William Hilts                                                                                                  

1977 – 2015

William Hilts died on Friday May 22nd, doing what he loved, flying a water bomber fighting forest fires in northern Alberta.  He was 38.  He leaves behind his parents, Maria and Stewart Hilts, his younger brother Matthew and his wife Paula, his sister Katherine and her husband Darryl, his nephew Jaxson, and his grandmother Rosa Gallo, as well as many other aunts, uncles and cousins.  He also leaves a very strong network of friends in BC and elsewhere, many with ties to the flying community.

William took his pilot training at Confederation College in Thunder Bay, later flying for Kenora Air Services, Turtle Airways in Fiji, Harbour Air out of Prince Rupert, and Wasaya Airways in northern Ontario.  He worked his way to his dream job flying water bombers for Conair in BC and Alberta starting four years ago.  He was part of the team fighting the Cold Lake fire when his plane went down.

The family would appreciate stories, memories and photos from his friends. If you feel so compelled, donate to a charity of your choice in memory of Will. 

If for some reason you are unable to post pictures, tributes or stories, please feel free to email Katherine at or Matthew at and we will be sure to post them on your behalf. 

Posted by Brad Blois on May 22, 2021
Another year without you man. We think of you all the time and we love you for the great guy you were. It's still hard to come to terms with losing you. Until that time my friend.
Posted by Stew Hilts on May 22, 2021
We love you forever Will. Miss you more every day.
Posted by mj HOLMSTROM on May 22, 2021
Thinking of you Will. This is a tough time. Kuby passed the day after you and I know how highly you thought of each other.
Posted by Joanne Goodridge on February 22, 2021
Thinking of you today Will. We miss you, you were such an awesome guy.
Posted by Brad Blois on May 25, 2020
The years are passing my friend and we are all growing old without you, which is always going to be bitter and sad. While the pain may be fading the good memories remain and we all think and speak of you often and always wish you were here. I am so sorry you don't get to see my boys growing up. Devon misses you. We all miss you.
Posted by Jerry Singh on May 22, 2020
Captain W. Hilts,

You are truly a professional pilot worth remembering. You always stood up for yourself, when you knew you were right, and were always unselfishly there to help others. You left too soon....but will always be fondly remembered. RIP
Jerry Singh
Posted by Stew Hilts on February 22, 2020
You came into our lives 43 years ago, but left far too early. We trust you are flying high in the sky forever. We will always love you. Mom and Dad
Posted by Corina Balfour on January 30, 2020
I can’t believe it’s going to be 5 years soon. We shared so much over our brief years together that you will hold that bond forever in my heart. We were a great team even with all the miles apart at times. The last messages you sent only days away from being your last days are the greatest gift anyone could ever give. I thank you for all the laughs, all the fun, and all you taught me. I miss you.
Posted by Sandra Muench on May 22, 2019
4 years ago the world lost an amazing man. Your friendship, horrible jokes and caring soul are deeply missed.  Some days I wonder where you are and what you’re doing.. fishing, flying or watching boring curling. You still bring a smile to my face even though you’re gone.
Love you and miss you.
Posted by Brad Blois on May 22, 2019
Will - we all miss you. Not a day goes by that we don't think of you. Devon frequently says he misses you. I just landed on the other side of the world, and as I get ready for bed here, all of our mutual friends are risking their lives trying to do what they can for the fires in Alberta. If anything positive can be had from losing you, we are all a lot safer in our jobs and much has changed because of your loss.
God bless you and all men and women doing their best against such a foe. Safety first and be careful out there everyone. Keep Will in your minds, and stay safe.
Posted by Elizabeth Layman on May 22, 2019
So Sad, but Memories always help to ease the pain a little.
Posted by Brad Blois on February 22, 2019
Another year Will. Your always in our thoughts.  Have been logging the driveway on the ranch. I know you'd love that. I remember that this time 4 years ago you were on a big health kick and wouldn't eat cake or Chinese food for your birthday. We had a good hunt with Devon. We got a flat tire and found some great fossils. He gave that beautiful 150 million year old fossil to some older girl in his school that he had a crush on. Silly boy. Then it was Feb 27 and you were leaving the next day for the ferry and it was the last time we ever saw you. Well time keeps on rolling away relentlessly, and life continues, but your always here with us. The boys and I planted a red cedar down by the river where you wanted to build a cabin. It's doing great and that makes us pretty happy. Most of all I wish you were here so I could have an Oban with you and tease you about having the same birthday as Steve Irwin.
Posted by Brad Blois on May 22, 2018
Another year. Didn't even realize it. Sort of lose track of time here on the ranch as you know. Was actually occupying your favorite place on your couch. Which I hate by the way it is too short for me and the leather is always cold. I think I just lay there for your sake. I just got home from another adventure on the other side of the world. I met a nice girl there. Not for me of course, but for some reason after all these years I am still shopping for a good woman for my buddy Will. It is hard to forget your gone.
The cedar we cut that day 3 Februarys ago is still in my barn. I can't bring myself to cut it up. It is still beautiful, still has that red band around the outside. I have been doing wood trying to fill the shed before fire season. Everyone is out there already stuff burning. It is tough to be enthusiastic about it today though. Just hope everyone gets back safe.
I watched the video of you telling my baby to "Jump Monkey". If you could see him now. He is my son thats for sure. I think it hurts the most that you are not around to share in the good times with these boys. Devon is turning into a fine young man. I will make sure they know who you were and we will try not to take things for granted.
I guess enough time has past to admit I illegally buried some of you at the geological south pole. I used the actual marker to pound a hole in the snow to dump you in. Of course I cried and of course my eyelids frozen shut and then I was stumbling around blind at the south pole thinking to myself that son of a bitch Will would be rolling on the ground laughing at me right now calling me a Jackass.
Posted by mj HOLMSTROM on February 22, 2018
Thinking of you, Will. Jody and Wilt. What a pair.
Posted by Brody Campbell on February 10, 2018
God damn it Willy. Every time I push the power (A330 now!) you are in there somewhere. Every time I hold my 7mm I think of the times we went out for birds and deer in Kenora. Nothing has been the same since you left. I've lost so many of the people I love. You brought me to this place of success (you really did - I always give you credit for showing me the way- though the last time I talked to you, you weren't very impressed-(classic you). My life is as good as it gets (Captain on the A320 soon - a mere month away) and my family and I are very grateful - even though my girls only met you once when they were small, I've made sure they know who you are. I'm still thinking about you and though I may have said it before, Thank You.
Posted by Brad Blois on May 22, 2017
Thought of you all day. My second last day in Seal Cove before heading out to fire fighting for the summer. Wasn't an easy decision for me. I had a great day remembering our times here, drank my coffee on the Kutz with the grizzly bears, flew some lodge trips in the fog and rain. It's raining to no end here, just like the good old days. Sure wish you were here. It will never be the same again without you buddy, but your still with me everywhere I go.
Posted by mj HOLMSTROM on May 22, 2017
Kenora Air was sold this past week and so ends the company that Kuby bought over 40 years ago. Will was my first young pilot. Kuby thought the world of him. They passed within a day of each other. Tough days.
Posted by neil mckinnon on April 4, 2017
To Stew and family: I want you to know we still think of Will often.His loss is still felt here.I really enjoyed working with him.He was taken from you too soon.
From the folks at Conair Hangar 3.
Posted by Stew Hilts on February 22, 2017
Got out chasing waterfall pictures today Will, just had to have an adventure on your behalf. You would have been 40. Miss you more than words can say. Dad
Posted by Sandra Muench on December 7, 2016
Love you and miss you. I wish with all my heart you were still here ❤️
Posted by Sandra Muench on December 28, 2015
I still think of you and miss you everyday. I miss your terrible sense of humour, your caring smile and your encouraging words. I remember last Christmas you telling me about how you had called home for Christmas and you wish you could be with your family. How you felt better that your Dad sounded healthier. How excited you were to hear that your sister was pregnant and you were going to be an uncle again. How you couldn't wait for spring and fire season to start. 
You told me to not have regrets in life. To chase my dreams. To make changes when necessary. It's been very hard but I am trying and I know you are encouraging me from where you are. 

Love you and miss you dearly. My heart still hurts that you are gone.
Posted by Brad Blois on October 16, 2015
On October 10th we had a small, informal celebration of Will in Seal Cove, Prince Rupert. Although not a formal ceremony it was special in that many very close friends joined together after many years to celebrate the amazing life of Will Hilts. The following is my very personal reflection on a once in a lifetime friendship which I wrote and shared with friends in Seal Cove. Since it was also a part of Wills life I would like to share it with you his friends and family.

I first met Will 15 years ago. I was working for Red Lake airways Will for Kenora Air. I can’t specifically say we were friends, it was an occasion meeting while I was there for maintenance and it was only a few times. Other than bouncing a few potatoes off the side of the ferry SS Kenora from with a massive hairspray powered potato cannon the only real memory I have of Will from that time was one afternoon I was southbound from deer lake to Selkirk Mb and Will was northbound in the piston Otter with Norm. Norm was a legend in the north and a master Otter pilot. I think Will was getting checked out with an external load. They had a boat tied to the side and were chugging along on a hot summer day heading really far north. I asked them why they were only at 3000 feet when they were heading so far north to which Norm calmly explained that in a piston Otter 3000 feet was high enough to glide somewhere when you had an engine failure but not too high that you would burn up before getting there.

So officially Will and I met and became friends right here in Seal Cove in October 2003. I showed up to visit my buddy Gord who was working at Inland Air and I planned to ride my motorcycle down the west coast to Mexico and back. I was offered a job and ended up staying and the rest of the story everyone here knows. I look back at the years in Seal Cove with Will and our little circle of friends and I see them as some of the best years of my life. Great friends, great flying, great times. We hunted, we fished, we shared dreams we forged a friendship that would or should have lasted a lifetime.

Eventually the group splintered, Mike Ross left first, then I left, Will left later. Time to chase bigger and better things. I had made up my mind I wanted to live on the Charlottes and I had to find some money to make that a reality. Will was pursuing the means to get hired by Conair. We drifted apart, lost contact and the daily grind of life continued.

I’ve always found that the mark of a true friendship was the inability of time to affect the quality of the bond. Such was the relationship I had with Will. After 3 or 4 years of silence he came back, and we picked up exactly where we left off. Hunting, fishing, long periods of whiskey philosophy by the fireplace. We had finally arrived at the end of the beginning of our dreams.

Tragically and unbelievably all of that ended on May 22. He was a son to my parents, a father to my sons, and truly my best friend. I loved him in every sense of the word. In the void he leaves behind I find myself wishing I could see him one more time because I would say this:

Dear Will;

Thank you. Thank you for everything. Thank you for always being that reasonable intelligent decision maker while we dared the stormy skies around Prince Rupert. Thank you for all those times when being headstrong and impatient I was charging out into the wind and swells and you said "Fuck it lets go drink some more coffee!" Thank you for the times when I couldn’t be swayed and you were my reluctant wing man. Thank you for pointing out every time I was a jackass by telling me simply "Jackass!"

Thank you for defending me when I deserved it, and even when maybe I didn't. Thank you for years of patient friendship, for sharing the rivers, and the woods and the beaches and backroads of Haida Gwaii. Thank you for sharing your books with me, even if I was bad at returning them. Thank you for helping me fill my wood shed and freezer before winter. Thank you for working until midnight the night before I left for Antarctica as we triumphantly raised my wind turbine into the sky to provide power to my family for the winter.

Thanks for being a father to my sons during my long and difficult absences from their lives. Thank you for the 14 hours spent crawling around in my filthy, damp, cold spider infested basement crawl space insulating my floors so that my family would be warm for the winter. Thank you for not killing my wife when after emerging from said basement 14 hours later and being asked "What’s for supper?"

Thank you for keeping my family safe when things went sideways. Thank you doing all of this without ever having been asked or expected to. Thank you for having the intelligence and sense of adventure to see my dreams, my plans and vision for the future when everyone else thought I was crazy.

Most importantly, and from the bottom of my heart thank you for being my friend when it was very difficult to be my friend. I wouldn't be standing here today with a happy healthy family if you hadn't been that friend.

Thank you Will.
Posted by Brad Blois on July 29, 2015
It was a cold morning here on the ranch so we enjoyed our coffee in front of a nice fire from that red cedar we cut back in February. Everyone on the ranch is always thinking about Will and missing him every day in everything we do.
Posted by Susan Armstrong on July 7, 2015
"The Eagle and the Hawk" (John Denver)

I am the eagle, I live in high country
In rocky cathedrals that reach to the sky,
I am the hawk and there's blood on my feathers,
But time is still turning, they soon will be dry,
And all of those who see me, and all who believe in me
Share in the freedom I feel when I fly.
Posted by Katherine Saynor on June 18, 2015
Celebrating Will

Below is the information for the two memorial services that have been arranged so far.

The memorial service in Ontario will be held in Markdale on Saturday July 18, 2015 with the visitation starting at 12:00pm, the service at 2:00pm and with a reception to follow.

Annesley United Church
82 Toronto Street, Markdale ON
N0C 1H0

The memorial service in British Columbia will be held in Langley on Friday October 2, 2015 starting at 2:00pm.

Christian Life Assembly
21277 56 Avenue, Langley BC
V2Y 1M3

Please feel free to forward this information to anyone who wishes to attend that may not see this message. Thank you.
Posted by Jerry Singh on June 14, 2015
Will and I first greeted each other on  the challenging northern BC Coast while flying seaplanes out of Prince Rupert. Will was always friendly and courteous towards me, and we shared some comical stories about flying for Turtle Air in Fiji.

Besides being an excellent, experienced pilot......Will Hilts was a fine gentleman, willing to help others, an honest man, kind,... and a man worth remembering. 

Present ....and former North BC coast seaplane pilots are like a band of brothers......and Will of our brothers will truly be missed.

...........Rest In Peace bother Will........
Posted by Alain Charest on June 14, 2015
Dear Maria and Stew,
It is only now that I read about your terrible news on Stew's blog. I am terribly sorry to read about Will's death. You must have been very proud of all his achievements. From what I read, he seems to have been an exceptional person. He must leave a terrible hole in your life. My thoughts are with you and your family and I offer you my deepest sympathy.
Posted by Steven Correll on June 14, 2015
"On The Wings Of An Eagle"

Oh, my home is in the mountains, I am free, I am free.
I am one with wind and eagles, I am free. Given wings to sail in gracefulness, the sky, the sky.
Given a voice to sing in breathlessness, I find that I can fly, fly away.

I've been a long time on the highway, I've been a long time on the run.
And it gets to be like chaos when I'm so long away from home.
And sometimes it's just to much to bare and I hide behind my eyes.
I can picture friendly faces and I can dream of friendly skies.
And I guess that I'm a lucky one for the truth of what I know.
For my heart had not denied me and I have somewhere to go.
I shall never be a prisoner of steel and glass and stone.
If I leave, I will return again to my Rocky Mountain home.

Oh, my home is in the mountains, I am free, I am free.
I am one with wind and eagles, I am free. Given wings to sail in gracefulness, the sky, the sky.
Given a voice to sing in breathlessness, I find that I can fly, fly away.

In the hands of my father, in the light of the sunshine. On the wings of an eagle, I'm flying again.
I'm flying again, I'm flying again, I'm flying again, I'm flying again.

John Denver.
Posted by Katherine Saynor on June 12, 2015
For those who didn't see the article on William in Maclean's this week, you can find it at:
Posted by Stew Hilts on June 12, 2015
Celebrations for Will

We are now planning two celebrations of Will's life, both here in Ontario and in B.C. The service here will be held at Annesley United Church in Markdale on July 18th, at 2 p.m. with visitation from 12, and a reception afterwards. The service in B.C. will be held just after fire season ends, on Oct. 2nd, and will be in Langley. Further details to come.
Posted by Stew Hilts on June 4, 2015
I wanted to let you know that William will be featured on the back page of Maclean's magazine, as an 'interesting Canadian' who has passed away recently. We understand that it's the issue that hits newstands today.
Posted by Jo-Anne Rzadki on June 3, 2015
Stew, Maria, Kathryn and Matthew and Family: We were so very saddened to learn of William's passing. Please know that our thoughts are with you at this very difficult time. wishing you some comfort in your memories. Sincerely, Jo-Anne Rzadki and Tom Moull
Posted by Reapi Nayacakalou on May 31, 2015
I knew Will when he joined us at Turtle Airways Fiji as a pilot. Will was a very decent guy and had a great sense of humor. I will always remember his favorite are not a pilot until you have had a romp with the clouds. It deeply saddens me to hear of Wills passing from Treasure Marshall also a colleague and a co pilot at Turtle Airways. We have always been catching up and chatting on Facebook and he was always remarking that he missed Fiji alot....I know that you are having some of the best flights of your life and enjoying your new wings my friend! May your soul Rest in Peace forever...forever remembered.....
Posted by carol mills on May 30, 2015
I will always remember the times we shared as kids at Nana and Grandpas. Trying to beat the boys at ping pong in the basement, golfing in the backyard, watching grandpa and his magic coin trick. Great memories to look back on as we reflect on Williams life.
Posted by Jan Pratschke on May 29, 2015
Will was one of my closest friends while growing up in Guelph.  He was funny and smart, sometimes a little gruff, always sarcastic. Beneath his gruffy exterior he was kind and generous. We drove across the country with a cooler of deer meat on the roof. "this'll keep us going for a while" he said.  It did.  He had his priorities in line. We ate dinner at the ping pong table, listened to a lot of John Denver.  

4 of us bought a vehicle that may have been unfit for the road, and went for a drive south. We cut the roof off 'cause it was gonna be warm where we were going. We had some vehicle related issues along the way, but Will was one of those folks who made you feel like everything was gonna be ok. He also was one of those guys who brought tools.

We didn't see each other much in the last few years. He stopped by a couple of years ago with a cooler full of salmon in the truck, on his way somewhere to visit someone.  He was easy company, a solid friend, consistent and as genuine as they get...always easy to pick up where we left off.  I'll miss him.  My sincerest condolences to his family and to everyone else who shared time with him.
Posted by steve copeland on May 29, 2015
I had the great pleasure of working with Will last summer in Lac La Biche. He was such an easy going guy to get along with and his humour off the charts.I am not going to forget our many nights on the hotel porch having a few pops after a long days work.You will be sorely missed..
Posted by Jane Lewington on May 29, 2015
Hello Stew - I'm so sorry to hear about the loss of your son, Will. He sounds like he was a pretty amazing fellow! My heartfelt condolences to you and your family. Sincerely, Jane Lewington
Posted by Jarrett Austin on May 29, 2015
I had the pleasure of working with Will when he was based in Lac La Biche during the 2013 and 2014 fire seasons. He always had a laid back approach and his quick wit never failed to deliver. I was excited to see him arrive with the emergency hire Fireboss group last week.

Although the time was brief, I am thankful for the opportunity to have known Will and will miss him very much
Posted by sarah jell on May 28, 2015
I first met Will in Minaki ON, one summer when he was flying for Kenora air. He was out visiting Brodie, who was flying for River air here in town. They came into the bar and we chatted a bit then they left, only to return much later in need of a tow... We went to see what the problem was, and they had backed down into a culvert at the end of a dead end road by the Minaki lodge. We weren't able to pull them out so we gave them a ride back to river air. When we dropped them off, as I backed out I looked forward again briefly to see them highlighted in my headlights, suddenly naked and running for the lake! I nearly hit the propane tank on my way out. We went back into town, and I put a note on their dashboard saying I hoped they flew better than they drove with my phone number. Will called. We dated a few years, and he was the best person you could ever meet. He knew exactly what he wanted to do with his life, was honest, warm loving and fun. Because I knew my dreams would hold his back, we broke up. But we always stayed in touch. He was always on my mind and in my heart. I talked to him Thursday night before he died, and will treasure the fact that I got to hear his voice that one last time. I loved the way he said hello. So heartbroken that he's gone. My deepest condolences to you, Stew, Maria, Katie and Mathew, and the whole family. He will be missed.
Posted by Susan Martin on May 28, 2015
Stew and Maria......Our thoughts and prayers are with you and your family in the loss of William. Reading the tributes to him and knowing, as you have said, that he was doing what he loved and was making a difference in the world, tells me what a special person he was. Your loss is also our loss of a wonderful man... but what a contribution he made. Blessings to you both  Larry and Susan
Posted by Mike Puddister on May 28, 2015
Stew and Maria, so very sorry to hear about Will's passing. He obviously had the same passion for life and doing good work that you have demonstrated so many times. Our thoughts are with you. Take Care!
Posted by Marilyn White on May 28, 2015
Maria and Stew and family - our hearts go out to you with the loss of Will. He was doing the job he loved and as a fire fighter, he was helping so many others in their time of need. From reading all these tributes, he has touched so many people and will be greatly missed. God Bless Him.
Posted by Yannick Longpre on May 28, 2015
I first met Will while I was working as a freight guy at North Pacific SeaPlanes in Prince Rupert . This guy was awesome. He was always kind to me, I was learning english and Will was always there to help me out with some issues with the language. I had some seaplanes trips with him , always had some fun . I'ts so sad to hear of his passing. I remember his good humour, his way to talk so funny . Really like the guy, a real gentlemen. For you, Will , I will always have thoughts of being living for what you are. You are great to me. I light a candle for you. Live forever
Posted by Suzanne Wakefield on May 27, 2015
Dear Stew and Maria, Earlby and I were so sorry to hear of William's death. Unfortunately we didn't know William well, but to lose a child is so tragic. It was wonderful to read how he realized his inspiration for many.
Posted by chris holt on May 27, 2015
I flew with Will for the better part of two years. He was my Captain on the Hawker. I never once doubted Will as a pilot. He had confidence in his abilities and for good reason. I always liked Will's honest style and I'd follow that guy anywhere. He was a great guy to fly with and became an equally good friend to spend time with. We flew together, we hunted together, we fished together, we'd jabber on about hockey over a beer and once in awhile we even laughed together ;-) He was a good friend and I'll miss him. My deepest condolences go out to his family and his friends. You're a beauty Will.
Posted by Jim Anderson on May 27, 2015
Awesome "sleeves" and an wry sense of humour. He always made me laugh. I am glad to have known you Will.
Posted by susan nelson on May 27, 2015
Maria and Stewart, i am so sorry for your loss. such an accomplished young man he was. You should be so proud of him.
i remember him at Sand lake too, chasing your beagle round and round on the beach.
Posted by Don Churchill on May 27, 2015
Stewart and Maria, Sheila and I were deeply saddened to learn of the tragic loss of Will. Our thought and prayers are with you and your family.
Posted by Mcneill Angela and Alex on May 27, 2015
Maria, Stew and family. Words can't express how we feel for your loss of Will. As you know our boys played together and we can relate to lots of fun times. We know that he was determined to fly and he lived his dream and died doing what he loved. You are in our prayers and may God give you strength to see you through this difficult time.
Posted by Lori Nicholls on May 27, 2015
My family lost our home in the Slave Lake wildfire in 2011. I did not know Will. But I can tell the families of ALL fire fighters, how truly grateful we are to their service. I thank Will, I thank his wife for being brave having a husband fighting fires, I thank his parents for raising a man that wanted to grow up and help people he didn't even know. Thank you. I am very sorry for your loss.
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Leave a Tribute

Recent Tributes
Posted by Brad Blois on May 22, 2021
Another year without you man. We think of you all the time and we love you for the great guy you were. It's still hard to come to terms with losing you. Until that time my friend.
Posted by Stew Hilts on May 22, 2021
We love you forever Will. Miss you more every day.
Posted by mj HOLMSTROM on May 22, 2021
Thinking of you Will. This is a tough time. Kuby passed the day after you and I know how highly you thought of each other.
Recent stories

Fishing again

Shared by m h on May 22, 2022
I was reminded of the time that Will and I had gone to fish the Grand river in Fergus. I would have been around 13 or 14 and he would have been 17-18.

We waded up from the bridge north of town, floundering a bit, teaching ourselves to fly fish. We separated and will found his way through the shallows, upstream to the far bank. He rested on the shore and spoke to a man walking a dog. 

soon after, he gathered his things and headed my way. When he was part way back, the man arrived on the bank again, with a golf club and balls. He set up and teed of, launching a ball our way. 

Will said “ he thinks he owns the river, let’s go.” 

he continued to launch balls at us as we headed down river. He never really got close and Will never really got mad about it, he just laughed it off. I don’t think we caught any fish that day.  I don’t suppose it really matters. Eventually we spread out a bit, found new watersand even landed a few fish. 

The Backstory

Shared by Stew Hilts on May 22, 2022
Let me tell you a bit of the backstory to Will's summer of fishing with Brad.  The boys were quite young when their grampa started taking them out to a friend's stocked pond.  I was no fisherman so it was from their grampa that the boys  (and later their baby sister) learned the basics of fishing.  And success was fairly high in a stocked pond!

A few years later, on our trip to Newfoundland, the boys got a chance to fish for capelin (like sardines).  When the 'capelin were in', the locals would bring their nets and pails down to the beach and fill a pail to freeze for the winter.  The boys took their simple nets down to an already crowded small beach and successfully pulled out forty or so small fish.  Matt, in his enthusiasm went too far in and a local simply grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and hauled him back to safety.  I think there was almost more fun later as the boys gleefully cut the heads off the fish and rolled them in flour.  Then we had a big feed of capelin, bones and all.

On the same trip the boys got to try their hand at 'jigging' for cod.  Jigging for cod involves no bait and no fishing rod.  You simply drop a line with a weighted hook over the side of the boat and pulled it up in short little jerks, 'jigging it', hoping to snag a fish.  We went out on a fishing boat and the boys caught several small cod.  But the highlight was when our tour guide, in a trick I'm sure he had done many times before, threw a fish high in the air and a Bald Eagle came swooping out of nowhere to grab it as it hit the water.  None of us will forget that moment!

The highlight of my fishing memories is our trip to Alaska.  First there was a tumbling stream on the Alaska Highway where the boys clambered down over the boulders to catch a small grayling or two.  Then, not far east of Fairbanks, we joined locals at a fishing access point, and this time it was Will's brother Matt who caught the best fish, a huge King Salmon nearly 3 feet long! 

But it was the 'combat fishing' in Valdez that I remember most.  Fishermen were lined up shoulder to shoulder down the pier, and Kate, Matt and Will all lined up.  The salmon were running, and they pulled out salmon as fast as they could throw their lines back in, a fishing experience of a lifetime.  At this point Kate was 10, Matt 14 and Will 17.

Finally as we travelled the Skeena Highway home east of Prince Rupert, we turned off at the Hazeltons, determined to find a tributary small enough to fish in safely.  We made our way to the Kispiox River and the boys finally managed to fish in a beautiful northern river, donning hip waders and getting out their fly fishing gear.  And they each caught a fish too, trout as I remember.  Thus their lifetime love of fishing was built.

So those are my memories of the back story to Brad and Will's summer of fishing on Haida Gwaii.

A Fish Tale

Shared by Brad Blois on May 21, 2022
It's been too long since there's been a Will story. Every year this time we are reminded of the tragedy that is Will not among us to make his own new stories. Well there's no shortage of stories and it didn't take me long to remember this one.  I'm sure others have some to share as well. Will was just a wonderful friend.

Id been volunteering to run a sub base out of Masset for North Pacific Seaplanes in the summer months. The first year was pretty slow but the next year was quite busy, busy enough to have the Otter come over on weekends to do lodge work.
Well Will and I used that opportunity to spend almost all our free time fishing that summer. We did so much fishing. I've never done that much fishing before or ever since.
We fished every river, creek and stream on Haida Gwaii. Walked so far up Yakoun I can't remember all the pools we fished. We had both bought ourselves new Sage fly rods and reels. Even had our names engraved on them from the factory. It was epic.

Trout, and every species of salmon. I remember 20 pound spring salmon in the Pallant Creek stripping our reels down to the backing in less than 2 feet of water. It was so much fun. Bears stealing our fish off the landing, so many fish in the river you could feel them rubbing against your waiders as they swam upstream. Both of us physically exhausted from catching fish. 

We caught so many pink and chum salmon in the Copper that we just didn't count or even more astonishingly didn't keep score. This was before the age of cell phone cameras and no serious fisherman caries a camera in the middle of the river. It would have been nice to have some pictures. I can still remember the smiles and happy exhaustion that came from hours of successful fishing and the drive back in the dark to the crew house. 
I can say with certainty that I've never had such a wonderful summer as that one, never caught so many fish, never dedicated so much time to the art of fishing and learning the rivers. I've never been back to most of the places, and the fishing is done in some of them forever. It was a much happier and simpler time back then. Just flying seaplanes, nothing fancy, home every night, familiar with everyone.
Writing this from the other side of the world I can say have no regrets with my career and the adventures and where I'm at now, but I can honestly say without hesitation I'd trade it all for one more summer like that with Will. Just a summer dedicated to two friends and the art of fly fishing.