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Mark Stangeland - NUFlyGuide
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The Dean River Chronicles Part 1(The Chilcotin Alarm Clock)

Posted by Mark Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Getting there is half the fun!

I have been meaning to share some of my experiences on the Dean River here and I guess now is the time.
In the next few posts I will give details on the once in a lifetime trip that I have now done 6 times. Words fail to describe even half of what you see, hear, feel and experience on this legendary river.I will do my best to do it justice. 

I finally got the opportunity to go to the Dean for the first time in 2000. After much talk and preparation we were off on a fine summer day in late July. I had been working in Bellingham Washington at the time so my buddies from Bend drove up and grabbed me and we headed for the boarder a short distance away. This was before 911 so the crossing was pretty simple. We registered the high capacity shotgun we carried for a bear deterrent and made our way North towards Cache Creek to spend the night. We drove along the fabled waters of the Thompson, and the sight of that amazing river spurred on dreams and images of some of the biggest and strongest steelhead anywhere. We rumbled past Spences Bridge, a little town with legendary steelhead provenance.We drooled at the long gravel bars and runs that screamed "prime holding water" The magnitude of the river and the length of some of the runs we saw gave a new meaning to the words swing and step. This is where I could see the use of a 16-17 ft rod would be a no brainier. A 100 ft cast would be the norm not the exception. Slicing off huge pieces of pie is the only way you would ever even begin to cover these waters.You could be in some of these runs for hours....even splitting them up with a buddy or two. It was staggeringly,beautiful, intimidating and awesome all at the same time!.We all vowed we would fish her waters one day. It still hasn't happened for me but hope springs eternal. But I digress.

Right now,we had other destinations on the agenda.....

As we drove,the Dean river slowly reeled us in, and the anticipation grew mile by mile. We were on an adventure of epic proportions and we all sensed it. This 1st trip, as we would learn later, would define who we were as fisherman, boatmen, and friends. The bond between the three of us  from that original trip is forever and inseparable. Burned into the window of my mind permanently.

The odometer is clicking off the miles like a castanet player with a Red Bull adiction.We talked incessantly about all we had read and heard about the river and fish. We discussed the stories of people that we knew that had been there in the past.We reviewed The Dean River Journal until the pages were dog eared and stained from road trip junk food. We messed with fly boxes,tied leaders, spun the handles of our favorite reels and pulled the line off to hear the drag. We were drunk with the anticipation of what was before us. We were beyond a kid at Christmas. We were grown men with the capacity to imagine and dream of far more than any kid could. We had no idea that even our wildest imagination would not prepare us for what was to come. And trust me I have a great imagination

The miles continue to fly by and we rolled into Cache Creek and it was still daylight. Everyone was feeling so pumped that we couldn't stop and we kept on rolling into the early darkness. Up the Caribou Highway past places like Clinton,Chasm,70 Mile House, 93 Mile House, Exiter, and 108 Mile Ranch. Past the huge Lac la Hache to 150 Mile House and a big left turn heading West towards Williams Lake on Hwy 20....the Chilcotin-Bella Coola Hwy. We blew through Williams Lake high on anticipatory steelhead induced adrenalin and caffeine and headed up the hill bound for the unforgiving Chilcotin Plateau.

Up on top is the home of the legendary Gang Ranch.Once the world's largest and still among the major beef suppliers in BC. "The Gang" dates from the 1860s and covers nearly all terrain south of the Chilcotin River and east of Taseko Lake and the Fraser River, and skirting the Bridge River Country to its south. The vast terrain of the Gang Ranch is more wilderness than pasture, It is a mix of natural plateau and alpine meadowland and vast forests and swamps. The Gang verges up into the foothill area of the northeastern flank of the Coast Mountains as they approach the Fraser River from the west, meeting the Fraser between the Gang Ranch's main house and the town of Lillooet.

Similar ranching conditions are found from the Burns Lake and Smithers area in northwestern Interior BC all the way south to the US border, including the famous Douglas Lake Ranch south of Kamloops, but the Gang is by far the largest, and the most wild in character.

After rolling across the endless plateau in the dark, over dozens of cattle guards it started to get late, or should I say early.The candle started to flicker in the drivers seat and we started to realize we should probably stop and get a little rest. We were way ahead of schedule as it was.We weren't planning on being this far at all, we just went with it. When the lure of a new adventure is in front of you, you don't shut it down if you have a willing drivers butt in the seat. We were all veterans of many road trips and driving was a necessity to get to the places we loved. 12-15 hours in the saddle was nothing new.

I think it was around Alexis Lake that we stopped at a little bar/motel and inquired about a room. High on the plateau, surrounded by an Indian Reservation and some hard core locals,we were smack dab in the middle of nowhere and the locals were not looking real friendly at 1:00 am in the morning. We were all toasted. We had thousands in gear in the truck and the thought of leaving it in a less than favorable situation was not an option. It was not just the monetary loss of the gear we feared it was the thought of losing something that could not be replaced before the 8 day float.We were in deep, too deep to turn back now for a replacement on anything. We had permits and helicopter reservations and we could not be late or delayed on anything or the trip would be a bust. A small window of opportunity exists to make the trip up and if disaster strikes you better figure it out quick or no fishing. Still, we asked the bar tender/inn keeper if he had a room. He in fact did. We asked if our stuff would be OK outside for the night in the truck. He looked at us kind of sideways and said very unconvincingly " It'll prolly be alright fella's"

Thanks......see ya!

We couldn't get back in the truck fast enough! Rejuvenated by the cold,clear and crisp high plateau air and a full thermos of coffee, we cranked the tunes and blew that pop stand leaving a vapor trail behind Big Red, the double cab Ford diesel that would deliver us to the object of our desire...the Dean River. On through the night we flew. We were all fading fast and things on the road and in our heads are started to get hazy. Driving along in an almost dream state, no one is talking now. The tires and engine hum in harmony, the yellow lines in the middle of the road flash by in a blur. We're starting to push the limits of safety a little. A bit father and we can all rest at Nimpo lake. My buddy Dave at the helm is wrestling with himself and the onset of extreme fatigue. I was riding shotgun and started to drift off a little myself. A serious no-no and a rule of ours on all trips....the co-pilot can never sleep. I opened the window and suck in a few mouthfuls of that sweet BC night air. I am back and alert for a time. I crank the tunes and Blues Traveler re-energizes us for another 20 or 30 miles. A half hour later I am fighting sleep again and  soon I feel I must be dreaming. In my dream,a herd of  horses has materialized in the middle of the road, shrouded by the mist of a nearby creek. They are so hard to see, are they really there? is then I realize I am fully awake and there is A HERD OF HORSE"S IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD!!!!!  HEY DAVE!!!

Dave who was probably almost in the same dreamy state as I snaps to attention and anchors the brakes as the truck careens toward the group of a dozen or so 1500 lb animals. We get closer, tires squeal, I squeal, Dave yells something inaudible. Tim who was in the back seat sleeping has found himself upright and alert in an instant. He yells.The truck is still hurtling down the road at break neck speed and approaching the point of no return. We wait for the impact that never comes.The truck tracks down the center line of the road and miraculously splits the herd.The horses move slowly to the sides as the truck screams by inches away and they disappear just as they appeared in the wispy mists of the chilly Chilcotin pre-dawn. WOA!

Stunned that we are not A) in the ditch rolled over and dead and B) we don't have a 1 1/2 ton horse in our laps and are dead.We drive on in silence. For a second, time stops.None of us knowing for sure if what just happened was real or not.No one says a word for a minute or so. The hair on my neck was standing straight up and my heart was visibly pounding and moving the front of my shirt. The air is thick with the realization that we could have all very easily died just then. As that realization hits we all start to stammer and laugh and yell and scream at the fact that we were all very much alive. It felt good too! We opened the windows and yelled into the night. We laugh nervously as we replay the near disaster in our heads. Things like  "I thought we were gonna roll!"  "I thought we were in the ditch for sure!" "That big black one was about an inch off the front bumper!" "I could have petted that Chestnut on the way by'!  and "Nice driving Mario!"

Isn't it funny how a brush with death always makes you feel alive in a way that you may not have felt just 10 minutes ago?We would later learn that these were wild horses and they pretty much run free all over up there......thus the numerous cattle guards. They seemed to be pretty comfortable on the road and probably dodged cars for a living!

I think we just had the pleasure of being jolted to fully alert status by the Chilcotin Alarm Clock.

We didn't need anything else to keep us awake as we motored on towards Nimpo Lake.

To be continued......


  1. Ken Campbell Says:
  2. OUTSTANDING! Nicely done brother. Got me hooked....

  3. Anonymous Says:
  4. Thanks for the story. It's a trip all steelheaders should read about.


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