Despite our disheveled appearances, Brooks greeted us cheerfully when we arrived at the doorstep to his truly fantastic house. After we dropped our bags off, he gave us a tour of his place including a sauna, salmon smoke house (more on this great novelty below), deck, and the garden view. From the living room where the baseball game was playing, we looked over the Strait of Juan de Fuca towards the United States and watched the water lap against the boats parked in the bay with the mountains in the background. It was a truly fantastic retreat for the retired American, and we were giddy with excitement the moment we arrived. We had been enchanted by Brooks’ tales during our drive in Oregon, and looked forward to be spending more time with him.
One of the main things we wanted to see at Brooks’ place was the art of smoking salmon. Brooks opened his salmon shed, and showed us the salmon caught the days before soaking in some water, soya sauce, and brown sugar brine that had been sitting for 24 hours. He placed each piece carefully on trays, and covered them generously with brown sugar for flavour. He would leave these overnight for the flavour to sink in, and took care to make sure there was a thin cover over the fish to trap in the fat. We watched him expertly prepare the fish, and sat with him while he watched and explained to us the inner workings of details (which is mostly Greek to us). Seeing our (always) hungry faces, he made us some salivatingly great fried freshly-caught salmon belly and rice for dinner. After, we sampled some of the beers he brewed in his Bend home, and were thoroughly impressed by the skill he has for his hobby.
When he offered to take us fishing early the next morning, we pounced on this opportunity. Laurent had never been fishing before (minus the piranhas in the Amazon) and Emily had never done so with professional equipment. At the ding of the coffee machine being ready, we woke up and made the food provisions for the day. We made the short drive over to the dock, and boarded Brooks’ well-equipped aluminum fishing boat. Soon after we left the bay, he began trawling for salmon. He drove the boat over the Secretary Island, and before long, a fish began to bite. Unfortunately, we lost the salmon, but sat on the boat for a while longer. Laurent caught a brown fish and two red snappers, which are great for tacos. As we approached Secretary Island, Brooks told us a story that the bald eagles are used to the fishing boats, and anticipate fishermen throwing fish exceeding the legally caught limit back to the waters. As the fishermen throw them back in, they swoop in for an easy lunch. Just after he told this story, Brooks whistled for the two bald eagles’ attention, who were perched nearby on the island, and then tossed in one of the bright red snappers. Right on cue, one of the eagles swooped in for a snack and flew off.
After a few hours out on the cold windy waters without any other salmon bite, we decided to head back. On the way as we were trawling, there was a bite on one of the lines, and Brooks leaped into action. Laurent took the lead in reeling the salmon in, and fought hard to get the 15lb salmon flipping and flopping for its life on the boat. Brooks made the end game a lot easier by whacking it on the head with a wooden mallet once it got on. With this successful catch, we soon headed back to the fishing docks. Before we could dock however, we had to check on the crab traps, and were impressed to see an impressive haul of crabs. However, all but 1 were too small according to the Canadian crabbing regulations, and had to be thrown back to get bigger for another day’s catch. Hungry seals anticipated our arrival and swam all around the cleaning station as Brooks gutted and cleaned the fish. We packed up and headed to his house.
At his house, we watched him clean and pack the salmon. He transferred the brown sugar covered salmon in the smoking container on racks, and began to smoke it with charcoal. It smelled delicious. As we waited for the first pan of charcoal to work its smoky magic, we walked to Buffy’s diner conveniently located a few minutes down the street, which is owned by Brooks’ friend. We had burgers and beers, and soon returned to the liquor store next door to purchase some great Granville Island Wheat Ale to complement our dinner as well. Our dinner was remarkable and free of carbs- freshly smoked salmon from the first finished batch as an appetizer, elk steak shot by a 16 year old for the entree, and fresh crab for dessert. It was unbelievably tasty. After all, it had been a long time for both of us since we had eaten seafood, and an even longer time before we had such quality seafood. We went to bed that evening with our bellies extremely content.
The next morning, we woke up early, and Brooks offered to take us directly to Emily’s friend, Maddy’s, cottage on Shawnigan Lake. We said goodbye to our great friend Brooks there, and thanked him for sharing with us the most west coast Canadian experience ever- despite him being an American. Thanks Brooks for everything, and we hope to see you around some day!