When the old man and the sea collide

The sportsman fishes for compliments


He’s a bottom-feeder, a scourge, a muscled goon who’s gone a bit grey in the gills. But he can still take a right hook like he’s chewing candy, spit it back at you and float just out of reach so that you can’t touch him. To dismiss him is a grave mistake. He’s a fighter. And, this time, you’re his prey.

“Hey, Mike, have you ever fished before?”

I’m startled out of my deep angler’s reverie and nearly spill the Tic Tacs I’m clutching in my white-knuckled hand onto my brand-new Mountain Equipment Co-op Optimus synthetic, multi-pocketed convertible pants/knickers with plenty of technical features purchased precisely for this occasion.

“Ha!” I say to Yves Bisson, the guide for B.C. Sportfishing Group, as we plow his boat through the restless March waves on B.C.’s Harrison River. “Are you kidding?”

I let my comment kind of spool out there into the infinite abyss known as The Silence of the Guide. I’ve never quite figured out how the frozen fish in our home freezer makes it to the dinner table in Calgary, but I’m a survivor. I know one day my wife is going to tell me. Just like I know Yves is going to tell me how to get big fish out of the water and into the boat, if I play it cool.

“The sea is angry, my friend,” I offer, narrowing my eyes as we bounce over the waves, before adding, in my best Lieut. Worf voice, “It is a good day to die.” Yves, after a quick glance, keeps his eyes ahead and busies himself with the throttle.

It’s a windy day on the lake, which sits at the foot of the imposing and historic Harrison Hot Springs Resort, 90 minutes east of Vancouver.

The Resort presides over waterfront, where anglers like me gingerly step from the dock onto Yves’ seven metre Woolridge jet boat, powered by a 496-cubic-inch engine and outfitted with Shimano Torsa reels. I know this because I asked him and dutifully wrote it down, so I can sound like I know what I’m talking about.

Yves and I are on our way to fish for sturgeon, known as monsters of the deep because of their intimidating size, up to four metres long and 450 kilograms. They live on the river bottom, says Yves. “Aye,” I nod, with a bit of a Loch Ness burr, “’tis the Dark Kingdom.” Yves cuts me a look and busies himself with the throttle. Sturgeon scour for choice bits of rotten salmon and, for all I know, chumps in ridiculous new fishing pants.

Is it possible there’s a mythic creature down there, I ask, a really nasty Dark Lord of a fish-beast?

“You hear stories of fishermen battling them hours into the night until it’s dark and then they have to break it off,” says Yves. “It’ll swim around on the bottom to tire you and find a way to wrap your line around something so you’ll lose it.” Lose the line or your mind? He doesn’t say.

We edge into the Harrison River and creep the jet boat towards one of Yves’ secret spots. As I hitch up my pants, so the fish won’t see my plumber’s butt, a long-ago quote from Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea surfaces: “Now is the time to think of only one thing. That which I was born for.”

What happened next, I recall only in nightmarish snatches of memory torn from the river. I hook a writhing mass of muscle with jaws bigger than the boat. “Stand back, it’s Voldemort!” I cry, wrestling with the rod as the water thrashes around us. Stunned by my pants—the wily old sturgeon’s expression seems to say, “No, seriously?”—he’s caught off-guard, and Yves hauls the confused beast aboard.

We measure the fish (1.75 m) as part of an eco-friendly monitoring program and return it to the river, where it bolts as quickly as it can from my Lucky Fishing Pants—which I later learn were actually designed for bike riding. I’d loan them to you, but I’m busy buying hip waders for my first cycling tour.

Calgary-based writer Mike Fisher’s new nickname, Lucky Fish Pants, sounds vaguely Sopranos-esque.

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