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Column: Fishing and gold panning much alike

The Great Outdoors/James Murray
James Murray enjoys a little gold panning when he isn’t fishing in the great outdoors. (File photo)

These days, more often than not, when I go stream fishing I take a gold pan with me, and, when I go panning for gold I take a fishing rod with me.

The way I figure it, I am bound to come home with something.

I don’t how many hours I’ve spent over the past 60 years sitting on the banks of a stream or river somewhere, casting a line out in hopes of catching fish. I know I have certainly spent a fair amount of time in recent years sitting on a rock at the edge of a stream panning for gold, washing pan after pan in hopes of seeing that ever elusive flash of colour at the bottom of the pan. All I do know is that panning, like fishing, can be peaceful, satisfying, exciting, annoying, frustrating and hard on the back, all at the same time. I also know that any time spent on a stream has its own rewards. Sometimes you are rewarded with a few flakes of gold, other times with a glint of silver in the water as a bright shiny rainbow trout comes up to sip in your fly.

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Every time I get a small flake in the bottom of my pan, it’s just like getting a two pound rainbow trout on my line. Both are equally as exciting. I have enjoyed each and every hour spent by the side of a stream and while I may not have gotten rich, I have certainly been rewarded.

I have sat and listened to the water wash and roll and tumble over the rocks. I have watched deer come to the stream for a drink, unaware of my presence. I have watched a piece of bark drift by and pondered how far it has travelled and wondered how far it might yet go before coming to its rest. I have enjoyed the peace and tranquility that comes with time on the water, and on those occasions when I have found no colour at all, I have still walked away from the stream more content and at peace than when I arrived.

A few weeks ago I was working a stretch of the Shuswap River near Cherryville where I have a claim. There are some fairly big rocks along the banks as well as some stretches with moderate to slow moving water with a couple of nice pools that usually hold a few fish. On that particular day I was there to pan, and had already dug down about a foot at the base of one of the large rocks when I started to find some black sand. Things were looking promising.

The problem was that just about when I found black sand and my first small flake, I had also dug deep enough for water to start seeping in faster than I could dig. In the end all I had to show was that one small flake for my efforts. Sometimes you find gold, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you keep trying, sometimes you move on.

I was at the point where I was considering moving on, when my eye caught a momentary flash of colour in the pool just upstream of where I was panning. Colour is colour I thought to myself, so I made my way back up to the vehicle to dig out my four-piece fly rod that is always in the back.

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There was a floating line on my reel so I tied on a size 12 Elk Hair Caddis pattern. On my third or fourth cast I felt a bump but no take. I retrieved my line and cast again about five or six feet ahead of where I figured I’d felt my bump. I let the line drift on the current a bit and was just about to mend my line when I felt the hit. I raised my rod tip and set the hook. It was a little whitefish not much more than 10 inches long – but it was a fish. I released it back into the water and cast again. A few more casts and I had another take. I continued casting for another half hour or so but had only one bump and no more takes. At least I had come up with a little colour on both counts.

I guess when all is said and done, there isn’t a lot of difference between catching fish and finding gold. The only real difference would be the fact that I usually release the fish I catch but I never put back the gold.


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