Elaine Shaw with some of her fish-enriched strawberries.

Outdoor thoughts on Vancouver Island

When Elaine and I retired from our professional careers in Kamloops almost 33 years ago, selecting the Comox Valley was no accident. We had vacationed for several years out of Bates Beach Resort and were familiar with excellent fishing and the generous climate of the Comox Valley in particular and Vancouver Island in general. Gardening was a passion for Elaine, and fishing was mine. Fishing is to gardening what jam is to bread – it gives the garden new life through fertilizer to the soil and special flavour in the produce. By the way, we are still gardening and fishing in spite of a few challenges that have to do with getting long in the tooth.

In a shrinking world, Vancouver Island is regarded by many as a small place. In fact it is larger than many countries. It is a six-hour drive on modern highways from Victoria in the south to Port Hardy in the north.

In making the drive you travel along the snow-capped mountain spine of the Island and in the process cross many rivers and streams that flow from mountain glaciers. The Island is covered throughout much of its area by south coast alpine forests enriched with over 600 freshwater lakes of varying size.

Its marine coastline is speckled with hundreds of islands of varying size and deep fjords that reach far inland from the Pacific Ocean. Much of the west coast of the Island is isolated by lack of roads, while the east coast is enriched by fertile deltas and plains that support farming, wildlife, fish and pleasant cities to meet the needs of Island residents.

Indeed the capital city for the huge province of British Columbia is located in Victoria at the south end of the Island. In the minds of many we are isolated form the mainland by a system of ferry boats that move people and produce to the Island and its many small island communities whose only connection to the Island is by marine or air plane transportation. In many respects our perceived isolation is probably a good thing for the Island lifestyle.

For people who touch the earth through such simple life-supporting activities as gardening and fishing, Vancouver island is indeed a paradise. We are blessed with freshwater lakes that have healthy populations of rainbow and native cutthroat trout where we can fish 12 months of the year.

Throughout much of the year many rivers and coastal beaches team with migrating populations of all five species of Pacific salmon. Our immediate coast lines are richly endowed with many species of clams, oysters and other shellfish that are  available throughout the year when tidal movement expose them to our shovels, forks and other methods of gathering.

Farther out from the shoreline we have populations of crabs and prawns that add special treats to our food-gathering lifestyle. As recreational anglers operating from relatively small boats, we can catch halibut, lingcod, Pacific cod, flounders, herring and several species of rockfish. I respectfully suggest there are few places left on the planet that offer the local residents such bounty so close to home.

With modern and traditional methods of preserving and freezing we can enjoy the gifts from the waters throughout the year. When you think about it, a place that offers gardening and fishing throughout the year is indeed richly endowed.

Climate change will make many life-altering changes to the woods and waters that surround us; but this column is firmly convinced we have many adaptations available to us in this richly endowed Island paradise that will see us through.

Ralph Shaw is a master fly fisherman who was awarded the Order of Canada in 1984 for his conservation efforts. In 20 years of writing a column in the Record it has won several awards.





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