ASCENSION: Summer Steelhead of the Coquihalla River

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A tribute to the summer steelhead of the Coquihalla River

with Peter Caverhill

Impressive is too light an adjective. Spiritual, colourful, noisy, sad - all these and more apply.

Perhaps, most appropriately, this is a place where the best descriptor is - challenging. Here, man and beast have focused great energies, for special achievement. Man has come, left his mark and faded from the scene, leaving but a few ghosts. The fish struggle on, doing what their instincts have demanded for millennia. Hindered by man along the way, their fate now trembles on the abyss of extinction.

All the senses are pervaded in this place. Upstream, glass-like pools appear motionless, reluctant to take the dramatic plunge over gradients which rapidly fall away. But ever so slowly clear green flows become a chaotic mixture of air, water and sound. The roar and crash of chutes and falls rebounds off high canyon walls and comes and goes on fickle breezes. The air is moist and cool with the fragrance of moss and cedar.

The three tunnels are testimony to a railroad enterprise that was. Dreams, sweat and blood were spent climbing these few kilometers of supposedly impenetrable wilderness, creating a better way from here to there. The steel is gone, but even man’s most fervent critic must wonder at these early feats.

At streambed level the fishes’ view is one of towering boulders and bedrock, smoothed and sculpted by a million run-offs. Gravity throws the river over drops and compresses it through narrow crevices in the granite. During early summer it’s a daunting place for summer steelhead and dolly varden char. These are special fish which have the timing, stamina and fortune to be the only species uniquely able to ascend this canyon, and spawn and rear in the upper river habitat. Getting there is a thousand leaps and a few lucky ones; try, try and rest - then try again. Such wonderful, relentless, admirable fortitude !

Four gun-metal grey steelhead swim on station in the canyon pool. They are easily visible, backdropped by a large white boulder and illuminated by dappled sunlight. In a superficial way, one can know these fish - their life history; the perils they face from nature and man; how to hold them for a few frantic moments with line and fly. However, to truly appreciate them, you must visit their adversity - this canyon - which has physically created them and their specialness in an esoteric process called evolution. Admire their strength and the purpose which sends them crashing against canyon walls, time after time and year after year - and hope there will be a future.


Peter's Arcticles...

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ASCENSION: Summer Steelhead of the Coquihalla River