Pass the Torch, Stoke the Fire

Pass the Torch, Stoke the Fire

Article by Steve Rennalls of Islander Reels

Photos by Chase White

A Family Tradition

As long as humans have been wetting a line, passing on techniques and tradition has been an integral part of the fishing experience. Traditionally, this has taken place within the family unit. Memories were made, relationships cemented, and knowledge passed on the river and around the campfire. In this classic form of mentor-protégé relationship, fishing becomes a vehicle for building familial bonds and memories that transcend the sport.

Unfortunately, the older generation’s passion for fishing does not always light a fire in the new one. As children grow up and move out, parents move on to fishing with friends of the same vintage, in the same spots, and with the same techniques they’ve caught fish with for decades. The thrill of adventure gives way to the satisfaction of routine.

Thankfully, the resurgence we are seeing in fly fishing’s popularity means that for every kid that isn’t following in their parent’s footsteps, another who wasn’t blessed with an inherited passion is finding a fly rod.

A New Wave

This generation is searching for fresh experiences and fly fishing offers them challenge, adventure, and connection to a new underwater world. Without someone to guide them, they search out knowledge wherever it can be found. The internet, social media, film festivals, fly tying nights, or the local fly shop. What they lack in experience, they make up for in enthusiasm which often leads them to a group of friends—equally passionate and inexperienced—and together they do their best to navigate the confusing world that is fly fishing.

As someone who grew up without a fishing mentor, what I’ve observed is a tremendous opportunity for those old-timers and the next generation to form a new type of mentor-protégé relationship. To illustrate this point, I had a chat with Islander Field Team members, Brian Chan and Brennan Lund.

Beyond the Bloodline

After a 30-year career as a Fisheries Biologist, guide, television personality, and author—he literally wrote the book on stillwater Fly Fishing—Brian has done it all. Now, in 7th decade of life, you’d think he might be slowing down, but his passion is still burning strong thanks in no small part to anglers like Brennan. At 23, Brennan is in his last semester of a Natural Resource Management degree but has already built an impressive guiding resume and a reputation as one of the fishiest young men in British Columbia.

Not everyone knows a lot about you guys, why don’t you tell us a bit about yourselves

Brian: Well, my passion for fishing is exemplified when in Grade 4 I had to write a little paragraph about when you want to be when you want to grow up and my answer was “ichthyologist” [FYI: that’s someone who studies fish]. My mom had that little paragraph in a frame on the wall for many many years.

True to my word, I had a long career as a Biologist for the B.C. Government. That educational background combined with my passion for fly fishing—especially stillwater fly fishing—opened up all sorts of opportunities to speak at fly clubs who wanted to know what the Government was doing, which led to talking about fishing strategies I was doing, which led to opportunities to do other speaking engagements, TV shows, books, and more, right up to the current day.

Brennan: I’m just finishing up a degree in Natural Resource Management at Thompson Rivers University and that’s what drew me to Kamloops. But like Brian, my passion has already opened up lots of doors. In the spring I try to squeeze some stillwater guiding around our local lakes in between classes. In the summer, I guide in the East Kootenay region of British Columbia for westslope cutthroat and bull trout, and in the fall I usually guide in the Skeena Region for steelhead.

When did you meet?

Brian: You know when we first met Brennan? It was at “Wholesale Sports” [a local shop] and you were buying some tippet material for chironomid fishing… I remember that day!

Brennan: I remember that too! That was a long ago—before I knew what stillwater fishing really was—and so when I saw you, I said “Hey there’s Brian Chan, I better ask him!”

So you knew who Brian was?

Brennan: Oh yeah, everybody does!

When did you guys first fish together?

Brian: It started on the Cowichan River at an Islander Reels getaway, then we shot a few film projects for Fishing BC, which is a marketing cooperative promoting fishing in the province, and then we’ve had days on the water now just out and enjoying ourselves. Those are the best kind of days.

What was it like fishing with Brian that first day?

Brennan: Intimidating! But then you realize Brian’s a nice easy-going guy and not intimidating at all, so we just had fun right away. We were catching lots of fish, so it was super enjoyable.

Brian, what do you remember about fishing with Brennan the first few times?

Brian: I was really amazed at the knowledge and understanding Brennan had of how to catch fish whether on a lake or river. When we drifted the Cowichan, I had never done any euro nymphing but Brennan was an expert. He showed me how and it led to us catching fish at an unbelievable rate. But even when I first fished on a lake with Brennan—where I am in my element—I remember saying to myself “wow…you can learn something every day!” For instance, his approach involved simple patterns, but he altered them slightly by tying them on 60-degree jig hooks. That little change altered the position of the fly in the water and how you fish it—particularly under a strike indicator—and was an eye opener for me. I shook my head and thought, “this kid is just barely 20 years old and he’s just so far ahead on the learning curve. This is someone I definitely want to spend more time on the water with” because I believe you certainly can teach an old dog new tricks!

Brennan, how has Brian influenced your fishing over the last few years?

I watch Brian and everything he does has a purpose. He does not screw around when he’s out there so it’s really important to pay attention to what he’s doing. Whenever I have a question about anything to do with stillwater fishing I ask Brian because he always has a great answer…I mean, you can tell he’s both asked and been asked a lot of questions about fishing because he’s investigated every possible implication about fishing and has an answer for it. So, it’s cool to watch him fish because everything he does is for a reason and therefor it’s also highly effective.

It’s been 6 years since you bumped into each other in that store, how has this relationship evolved?

Brennan: It just started with me asking that question in the shop and grew to talking as we saw each other around the local spots, to now where we go fishing together regularly and we’ve become good buddies.

Brian: I always enjoy spending time with Brennan. And it’s really fun to spend time with a younger, fanatical angler that has so much energy and that keeps me wanting to get out there. When we have conversations on the water, he gets what I’m doing, I get what he’s doing, and together, it often results in some pretty productive days… There is usually a lot of net use!

What’s it like having a fishing buddy a generation apart from you?

Brennan: When I was getting started, I didn’t have a lot of peers that enjoyed fishing as much as I do, so my friends were often much older. I quickly recognized how important it is to learn the skills and strategies of these experienced anglers, so I pay attention to everything they do.

Brian: In a lot of ways, I look at Brennan’s passion for fishing and it reminds me of when I was his age. His path towards a career as a fish or wildlife biologist mirrors my own journey and I am very thankful for it. I think it’s critical that when you’re working in fish or wildlife management that you are a user of the resource, that you understand the value of the resource, and therefore that you have the respect for the resource that is necessary for effective management. That is something we don’t want to lose when we’re looking at fish and wildlife management anywhere. We need to have that connection to being outside and relating to the resource so that we can best understand the implications of our decisions. So, Brennan’s passion for fishing is exactly what is needed in our next generation of fish and wildlife managers.

The traditional model of fishing is that it’s a family affair, but in light of our need to see it grow beyond that model to survive, your relationship is an inspiration. What is it about fishing that enables this connection across generations in a world where outside of fishing and hunting, it’s so rare?

Brennan: Even though it could be just a simple day going fishing, you have to have each other’s back. Whether fishing or hunting, there is usually more at stake in terms of risk than an average activity you and that strengthens the bond in a unique way. That, and pushing each other to do more of it, while absorbing the knowledge of a friend who’s equally as passionate but significantly more experienced than you, enables you to be so much better than you ever could on your own. That creates a deep, almost primal, bond across generations.

Brian: For me, everyone I’m friends with is an angler or hunter to one degree or another and thank God because otherwise I wouldn’t have anything to talk about! But you know, I’m a new grandfather, and I can’t wait for the opportunity to get my new granddaughter on the boat—just like I did with her mother who is a pretty good fly angler in her own right—so that I can inspire a new passion in her. But whether it’s with your own family or a young friend, inspiring that passion is something I can’t get enough of.

Thank God for that! A few quick questions to wrap up. Who gets more excited when a big fish is on the line?

Brennan: Both of us are like little kids…Well I’m more a little kid and Brian is a big kid, but either way we both get pretty fired up.

Who calls who more often to get out?

Brennan: It’s usually neck and neck, but it’s looking pretty snowy outside right now, so I’m not really sure how many more times I’m going to be heading out there this season. That said, Brian likes to ice fish for Kokanee quite a bit and I’m not really there yet so we’ll see if he can convince me to give it a go.

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