Daily DrakeDestination travelDrake Magazine Back Issue Content 2020Drake Magazine Back Issue Content Fall 2020Homepage ContentLifestyleSteelheading in the late 90s, before gloves were invented.
Steelheading in the late 90s, before gloves were invented. Photo: Forrest Arakawa

Thanksgiving Fireball. Redemption on the Babine.

by Jim Zech

The whole trip was Forrest’s dumb idea. But for Forrest, enthusiasm overcomes all obstacles. In his world, “Rad” is always capitalized. As in, “Dude! It’ll be so Rad to go fishing right now!” But Smithers over Thanksgiving? Not Canadian Thanksgiving, mind you—which is on October 12, a perfectly reasonable time to be fishing in northern British Columbia—but American Thanksgiving, a month and a half later.

We went anyway, of course. There were three of us, including Forrest’s sagacious friend, Joe. Back then none of us had others significant enough to discourage us from going on a trip over a “family” holiday. And none of us would miss chatting politely with current, former, or fill-in family members, spending a day eating to discomfort, then watching Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. That’s the year I missed all of that, because I was in the snow in Smithers trying to catch steelhead.

The Babine in late November. Photo: Forrest Arakawa

This was in the late ’90s, long enough ago that, on the flight up, Forrest pulled a vise, bobbin, scissors, and materials—including 3/0 hooks—from his carry-on so he could tie several articulated leeches en route. It’s a messy fly to tie, and marabou was flying around the cabin, as were the tips of the big hooks, which Forrest was cutting off to make the long shanks necessary to tie that fly. We weren’t flying to Smithers, which would have been easy; we were flying to St. George, for some Forresty reason. I think he thought it would be easier to rent a car there. Maybe it was. We specified that we wanted a 4-wheel drive, and we got a Ford Explorer.

We drove to the Babine the only way we could—via two hours on the snow-covered Nilkitwa Road—and parked at the bridge just downstream from the weir. The snow was already deep and coming down hard. We probably fired some bear-bangers at each other, because we were young, and those were the kinds of hijinx that seemed necessary. Then off we went, hiking toward the pools downstream.

With three feet of snow on the bank, we were post-holing on every step, for a mile—a lot of exhausting, sweaty work before making a cast. The fishing was good, and we all caught steelhead. But afternoons are short at northern latitudes in late November, so we were hiking back by 3:00 p.m. At the car, we waited for Forrest to fish the keys out of wherever he’d put them, our thoughts now focused on pizza and beer in Smithers. After doing the typical pat-down-and-reach-into-every-pocket-multiple-times routine, the best words Forrest could muster were, “Dudes. Did I give one of you guys the keys?”

Me: “Forrest?”

Joe: “Seriously?”

Me: “Dude.”

“You have them, Forrest,” Joe insisted.

But Forrest did not have them. It had snowed at least five inches since we left the car, so if he’d dropped the keys on the ground, they’d be impossible to find.

“I musta locked them in the car,” was the only acceptable explanation Forrest could come up with, since losing them meant we’d be popsicles by morning. I looked at Joe with a terrified resignation. Joe looked around and picked up a bowling ball-sized rock and threw it at the driver-side window. Boing! It bounced off! I was amazed the window withstood the blow. Joe bent down, picked up the rock again, then stood there for a moment lost in deep, Yoda-like concentration. Then he put the rock down, reached up, and swept snow off the roof above the driver’s side window. He turned and faced us. The keys were in his snowy hand.

If Joe hadn’t found those keys, they might have found us after the spring thaw, huddled together in a frozen Explorer with a broken window, the keys exposed in their full glory on the roof. Redemption for Forrest lay in the fact that he’d stashed a bottle of Fireball in his gear bag. Normally, I wouldn’t drink a liquor so juvenile that it tastes like Red Hots cinnamon candy, even when I was a juvenile. But on the two-hour drive back to Smithers I made an exception. I drank the Fireball.

Jim Zech, a California native, has worn a lot of hats in his day, while attempting to make a living in the flyfishing industry for the past 30 years. He digs steelheading, and believes that most people should get the hell off of whatever river he’s fishing.

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