“Man must make himself small and humble to live within it rather than a ruthless giant to conquer it”

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Vancouver Island and Roderick Haig-Brown
by Tony Orman


I can’t resist dropping into a second hand book shops when I’m travelling or to the local one here in Blenheim. Naturally I head for the fishing and hunting section and recently in Blenheim I picked up for just $8 a copy of “Fishing the River of Time” by Tony Taylor. It tells of the author’s experiences fishing with his grandson on Vancouver Island. In preparing himself at age 80, go take his eight year old grandson fishing.

Much the book is the lead-up to meeting his grandson. In the prelude, Tony Taylor reflects on fishing and what it is really all about. He recalls past fishing on the island with warmth and reflective wisdom. Trout fishing is not just about catching a trout but the total experience of going fishing.

I’m a keen sports follower but from being a keen rugby player and loving the game I now can take it or leave it, as I dislike the new found arrogance and physical aggression. Professional sport has brought arrogance and even cheating, deceit and deception, e.g.Australian cricketers ball tampering. Tony Taylor abhors how professional sport generally seems to bring out the worst of human character behaviour. In contrast, fishing (and deerstalking) are, as befitting amateur sports, pastimes of good human qualities - well mostly. Killing may be part of fishing and hunting if you choose to kill a trout or if you’re a hunter, shoot a deer but as Tony Taylor observed “ people who occasionally kill something like a deer or a fish tend to be more reverent toward life.”

I found much to agree with the author. For instance “A fisherman has to be an optimist: perhaps this is more important than catching fish.” Or his criticism of the modern "high tech” gadgetry.

“If anyone asks me why I don’t use more modern gear, I usually say it’s too expensive for me. I don’t tell them that most of the time it doesn’t do what the advertiser says it will and if it does one becomes guilty of overkill. It’s like using an elephant gun to shoot rabbits: it’s showing off.” " A hundred years ago anglers were obsessed with numbers but today its size. The truth is neither is important, but fishing is.” And so on.

A good book like “Fishing the River of Time” is good for a dour damp drizzly winter’s night. Its mention of Vancouver Island conjured up memories of Roderick Haig-Brown’s books. Haig-Brown was so classy as a writer. If you haven’t read them, seek out Roderick Haig-Brown’s wonderful “A River Never Sleeps”. His others are great too such as “Fisherman’s Summer”, "Fisherman’s Winter” and “Fisherman’s Fall.” To get a copy or copies, search second hand bookshops or try googling and perhaps seek out sellers like Amazon?

Roderick Haig-Brown was an avid fly-fisher, pioneering conservationist, acclaimed author and magistrate. His writing – 25 books and well over 200 articles and speeches – have influenced fisheries biologists, ecologists and countless others interested in the evolving relationship between people and nature. Haig-Brown was born in England in 1908, and came to Canada in 1926 at the age of 19, and initially worked in logging on eastern Vancouver Island. He then worked for a period in the state of Washington, where he met his wife to be, Ann Elmore, who he married in 1934. They moved to Campbell River on Vancouver Island in 1936. The river property was ideal for the pursuits they enjoyed, particularly as Roderick was a devoted fly fisherman. He not only loved fishing, but was concerned about the welfare of the fish in the river and the ruffler itself, especially when Campbell River was experiencing a period of growth and new projects like a hydro dam were in the offing and were threatening the natural environment.

If you haven’t worked it out yet, Haig-Brown is a favourite author of mine. Haig-Brown fought for the environment, for rivers and their fish. In 1965 in a barn-storming speech, he publicly targeted short-sighted politicians and government. He told the Canadian Authors Association at Victoria’s Empress Hotel that he was appalled at “the shoddy, uncaring development of our natural resources, the chamber of commerce mentality which favors short-term material gain over all other consideration, the utter contempt for human values of every kind.” By any measure, Roderick Haig-Brown was a strong and visionary voice against those who were ignorant of the ideals of conservation. As one tribute said, he listened to what the rivers and forests --ultimately what the salmon and other fish told him was to love and care for this finite planet: “Man must make himself small and humble to live within it rather than a ruthless giant to conquer it,” he said.