TYEE TALES – The Magic Fishing Rod – Lee Gerhard

I should have seen the future when the first time we rowed the Tyee Pool in 1988, Darcy hooked a fish and I didn’t. Hers was undersized and she released it, after a tangle of lines with friends and foes alike.  Twenty-five years ago, there was a better chance of landing the required 30 pound Chinook than today. For some reason the fish are smaller now.

Betty Davis landed her first Tyee on September 13, 1973. It earned her “Tyee Man of the Year” honors at 57 pounds. Coincidently, her husband, Elmer, entered the Tyee Club records two days later with a 53-pound Chinook. There might have been a lesson for me in that. The two Campbell River, B. C. residents went on to capture many more Tyee over the years and Betty became the best-known and respected lady angler in the club. Betty Davis landed 18 Tyee, four of them gold, three silver, and eleven bronze.

She fished with a custom rod made for her by Walt Flint, Tacoma, Washington, #730321, a ladies’ rod that had the backbone to land the heavy Tyee but was only seven and a half feet long, easier for a lady to handle than the more common eight footers that most Tyee fishermen use.

Betty died in 2001 at the age of 80, willing her fishing gear to the Tyee Club.  In 2002, the Tyee club held an auction at Painter’s Lodge. Spoons, plugs, other items, and her rod were presented for bids.

I had been rowed into the club by Peter Winter in 1993, after trying for five years. Darcy was still struggling to catch her Tyee in 2002, fourteen years after starting to row, when the auction took place. She had hooked a nice Tyee, but lost it when the reel fouled in the dark, a consequence of a too-loose drag. She caught a few undersized fish. She was just a bit discouraged, but we fought on for that elusive Chinook. Our guides were earning their keep, rowing and rowing and rowing. And rowing.

“You caught that fish yet?” someone would ask. “Not yet, but soon,” Darcy would answer. Every year was the same, many hours on the water, as many as we could fit in, and nothing. Nada. Zilch.

Desperation is the mother of invention, perhaps, but it also can be the source of inspiration. When Betty Davis’s rod came on the block, I asked Darcy if she wanted that rod, the one that caught all those 18 Tyee for Betty. She said simply, “Yes.”

I raised my hand, and the bidding started. A used fishing rod might be worth fifty bucks, maybe used by a famous person, a hundred.  The bidding proceeded. I knew the opposition; he was a guide we had used on several occasions. The bidding went past a hundred dollars. It went past one hundred fifty. One hundred seventy-five. Two hundred. I looked back at my wife, shrugging my hands as if to say, “Do you want it this much?”  She mouthed, “Yes, please.”

There was that look in her eyes that told me she REALLY wanted that rod. More than twenty-five years together makes for sensitivity to body language.

Two hundred-fifty.

There were only two of us bidding by now, everyone else clapping at the ever-higher bids.

I bought the rod. I won’t tell you how much I paid for it, but it was expensive. Fortunately, all proceeds went to the Tyee Club for improvements to its property. That took much of the sting out, and my wife’s smile when she took possession of the fishing rod salved the rest. My rods don’t have names other than “the white one” or “my five-weight.” Darcy named her new rod “Betty.”

I bought Betty a slightly used reel down at Tyee Marine, and had it loaded with 20-pound line, then we set out for a session in the Tyee Pool. She hooked an undersized, but brought it to the boat successfully. A good sign.

The next summer, 2003, we rented a house for a month intending to row as much as we could afford. It was the 15th year of Darcy attempting to join the Tyee Club. Everyone was pulling for her, and she had the confidence of fishing with Betty.

She hooked fish that were undersized and she lost one likely Tyee. I was discouraged. This was going to be a $50,000 fish whenever she finally caught it. Finally, one evening we motored south with Randy Killoran into a jumble of fishing motorboats. We watched Abbba Dabba Joe land a nice fish. Suddenly, Betty’s tip dropped to the water, Darcy rared back, and a fight was on.

The fight went well, Randy warning other boats off, until Darcy tired. She drooped Betty’s tip just a bit, and the fish, an obvious Tyee, spit out the barbless hook. There was silence in the rowboat.  I wanted to scream. Randy quietly said, “Get the plug back in the water.”

Ten minutes later, Darcy jerked Betty back and was into another fish, a twin of the first. 39 pounds.

The standing ovation she received next morning as we entered the Quinnie for breakfast brought a delighted grin to her face. She was finally a member of the Tyee Club of British Columbia. Betty had gotten her there.

I hadn’t hooked a fish.

Next year she landed another Tyee with Betty. I didn’t get a fish.  The next year she and Betty again landed a Tyee.  I didn’t.

We skipped a few years, but managed to row one tide in 2013. No takes. She wasn’t fishing with Betty, as Betty was now donated back to the Tyee Club for re-auction.

And now I have been Tyee-less for fifteen years. May I borrow Betty, the magic fishing rod? Please?