Connecting with nature
Our Pacific Coastal flight from Vancouver to Campbell River, BC, is a scenic 45-minute jaunt. From there, it’s just an hour’s drive through the interior of Vancouver Island to the village of Gold River, population 1,300. This small, riverside community is literally where the road ends and the wilderness begins. Fresh glacier-fed rivers and lakes border the town to the east, and a 10-minute drive west brings you to the Pacific Ocean.
Our destination is The Lodge at Gold River, a majestic yet intimate inn for travellers seeking guided fishing tours. As we pulled into the driveway, I was amazed by the beauty of the main lodge and the surrounding buildings, all constructed from giant spruce and pine logged nearby. The gardens are a stunning mix of native and cultivated species—a natural complement to the beautiful totem poles and sculptures outside. Inside, the timber walls are adorned with art collected locally and abroad. Staff boasts that The Lodge offers the “luxury of roughing it,” which might as well be my travel mantra.
I have to confess I’d never been on a fishing trip before. Let’s face it, most big-city Ontario families don’t go fly-fishing for summer vacation. But I was craving a new sort of excursion, full of things we’d never experienced before. Lucky for me that my husband, Neil, a school principal who gets summers off, and our nine-year-old son, James, are both very athletic and game for anything. We love being outdoors, meeting new people and eating great food.
Our warm and friendly hosts, Kent and Teresa O’Neill, not only built the place, they manage the daily operations and fishing trips. Their small staff is more like a family, joining guests for cocktails and meals. Kent says it’s mostly men that sign up for the guided fishing expeditions, but it’s not uncommon to get a few women. (I know they don’t regularly get little kids, because James’s size-small hip waders looked brand new.)
Learning how to fly fish
Our first day on the water was mostly about the incredible scenery and enjoying a glass of BC chardonnay on a “party barge” fitted with rods and lines. I’m not sure what we did could be accurately called fishing, because we weren’t holding the rods, hooking the worms or casting. But when the linebobbed up and down and James yelled “fish,” we hurried to grab the rod, reel them in, then throw them back and watch them swim away. There was a lot of competition about who “caught” the biggest fish and how big it actually was.
Our second day was the one I most looked forward to: fly-fishing. Our guide, Alexi, spent quite a bit of time teaching us to cast, first on the lawn, then on a small trout pond. Neil got the hang of it long before I did, but I made up for my poor technique (and for hooking myself in the shoulder) when I learned to relax my right wrist a little. After another hour or so, I caught a small trout. From that moment on, I was literally hooked.
An hour later, we slipped into our fashionable hip waders and made our way to Gold River in the hopes of catching something wild. Within minutes, I had a nibble, but I couldn’t snag the line hard enough to keep the little swimmer on. This triggered outright obsession: I had to catch that fish, and I would not leave until I did. Despite trying several locations, my efforts ultimately proved unfruitful. But I was still impressed that my not-so-patient self spent an entire day attempting to trick a fish into biting a fake bug.
Though we went home empty-handed, we left in awe of our majestic surroundings, the sport of fly-fishing, and the cool new skills we’d just learned. For my family and I, the trip was transformative. After a hectic year of school and work, it was the perfect way to reconnect. We came home laughing about the ugly lingcod we caught and reminiscing about the texture of the black rocks lining the beach at Nootka Sound. And we now enjoy a feast of Pacific salmon for every special occasion.