Except for a slow, irritating leak in the left leg of my waders, it was a fine morning on the river. The sun lit the land and warmed the air. The river was clear and was just high enough to add some excitement to the enterprise.
After a week in Vancouver where I’d been subjected to relentless noise, jammed into skytrains with plugged in, tuned out people, it was exhilarating to be with the dog, my ears filled with the song of birds and the distant rush of the river.
The small cutthroat and steelhead smolts were abundant. After freeing a dozen of them, I found a pair of large Dolly Varden lying in a dark gut alongside a log. They grabbed my Silver Amherst Minnow and struggled valiantly until I could bring them close enough to slip the sleeve of my catch and release tool down the line to the hook and twist them free.
We moved downstream, where the river is steeper, deeper, and quicker. I was thankful for the stout Bob Taylor-made wading staff. A week earlier, with the river a few inches lower, I’d used the folding wading staff, a new piece of equipment designed for back packing use, and found it trembled like an aspen branch in a stiff breeze.
By the time I’d crossed the stream three times on a downstream angle, I’d released half a dozen large cutthroat and been beaten by a dozen more. When I’d reached the shore on river left, I’d slipped into the bush. Oona who had been watching from her perch atop a log jutting out over the river, leaped in and swam across to join me for lunch.
I climbed up a fallen spruce to a glade where I leaned my rod and staff against another old giant, then dropped back pack and fly wallet on the forest floor. After a sandwich, an orange, and some bones (for Oona), I shouldered my pack, grabbed the staff and rod, then we made our way downstream to the Secret Creek Pool, which proved a little too high to fish well, but gave us thee more nice sized Cutthroat trout. After the last trout, my minnow looked pretty ragged. I went for my wallet. It wasn’t there. A wave of panic passed over me.
My wallet is rare. It was built by the superb leather craftsman, Don Horsfield, some 30 years ago. The stimulus for its construction came from a picture of one of Bill McMillan’s fly wallets, built of leather and wool fleece and jammed with steelhead patterns, and pictured on the cover of Trey Coombs’ second edition of Steelhead Flyfishing and Flies. When I first saw it, I had to have one. I found the leather, wool, and buckle in a crafts store located on the main street in Prince Rupert. After trimming the leather to the size of a woman’s pocketbook, I glued the fleece to one side then crudely stitched on a strap and buckle. It worked. For the next few years I thought about how the wallet might be improved and drew up a few designs.
One day after fishing the Bulkley River, I dropped in on Don, whose shop was then in Telkwa.
Have you ever built a fly wallet? I asked him.
No, he said. with a look of interest. Do you have an example of one?
I sheepishly showed Don, the master saddle maker and leather smith, my handiwork.
I think we can do better, he said.
I left him with my designs, which included pockets for leader spools on the back, a pocket behind one of the fleece patches for leaders, a pocket above for sinking heads, and a strap so that the wallet could be worn around the neck, or lengthened to be worn like a purse. Finally I suggested leather holders be attached to the strap to accommodate film canisters to hold dry flies and silicon grease.
Don did a fine job. With a hemostat and clipper attached, the wallet is everything a steelheader needs. It opens on the wearer’s chest so that everything is readily available.
Don built one for Finlay and placed a dozen others in fly shops. They all sold. Like most things leather, my wallet has acquired a patina over time and works better than ever. Like my wading staff, it can’t be replaced.
I’d stopped a couple of times to get rid of breakfast tea and the green tea I drank for lunch. Some manufacturers make old men waders with zippers. Mine are the leaky type that need to be pulled down before taking a leak. Because I was wearing a back pack, each time I had to take off my gear. In a state somewhere between anxiety and panic, I retraced my steps. Lines, leaders, tools, probably 150 flies, and the wallet itself were at stake. That I couldn’t exactly remember where I’d stopped for relief and for lunch made matters even more tense.
At the last spot – the lunch spot – I found the spruce log, climbed up it and felt around until I felt my wallet under the ground cover of low lying green shrubbery.
I put it around my neck, made a note to myself to take an inventory at every stop henceforth, and proceeded to have a good day.