The annual salmon run has always been a time of reflection for me. Watching these beautiful fish put their bodies through the hustle and bustle of swimming upstream to lay their eggs and then proceed to die has always been astonishing to me.
I grew up admiring the strength and perseverance of these fish. From fishing in Haida Gwaii and going into battle where my arms felt like they were going to fall off, to being a little girl with my family watching salmon throw their bodies up fast flowing rivers.
Since I was a little girl, I always dreamt of swimming in and amongst them. To see the power and drive from under water was always something I felt called to do.
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My dream was finally able to come true. My freediving instructor told me he was keen to swim with the salmon on Vancouver Island and I obviously couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
We dove just downstream from a large waterfall. The energy in the water was very calm as the salmon were gearing up for a large endeavor. To make their way up the waterfall meant they had to either jump the treacherous rock face or swim up a fast-paced man made fish canal. Regardless of the route these fish would decide to take, it was going to use a lot of energy and a lot of grit.
In my experience, the rules and regulations with fishing in British Columbia are tricky to navigate. Until you are truly familiar with the different species and how to properly treat, identify, and coexist with them, you should never harvest.
Two fly fishermen were downstream from us as we geared up. I watched them haul these massive salmon on land. I couldn’t help but wonder how on earth were they allowed to be doing this during such a vulnerable time of these fish’s lives? Why wasn’t I allowed to spear them while under water while these fishermen were able to harvest them from land?
About eight metres down was a massive school of salmon I was playing around with. In order to not startle them and cause more stress on their already stressful venture, I needed to be as unseen and quiet as possible while going down to say hello.
Having been a rock climber for numerous years, I have always had an addictive admiration for rock formations. On one side of the river, a rock wall so clearly laid out for me was the perfect excuse to combine my addiction for rock climbing and free diving. Climbing and diving – two worlds I never thought I’d see collide.
My fins are large and stir up chaos, to be as quiet as possible I wanted to use my arms to pull myself down the rock wall to get to the depths I needed to go. I couldn’t help but smile as I climbed my way down to see my fish friends.
A massive wall of salmon right in front of me made my heart flicker and butterflies enter my belly. I tried my best to remain calm as a strong breath hold is tied with the state of being you’re in. If I were to get too excited, I’d need to exit that incredibly beautiful moment sooner.
As I sat still under water facing this wall of fish, they all seemed to turn and curiously look at me. Too exhausted from their venture thus far, they didn’t seem to mind me being amongst them. This brought a sense of joy and sadness as well.
To see the fish so vulnerable from the underwater perspective I was in, I felt an incredible amount of honour and admiration.
Although this isn’t a harvesting story, it is an experience I will carry with me while I continue my hunt for sustainable harvesting.
Photo Credits: @adairvisuals @bottomdwellersfreediving @kendrastoner