Bungee Boy and the Killer Loons

-by Doc Waters

Every so often, in the course of shooting the bull with other anglers, I have heard recurring stories about the antics of birds on certain lakes. The tales usually revolve around eagles or loons, who, as the story goes, have become so bold that they steal fish right off the angler's hook!

I must admit that I have always taken these tales with a grain of salt. Until this past summer.

Since I have known him, my friend Don has spoken, with great reverence, the name of this certain Cariboo lake. No matter how much fun we've had drifting some river or rowing some secluded lake, at the evening campfire Don would inevitably say "Someday, partner, I'm going to take you to _______ Lake" (name withheld upon threat of execution). "I really want to share this lake with you. I think you'll be impressed."

So, when the phone call came, and it was clear that in the morning we were going to make the long awaited pilgrimage to THE LAKE, I was primed!

After a couple of summers of sneaking peeks at Don's closely guarded fly fishing secrets, (the man can catch a fish anywhere) I felt like the young monk on the verge of sharing in the secret of the universe. "Look out, Grasshopper is ready to snatch the pebbles from your hand!"

This was going to be fun. My wife Deb, was coming along too. She, if you can believe my friends, always catches more fish than me. And so, it was agreed that we would take two boats and two trucks, sleep in the back of our trucks and set up a plastic tarp to keep dry. In the high altitudes of the Cariboo plateau, summer weather can sometimes be unsettled. Such was the case the next morning when we departed from Tim Hortons; a local donut shop, and our favourite pre-adventure rendezvous spot.

For the last few days, one thunderstorm after another had rolled overhead. Yet, our spirits were high. We were reminded of that old Cariboo adage, "If you don't like the weather, wait 5 minutes and it will change." It just seemed reasonable that between cloud bursts the sun would shine and the fish would bite.

Considering the rain, the backroads were in reasonably good shape, although occassionally cluttered with logging debris. It was getting late in the season, but the alpine meadows were still painted with wildflowers and the tall rows of wild clover along the road side were alive with bees. The rain kept the plants nourished and the clouds obscured the burning summer sun. We arrived at THE LAKE early in the afternoon.

As is our custom, we set up camp first. Don was extremely proud of his new blue tarp. The old orange one had been retired after many years of faithful service, often rendered under the most extreme conditions. Seems it had finally sprung a leak. Actually the hole developed the summer before, but it had taken several more leaky trips before we finally got the message.

This was to mark the beginning of a whole new era for Don. Always on the lookout for a better way to do things, he had recently attended a garage sale where he acquired a cardboard box full of rubber bungee cords. Now it was time to replace the spool of gardening cord, that had become his trade mark over years, with this new high tech system of securing the tarp.

Don crawled in the back of his truck, and out came the tarp. Next were the 2x4's with nails in the top, that served as tent poles. Then, the new lightweight aluminum tent pegs. And, lastly, the axe.

I don't recall at which point it became clear that this was not going as planned. Perhaps it was when we unfolded the new blue tarp and realized that it was big enough to cover the picnic table, both trucks and possibly the outhouse nearby.

Actually, I was delighted, for I felt somewhat vindicated for having shown up at one of our campouts with a tarp that was so big we couldn't unfold among the trees. In fact, even after dragging it out onto the road, there was still only room to attempt to fold it back up again. (Deb later paced it out at 69 feet by 29 feet). It became known as "the mother of all tarps". Thanks to the classified ads, it has found a new home in the Chilcotin, where it covers half an acre, and keeps 60 or so tourists dry when they return from trail riding.

Our second hint of disaster came with the fourth or fifth peg to snap in half while driving into the rocky ground. It's hard to imagine why backpackers would like these new lightweight pegs. . . unless it's because there's seldom anything left to pack home.

30 minutes into the 5 minute procedure Deb and I were howling, Don was loosing his sense of humour and the tarp was again lying in a tangled heap of rubber bungees and 2x4's. At this point, the fella from the next campsite, unable to see over the tall growth seperating us, took the liberty to wander over and see what all the fuss was about. I can only imagine how we must have appeared standing in a pool of blue plastic and trying desperately to look like nothing was out of the ordinary. "Yes, everything is under control. Thanks for asking."

Alone again, we once more hoisted the behemuth into the air. Don devised an even more complicated system, stretching the known limits of bungee science. One at the top, one at the bottom, ... tension and counter tension. A twist here, a peg there. Sometimes a large rock was pressed into action. The laws of physics were brazenly defied. Finally, it teetered, leaned slightly to one side, and, with a squeak that sounded more like a moan, stayed in the air! Bungee Boy was born.

By the time we made the water it was early evening. We dashed down the lake between rain showers. Don knew exactly where we were going. This was his domain. With a five horse motor and one person in the boat, he was a little more "dashing" than we were. Our thirty year old 3 horse, (remind me to tell you about it some time) got us there in time to watch the old master land his second rainbow. These were nice bright fish, 21 inches at least, and cut from the same mould. These proud Canadian oikers had been gleefully gorging themselves just off the weed beds. They were fish with a mission. Careless and unstoppable in their gluttony.

It was becoming one of those rare occurances. You know the kind. When more by good fortune than good planning, the humble angler stumbles upon just the right piece of water at precisely the moment when the forces of nature erupt! It's a cosmic brew. Man and nature converge in one brief but breathtaking Kodak moment!

We braced for action as we cut the motor and drifted at the opposite end of the weed beds. With a flash of silver, another rainbow crashed through the surface at the end of Don's line. The battle continued for a few minutes. Just as the fish drew near to the boat, the rod tip dipped savagely and then sprang back into the air. The line went limp. Don looked shocked. "Did you see that? Unbelievable!"

"See what?" I called back.

" A loon just got my fish. Hit it broadside, like a torpedo. Knocked it clean off the hook. Incredible! I could see it go right under my boat!"

Sounded like a good story to me.

As we drifted in stunned silence, I pondered. Would my good friend actually make up such a story? Fat chance. Kidding maybe. But bold faced lying, never.

Just then a small dark figure bobbed to the surface of the water across the bay. It was loon. And, it was frantically struggling to swallow a fish the size of the ones caught earlier. It's head was thrown back and the bulky body and tail of the trout flopped from side to side while dangling from the loon's mouth. It seemed an impossible situation. However, with every jerk, back and forth, up and down, the fish was slowly sliding down it's throat. If I hadn't seen it, I wouldn't believe it.

During the next hour, we lost two more fish to the loons. They were a pair of birds, and each had it's own style of free loading. They would follow the boat and watch for a fish dancing on the line. One of the loons, 'the torpedo', liked to broadside it's helpless victim, knocking it off the hook or breaking the leader. The other loon was more subtle. It would wait until the slightly dazed trout was released before moving in for the kill. Even hiding it from the bird's view, by releasing on the other side of the boat, didn't work. The loon would wait until I leaned over to revive the creature, then rocket right under the boat. The approaching darkness called the game to an end.

As we motored back down the lake, we could see the black outlines of rain clouds rolling away from our camp. It had been windy and wet, and we had missed it. Don, with his much faster boat, would be ashore by now. We strained into the gathering darkness to see any welcome signs of our camp; a glow of a fire that meant the coffee was on, or the bright blue tarp towering over the fireweed and willows. None could be found. Only a break in the vague outline of bushes betrayed the clearing at the boat launch. As we came ashore, we could hear the stillness of the evening punctuated by the throbbing of the neighbours RV generator. And, back at the trucks, the now familiar rustling of plastic and twanging of bungees as the tarp rose again from the mud.

Next season, if I am forgiven for telling this story, I hope Don will again take us to his favourite lake. There have also been rumblings about a lake out west where, I am told, the eagles snatch the trout right off your line. Partner, I think we should investigate.

B.C. Today