belly bones of bass or pike. Once again I had learned much that day from an expert happy to share his knowledge with someone who appreciates the constant maintenance and hard work involved in operating a home grown business to support his family. My friends will soon be enjoying the fresh caught taste of something new, local and sustainable. Thanks for another great day of stories and companionship in our super, natural Okanagan outdoors, Rod. I’ll be seeing you soon for salmon in late July. Tight lines.
Learn more about Captain Rod Hennig at his website at www.rodneysreeloutdoors.com.