Christine Baines.

Christine Baines.

Sarah Simpson Column: Fish rescue proves hope prevails against all odds

They’re a species at risk and are only for catch and release in B.C.

Do you ever feel stuck? No way out in sight? Unable to help yourself up from whatever hole you’ve ended up in? Watching your life pass you by? Me, too. I think we all do at some time or another. It’s OK. It’s important to know there’s hope. Sometimes you just need the right hand at the right time to lift you out of your pool of despair, and gently place you back to where you need to be. You might not even know help is on the way. What’s more, the person on the other end of that helping hand may have had no idea when they woke up that morning, that later in the day, they’d forever change a life…

When the rains come and the river is completely flooded out, the water rises and floods the banks of the mighty Cowichan River. When the water recedes, sometimes pools of water remain adjacent to the river’s main flow. It was within one of those pools that two lives were changed for the better.

Avid fisher Christine Baines was out fishing recently when she came across a pool left behind when the water levels dropped.

“In this particular spot, there was a tree root, so there was a deeper hole,” Baines explained.

Something in the pool caught her eye.

It turned out to be a stranded steelhead. It was stuck. No way out. Unable to help itself out of the hole, despite its regular life in the river flowing along as usual, just alongside, but seemingly so far out of reach.

“It was such a gorgeous fish, too,” Baines noted.

Steelhead, a trout that behaves like a salmon, is an anadromous fish that migrates into the ocean and returns to the river to spawn. They’re a species at risk and are only for catch and release in B.C.

Baines knew she needed to rescue it from its pool of despair.

“When I originally saw it, just fear went through my body. I thought to myself, ‘I’m not going to be able to rescue this fish by myself!’” she explained. “Then came the fear of stressing it out or possibly even hurting it during the rescue to the point of non-survival, which just would have felt so horrible.”

Baines opted to phone her friend David Gunn of RiverQuest Charters (who went viral not too long ago for his removal of a hazardous tree from the river with just a chainsaw and some balance).

Gunn lives on the river and he said he’d come right out and help. Clad in their hip-waders, with nets in their hands, the pair caught the fish. Baines was able to release it again into the river. The rescue had gone off without a hitch. That meant smiles all around. (Can fish smile?)

“Some people came and watched and the kids were in the background and they were just chirping happily about the fish and it was just really nice,” Baines said. “A lot of people are just happy about it and I like that.”

No doubt she extended the animal’s life by putting it back into the river, but she says it was her ability to help the animal that makes her the true beneficiary.

“Everyone’s like ‘oh that’s such a good thing you did’ and I’m like ‘no, I felt lucky’.” she said. “I honestly felt just so pleased that I had such a personal and meaningful encounter with such a gorgeous fish. I’m still just a little bit in awe. They’re just so beautiful.”

Baines said that quite often the people who fish end up being the educators about conservation and the stewards of the river. This is one time she could give back.

“I thought if one good thing could come of it, it’s that here we are, we’re not just out there trying to play and hurt the fish or anything like that. We’re trying to help, too,” she said.

And all it took was seeing a creature stuck. No way out. Unable to help itself out of the hole, despite its regular life carrying on right alongside. And really, all it took was Baines’s willingness to reach out with a helping hand to change not one life but two.

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