Humans of Campbell River: Carihi Flyfishing
Humans of Campbell River is a collaboration between Destination Campbell River and Bluetree Photography. Showcasing the stories of those who call our coastal community home. Each week we deep dive into a new story and the connections between people and place. This week we’re sharing the story of the Carihi Fly Fishing Club.
I’m a water whipper. That’s the nickname they give fly fishers. However, I wasn’t always one who whipped the water. It wasn’t until we moved to Campbell River, years ago, when I learned how to fly fish. I grew up on the prairies, so fly fishing wasn’t as popular as rodeoing. I spent my first year, fishless and frustrated. I donated countless hours to the river, casting for both trout and salmon in pouring winter rain and dry summer heat. I was consistent in one thing: not catching fish. However, I was unwavering and determined to net a fish, even if I wasn’t as glamorous as Brad Pitt in ‘A River Runs Through It.’
Years ago, when I picked up some used fly gear, I negotiated to myself that I had to at least get my monies worth. Most weekends I would grab my beat-up-garage-sale-special fly rod, along with new-to-me-leaky waders and worn-out hiking boots, and head to the Campbell River for first light. Not having been formally taught much about fly fishing, let alone how to cast, those around me could hear the snapping and cracking of my fly line, which signified I didn’t know what I was doing. I caught trees and rocks.
However, it’s when I started to reflect on my skills that everything began to change. I soon realized how important it was to learn from others. I reflected on what I was doing wrong, and what I needed to correct. I watched. I studied. I also spoke with others, learning from their casting techniques and fishing setups. Many were kind and generous enough to share a little bit of what they knew with me, revealing a small nugget of wisdom I used to guide my own learning. Though I spent many hours reading and watching YouTube videos, the river was my greatest teacher, and still is today.
I give credit to the fishing mentors I’ve met along the way. Without their guidance, I wouldn’t be the successful fly fisher I am today. My advice to those wanting to take up the art of fly fishing and fly tying is that it’s okay not to know everything. Take a chance. Ask questions. Reflect on your skills. Practice. There is a great deal to learn when commencing the journey of becoming a competent angler. It just starts with that first cast.
The idea for the Carihi Fly Fishing program came while wading in the Campbell River early one morning. I felt an idea tug at me, and later imagined how I might be able to bridge my passion for the outdoors with high schoolers. I approached the principal with an outline of my ideas and how it connects to the curriculum. He was supportive and figured it would be an excellent idea, considering Campbell River’s geography and fish runs. He said to start small. So with that advice, I started an after-school fly tying club.
The program began with only a handful of students. I had guests attend after-school fly tying sessions who led different fly tying patterns. Word began to spread and the club grew over time. There were enough students interested a year later, that the principal decided to allow fly fishing as an elective course. The program morphed and evolved over years of growth from an elective course into a multi-subject offering, where students receive dual academic credits in English and Science towards their graduation program. This is because when students sign up, English literacy skills are weaved with conservation and ecology concepts through a lens of fly fishing. It is a unique program, and so far the only one I know of.
The program grew in popularity, and it was nominated twice for the Campbell River Mirror’s Local Heroes Awards as Youth Volunteer finalists. Students in the program are taught about conservation and protecting our fish resources through acts of stewardship. As such, I take them out every so often to pick up garbage along the Quinsam and Campbell Rivers. Some of them have even committed their weekends and after-school time to build salmon habitat, release fry, and remove garbage from local rivers and estuaries.
To me, it is important they study and learn from the literature written by some of the great conservationists of our time.
When a student signs up today, they learn from the works of Roderick Haig-Brown, Van Egan, Peter Caverhall, as well as many others. The literature enriches the class because after reading Haig-Brown, the students perk up and realize he writes about the exact same spots they fish today. This adds a certain magic to the class.
In 2019 I was asked by tournament organizer and Canadian pro fly fisher, Todd Oishi if any of the students in the program would be interested in competing at the Canadian Youth National Fly Fishing Championship. I thought what an incredible opportunity for these youth to compete as members of a team on the mainland!
Not many are aware, but fly fishing is a worldwide sport with a competitive league. Each year, different countries host the top teams from around the world and compete at a high level both in freshwater (rivers) and still water (lakes) events. Points are assigned during each event based upon the total number of fish caught within a period. Different beats, or areas on the river, are set up and fly fishers rotate throughout each of these. Still water or lake events have boats and competitors are assigned two per boat and from different teams to maintain credibility. Fishers are also given a time allotment and must agree with their boatmate which areas of the lake to fish.
Though it was nearly two years ago, bringing students from Campbell River to compete in the Maple Ridge Championship was the highlight of their high school experience for some. I assembled two teams and began training and coaching the cohort of ten youth fly fishers in the Carihi Fly Fishing program, along with some expert input from seasoned fly fisher, Peter Huyghebaert, who fished competitively for years. Through it all, one of our teams, the Carihi Cutties, placed second, along with third place in the individual fly fishing category! Overall it was a memorable experience and pushed us all to grow as anglers.
Some ask, what keeps me going? Well, if one were able to capture the excitement and vibrance from a student having caught their first fish, or first fish on a fly, it justifies all the effort. It’s hard to put these fleeting moments into words, considering the high adrenaline and shouting of “fish on!”, but I liken it to magic. It’s the magic of seeing kids apply what they learned from class to the outdoor experience. For some of them, catching a fish has become a bonus, next to appreciating the natural environment, and of course, not being in the brick and mortar of the school.
Though many believe I’m simply lucky and fish all day with kids, they often overlook how much extra effort is required to run the program, or to the depth of involvement needed. I am fortunate, but I also rise at 4am and take the students riverside for the early bite, organize meals and transportation logistics, and care for 30 students on fish outs, in addition to seeking thousands of dollars from sponsors to support the students throughout the year. When someone enrolls, each student is loaned a rod, waders, boots, and a lifejacket. There are maintenance costs for the gear over time, yet having to purchase enough beads, hooks, and fly tying material to outfit a variety of fly patterns for 60 students each year, certainly adds up. I would like to personally thank our main sponsors and supporters from over the years: Mowi, Campbell River Salmon Foundation, Cabelas, Campbell River Fish and Wildlife Association, Island Ready Mix, McDonald’s, Loop Fly Fishing, Tyee Marine and River Sportsman, for supporting us on this journey.
I feel fortunate to be able to share my passion with others, particularly those who are new to the sport. I believe the program to be a success and have been validated by the community with donations, as well as being nominated and winning Campbell River Mirror’s Local Heroes Awards, as Educator of the Year. The recognition felt like a pat on the shoulder and is another reason for me to keep forging onward. Who knows what the future will bring the program?