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Monday, October 20, 2014

Returning to Steelhead Paradise Part 2 - Day 1

After visiting with Bill McMillan and James Reid, we continued on with our non-stop drive to Skeena Country.  We drove through the night without incident except for being briefly pulled over by RCMP in Cache Creek at about 1am during Adrian's driving shift.  The officers claimed that they pulled us over because they had difficulty reading the license plate number on Steve's boat trailer and because they wondered what folks with Washington plates would be doing passing through town at 1am.... guess it wasn't obvious enough that we were on a mission after steelhead!

We knew we had arrived when we pulled into a place proclaiming itself as "Steelhead Paradise"!  We had finally made it to the spiritual center of our worlds.  We proceeded to grab some coffee and breakfast, anxiously milled around town, grabbed some groceries and then drove up and down the river to scope out put ins/take outs until it was time for us to check into our quaint motel.

Since we had some time, we took a drive over to look at the Kispiox.  It was running low, but it's potential could still be seen as we watched a nice steelhead roll in a pool as we looked down from a bridge.
Kispiox River.  A Black Bear can barely be seen in the background.  
Don't tell James Reid about this scene.
 After checking in and getting settled into our steelheadquarters for the week, we ran back to town for dinner, then came up with our game plan for the next day when we would begin our 5 days fishing during the weekdays allowed to us "NRAs".

I had "hyped up" the guys on dry fly steelheading in BC with stories of aggressive wild steelhead that would often come to the surface multiple times on the swing, explosive rises to skaters, loaded runs that provided multiple hookups, etc.  Memories from my prior trips were vivid in my mind and my excitement had rubbed off on Steve and Adrian.  I prayed that our fishing would play out with at least some semblance of the surface steelhead successes I had experienced on some of my prior trips to BC.  Of course, there are no guarantees in steelheading and slow fishing for no apparent reason in what appear to be ideal conditions happens often enough wherever one chases these unicorns.

I got back to tying skaters in the motel room before going to bed, since for all I knew, my newest black/blue creations could be the ticket on those BC steelhead.  We slept restlessly in anticipation of our first day of fishing, but we managed to get up at the appointed time, loaded the boat and got to the the put in at dawn.

Preparing for the first days fishing by tying more skaters.  Photo by Steve Turner

We were floating a stretch of river I am most familiar with and early in the float, we stopped at several runs that had provided some memorable fishing on my prior trips.  The first run yielded a rise to my new black/blue skater, but this steelhead would not come back for any of my followup attempts.  Steve got a pull on one of his wets and Adrian also got a pull on a Jock Scott.

First run of the first day.  Photo by Steve Turner

Adrian rocks his JM Reid "Summer Run".  Photo by Steve Turner

At the next run we stopped at, memories of consistent, multiple hook ups replayed in my mind and I was somehow able to convince Steve to go through first.  I pointed out "the bucket" of this juicy run and anxiously watched Steve fish down into the zone.  Steve fished the water well and surprisingly, no steelhead came to his fly.  I went through behind Steve and noted the features of this piece of holding water did not appear to have changed much in 7 years, probably due to it's bedrock nature.  Neither I nor Adrian moved a fish in this run as well, so we moved on.
A rare sight, Steve Turner going through first.
 As we floated down, I rather impulsively suggested that we fish the very next run.  Being that it was a clear day, the sun was bright and shining directly on the the water by the time we began fishing this run.  As I surveyed the water, I noted that it appeared shallower than I thought compared to how it looked as we floated down to it.  We decided to fish through anyway.

Adrian took the top, Steve the middle, and I fished the bottom third.  As I fished down, I still thought this water looked marginal at best, especially in the bright conditions.  My casts were landing in water with some chop and then coming into softer shallow water near shore.  As I approached an exposed boulder, a buck in the 9-10lb range came up with a broadside rise and took off with my new skater in it's jaw.  I got a couple headshakes and the fish was gone.  A few casts later, I raised another steelhead but could not get it to comeback.

As Steve came down behind me, he apparently found "my" fish.  Steve was fishing a small steelhead coachman and it did the trick.  Steve hooked and nearly landed the beautiful hen that looked to be about 5-6lbs.  The hook pulled out just before Steve could get his hand on her.
Steve picks my pocket
We continued down and we passed through some water I vaguely remembered from my prior trips, then we came to a bend pool that I readily recognized.  I took the top, Steve the middle, and Adrian took the lower section.  The beauty of these luxurious big river runs is that they generously afford enough room for three anglers to spread out and fish.

Bright day steelheading

As I fished the upper section as the river comes into the bend, I was making short casts with my skater into the chop of the faster main flow with the lower third of the swing coming into the softer inside water.  As I got my full casting length out and had just started taking steps down, a steelhead charged after my skater on the soft inside water with it's broadside form clearly seen in the sunny conditions.  I made the same cast, nothing.  I shorted up a couple strips of line with the same fly and a couple casts later, the steelhead came back with a slashing take and was on solidly.  After a spirited battle this little buck came to hand, validating my newest black/blue creation.

Photo by Steve Turner

I had mentioned to Adrian that I recalled seeing the late great Harry Lemire fishing this stretch of river during my first visit in 1995.  This inspired Adrian to tie up some Greaseliners on the irons gifted to him by James Reid.  I happened to have some natural deer hair in my tying kit, along with some loose grizzly feathers given to me by a co-worker who raises chickens at his home so I passed these materials over to the masterful tyer of flies "in hand".

Adrian tying a Greaseliner streamside.  Photo by Steve Turner

After I landed my steelhead, we returned to our stations in the run.  Adrian had a freshly tied Greaseliner on as he fished the slow, quiet, lower section.  He was fishing some soft water near a log laying in the water.  As his Greaseliner approached the log, a steelhead exploded on his fly, but due to not feeling any initial resistance, Adrian throught he missed the fish so he dropped his arms in despair as he motioned to us that he just missed a fish.  Before Steve and I realized that Adrian was trying to communicate with us with his contorted body gestures, Adrian's Dingley was singing!  He didn't realize that he had a fish on the whole time - his "delayed strike response" was the perfect medicine on that steelhead take in the slow water.  This hen gave Adrian a spirited battle and we celebrated with high fives and a toasting of single malt and coffee (for the wimpy Asian guy, name starts with T).

Adrian doing battle with his first surface steelhead in the bright of day.

Adrian's first steelhead taken on his greaseliner.  Photo by Steve Turner
Adrian's Greaseliner.  Photo by Steve Turner
Adrian's take:
 While I hooked up on a few different patterns, Lemire's Greaseliner was my go-to pattern this trip. Part of the allure was that Todd had mentioned that he saw Harry fishing one of the runs we would float by. Being an in-hand flytyer myself - with Mr. Lemire as one of my inspirations, it was only proper to swing the Greaseliner. That hen steelhead "shark-attacked" that Greaseliner for my first BC fish to hand. As Todd and Steve can attest, I went through a lot of emotions on that take that may have to be re-enacted over a steelhead camp.

 (Adrian wrote a wonderful piece on this special encounter which will be posted up very soon)

We continued on and fished several more runs over the course of the day.  Some of these runs were just as they appeared on prior trips.  We basked in the luxury of having the space to spread out in these large, gravel bar runs that seem to go on forever.  It turns out that we took too much time in the upper half of the float and as we tried to time our fishing to get to the take out before dark, we realized that we had to pass up a ton of great looking water in the latter half of the float.  Note to self: move more quickly through the float to be able to fish some of those great looking runs in the lower section next time.
Photo by Steve Tuner

Big Water.  Photo by Steve Tuner

Interesting to note that the action we had took place during the bright parts of the day.  As time goes on, I am coming to realize that bright conditions are not necessarily a dealbreaker when it comes to surface fishing for steelhead, especially in Skeena country, but I've also noted the same on my local waters in Oregon.  I continue to fish with more confidence during bright conditions and our fishing during our first day in BC validates this notion.

It was great to be back in Skeena country after a 7 year hiatus and I was thankful that I had decided to fish the same area during my prior trips which lended me some familiarity, even as a visiting fisherman.  We felt so abundantly blessed to be in such a beautiful place with a few fish encounters as a great bonus.

Adrian's beautiful box of Classic Atlantic Salmon flies tied in hand.  This box of flies taunted Adrian with conflict because of his crazed addiction to surface steelheading!  Photo by Steve Turner

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