I love chasing wild fish.
I say chasing instead of catching because there is a difference, as I discovered this past weekend on a fly-fishing trip for rainbow trout on the Thompson River.
Chasing fish means being out there in the places one expects to find fish, equipped with the gear required to catch them.
Catching fish means, well, what it sounds like, and despite a great deal of chasing on Saturday, I didn’t do much catching.
That is how it so often goes for me when I’m chasing wild fish. I get skunked far more often on rivers than I do on lakes.
Weirdly, it’s part of the charm.
Every trip on the Thompson or any of the other rivers we can fish in our area always comes with question marks. Will we find the fish? Will we catch them? What will we learn? What kind of experience will it be?
I define wild fish as any fish that was not conceived in a hatchery technician’s bucket nor spent any part of its life in a hatchery of any kind.
Wild fish are different to me for no other reason than I know they were born in the environments they occupy and are engaged in life cycles as natural as they come. Trout in the Thompson have been there for as long as the Thompson has flowed.
Most of our local lakes, on the other hand, are stocked. The trout in them are not wild fish. I’m not critical of the fish in those lakes.
B.C.’s hatchery program is world-class. The success of our local stillwater sport fisheries is the result of that program.
I am happy to know that my angling licence fees support the provincial hatchery program and I plan to buy a licence every year even if I can’t fish, just because I know it supports the program.
And I fish a lot of lakes every year, as well. The rainbows in our lakes grow stout, fight hard and feed as naturally as one would expect. They eat insects and other natural food sources. You don’t catch them with feed pellets.
The parents of the fish released by the Freshwater Fisheries Society of B.C. are most often wild fish. Our province’s program collects eggs and milt for the hatcheries from wild sources.
These fish are not generational hatchery fish. They are nearly as wild as their parents.
The truth is, it’s not so much the wildness of the fish I crave — it’s the places themselves, where one goes to catch wild fish that pulls me in.
In our area, we find wild fish mostly in rivers, and our rivers are spectacular places to spend a day. They have carved channels through landscape and bedrock on a journey to the ocean, draining vast parts of the Interior of winter snow.
They are the veins and lifeblood of our province.
It is hard to describe the awe-inspiring power rivers possess. You feel it as soon as you take your first wading steps.
The current pushes hard on your legs and threatens continually to take you for a wet ride if you don’t keep your balance. You need to stay sharp in a river.
It’s not just big rivers that pose a risk. Even smaller rivers have their unique character.
The Adams River, for example, seems small in comparison to the Thompson, but the water rips through it at a murderous pace.
There are log jams and deadfalls on every corner, and anglers who wade it must know a slip could put them in serious trouble.
The trout there gather in the fall to feed on salmon eggs and the flesh of the dying adults. Figuring out its cycles, secrets and timing is always fascinating.
Most anglers who have fished for more than a few years will tell you they crave the overall experience around angling as much as catching fish.
We yearn for so much more than that fleeting tug on the line, as central as that is to the activity.
For me, the places we go to find our quarry are as important as the catching, which means chasing truly wild fish will continue to be one of my most desired pursuits because they are only found in specific places.
Connecting with nature in locations as inspiring as a river canyon is as good as it gets.
Robert Koopmans is an avid angler and hunter who spends as much time as possible in B.C.’s wild places. He also hosts the Hunting & Fishing British Columbia podcast (find it on Apple Podcasts or wherever you find your podcasts). To share a thought, send an email to email@example.com.