Rowing for Tyee in Campbell River, B.C.
Tyee rowing is variously described as the thrill of a lifetime, a spiritual experience and the purest form of sportsmanship on the BC coast. It takes all the technology out of fishing, leaving just the angler, the rower and the mighty Tyee salmon.
To really understand the magic of Tyee fishing we talked with Bruce Aikman, a man who has Tyee fishing in his blood. He has logged over 34,000 hours as a guide and has the stories to match.
Bruce comes from a long line of Tyee fishermen and women. His grandfather came to Campbell River from Vancouver in the 1920s and one of his first jobs was building Tyee rowboats for E.P. Painter, the original owner of Painter’s Lodge. His wife, Annie, is E.P. Painter’s granddaughter. When he started as a wharf boy at the lodge in 1969, eleven out of the 17 guides were his relatives.
Not too long before Bruce’s grandfather arrived, Campbell River was virtually unknown internationally. But when the stories of incredible salmon runs started spreading around the world a whole flock of “gentleman anglers” arrived. They formed the Tyee Club of Canada in part to celebrate magnificent catches, in part to protect the local salmon stocks.
“I rowed my first Tyee when I was 13 and my biggest is 50 lbs.,” said Bruce. “I’ve been next to a lot of bigger ones and even had a few of them on myself.” But, he says, the fish are only part of the story. As with most things in life, it’s all about the process.
Bruce set up the scene like this: “I’m waiting at the dock when my guests come down from the lodge and we’re on the water, traveling to the Tyee pool, while it’s still dark. When we arrive all you can see for the first hour or so are the red, green and white navigation lights of the other boats.” He then described the sounds of the Tyee pool.
“There are no motors in the Tyee pool, so it’s quite quiet. You hear people talking in whispers, oars dipping, and the sounds of fish rolling around on the surface and slapping the water.”
Tyee rowing is a partnership between the rower and the angler. The rower staggers his strokes, controlling the action of the lure in the water by varying his speed and power. When a fish strikes, the real team work kicks in.
“When I see that strike I call out ‘Fish on!’ and the angler will set the hook,” explained Bruce. “As soon as the strike happens, nobody can touch the rod except the angler. As soon as he’s hooked I start hauling out into the centre of the channel.”
“Once we’re clear of the other boats, the angler and I work together. One of the worst things you can do is let the fish get too close to the boat too soon, so I make sure to keep enough distance, all the while avoiding the local seal population.” Then comes the real moment of reckoning.
“I can tell if it’s 30 lbs. as soon as it’s out of the water,” said Bruce, “just by looking at its shoulders. Looking down from its head you can see the squared-off shoulders of a fish over 30 lbs. At 29 pounds its shoulders are still rounded.”
“I’ve seen a lot of 29 ½, 29 ¾ lb. fish brought in. It’s painful.”
Anglers who cross that magical 30 lb. mark can register to become members of the Tyee Club. This is the only way to gain membership and it’s probably the most quintessential Campbell River experience possible.
Tyee fishing draws people looking for a truly authentic experience. Asked what keeps him out here year after year, Bruce talked of the community surrounding this simple but beautiful pastime. “My wife is often out there rowing beside me, and whole families row together. You talk about life, and the whole quietness of the thing is beautiful.”
The Tyee Club has strict rules surrounding equipment, keeping the focus on the angler and rower, not on the gear. Here’s a quick overview.
Reel – hand operated, no slipping or clutch mechanisms are allowed in single action reels.
Line – must have a breaking strength of 20 lb. or less, verified using the official testing weight of the Tyee Club. The use of a leader is optional. If used, it must be less than 6 feet in length.
Lure – any type of artificial lure; lures designed for jigging, spinning, still fishing, attraction by electronic or other means are not allowed.
Depth sounders or any electronic devices for fish detection – not a chance.
Be Part of the Tyee Tradition
Tyee rowing season kicks off at Painter’s Lodge in Campbell River on July 15 every year, running through until September 15. Last year rowers had some of the best fishing in a decade, and this year’s season is booking up quickly.
Tyee rowing “tides” are $189 for up to two people.
To book your space in the Tyee pool visit painterslodge.com/tyee or call 1-800-663-7090.