On day one, we put in at the top of our favored float. A steady drizzle accompanied us for most of the day, however the river remained fishable and we remained hopeful. Over the course of the day, the river began to show a bit of color, but I remained optimistic that the river would remain fishable in the coming days. No surprise that none of us got into steelhead and the only fishy encounter came as a good tug to Tony's wet fly fished on a tip.
|Our Limo, complements of Steve Turner!|
|Tony tossing a tip in a rising river|
|A perfect dry fly run|
|Tony got a pull on his wet, right there...|
|Rick's Gold, ready for action.|
On day two, I realized that my optimism was misguided! We arrived at the same put in to find that the river was blown. Several other fisherman arrived and the collective dismay could be felt. Adrian ran into a fellow named Max that he had met and fished with on the Deschutes in June and we ran into another fellow named Carlo Ng who recognized Adrian and me through social media. I was flattered that Carlo liked my pattern enough to tie his own versions and on which he had found surface success. l ended up sharing a few flies with Carlo as we collectively prayed for fishable conditions in the coming days. We had heard that the Kitimat river had flooded and washed an RV downstream. We later heard that the entire river system we were on was blown, including it's headwaters.
We decided to accept the day as a loss in terms of fishing, so we returned to our motel. Tony had actually opted to take the day off to rest up for the remaining days of our week and turns out he made the right choice! He had just gotten up when we returned and didn't seen terribly surprised to see us. The guy must own a crystal ball and knew that this day would probably not be the best bet to be out in.
Adrian and I tried to reconcile our time by tying flies in an effort to stave of the pain of missing a day of fishing after driving 20 some hours to get here. As we idled around, we tried to come up with a game plan for the coming days. Looking for water that dropped more quickly seemed like the general idea.
It was on this day that I got on a weird kick. When we went to lunch at a cafe in town, and for some random reason, I decided to eat an elaborate salad consisting of organic greens and a bunch of stuff I could not identify. It was actually pretty good. I think in a strange way of rebelling against the adverse conditions, I ended up eating salads at almost every meal for the remainder of the trip to punish myself. I'm sure my body was wondering what happened to all the red meat, fat, and carbs I regularly consume as a lifetime junk food junkie. My friends no longer recognized me.
|A blown river|
|These will stay dry on this day|
|Tony had the right idea to sleep in.|
|One trick pony|
|A great place to start the day|
|Steve casting bullets into the morning currents|
|Steve and Adrian have a plan|
Day four found us putting our pontoons in on a river that was in perfect shape, running at a perfect level with good clarity. As we made our way downstream, I suggested that Tony call out runs for us to fish as he is better at pacing our way down the river. I tend to be a "hoarder" and if up to me, we'd end stopping at every little piece of water that looks even remotely fishable. As we worked down, Tony suggested we cover some ground since this stretch is a bit long for a day's float. As we approached a nice tailout, we contemplated whether to stop when we saw a nice rise in the middle, which helped in our decision making process.
Tony graciously insisted that I put a skater over the rise first and if no hookup was forthcoming, he would go over with a wet. I hurriedly got into position, got my casts lengthened into the zone and worked down to where the rise appeared. As I watched my skater coming across low in the tailout, a bulge of water appeared at my fly, then after a few feet, the bulge appeared again as the fish followed the fly. Another bulge came at the dangle but no eat. The comeback routine with changing flies and shortening up brought no results either. Tony went through with his wetly and still no connection. By then Steve and Adrian arrived and pulled in so they would not disrupt our water. Adrian decided to give the riser one last opportunity to show itself, but still no cigar.
We continued on through the float an enjoyed a mild day with lots of great water before us. In one side channel we floated through, we flushed several large steelhead off their lies. Of course this piqued our interest and we pulled over and fished through the water and got no satisfaction. In a pool below, Tony spotted a couple more steelhead holding. At the end of the day the net result for our group was zero rises (aside from the bulges at my fly which may have been a pink?), zero grabs, and zero hookups. Nonetheless, we were happy for the conditions which forced us to explore this water for the first time.
|Adrian zeroing in|
|Tony fishing over an area where steelhead were spotted|
|Closing out the day|
Day five found us back at the larger river as we had gotten reports that it was running on the high side but fishable. As we floated down, we indeed noticed that this would be a different game where runs we normally fished would either be changed or unfishable. We stopped at either soft nearshore cushions or traditional runs that "spread out" nicely with the higher water.
By midday, none of us found any players. Steve had rowed ahead to stake out a nice gravel bar that would serve as our lunch stop. Our typical lunch fare of ham sandwiches (or wraps), cheese, Ms. Vickies chips, cookies, beer, etc, emerged as we took a break from our determined efforts to find a needle in the haystack. After lunch we decided to split up our lunch stop water with Adrian hitting the lower section, me grabbing middle, and Tony fishing the top just below where we pulled in. Shortly after we got settled into our rhythm, a voice was heard proclaiming "got one!" - Tony's! Tony had been fishing a light tip with a McNeese styled wet and found his prize where the river drops off as it sloped away from the bank. The beautiful hen gave a wonderful account of herself with spritely runs. Tony landed the beautiful and rare steelhead with photos and high fives to go around.
As we approached the lower section of the float, Tony decided to let the "hoarder" call out some water. I saw a nice nearshore break so we pulled in. I figured to split this run with Tony, but he felt like taking a break and had me fish the short run on my own. I had my 11' 8wt Cabela's TLr switch, 450 grain Ambush and #6 green butt ninja as I worked down the run. This set up was working very well in cutting through the afternoon winds and this run didn't call for long casts with the seam running about 60' off the bank. From his vantage point provided by the front seat of our pontoon, Tony was also able to track the black post on my fly as it contrasted nicely from the silver/grey glare provided by the overcast. At the lower part of the run, the flow softened nicely and my skater swung perfectly through the currents. As I was meditating on the pleasure of this perfection, a steelhead launched across the surface and muched my fly near the dangle! Tony saw the rise as well and both of our attentions intently focused on the events at hand. Tony yelled over "you got him??", I had just gotten tight to the steelhead and yelled "yep!". I finally felt life on the end of my line and the adrenaline rush was overwhelming after going through the week with no action. I switched the rod over to my left hand and began reeling tight to the smallish buck as he was about to take off on a run. Just as I was visioning getting a closer look at this beautiful steelhead, tension was lost as I realized that my vision got free. The conflicting emotions of disappointment and gratitude came over me as I chalked it all up as part of the deal with this game that I love.
Tony and I split up a beautiful, long run just above the take out as we closed out the day and our trip. This run was big and broad and just called out for a longer rod. My Sage 9140 Brownie came back out with a 54' Delta Spey. It was a pleasure stretching out with longer casts as my little black skater cut through the bouncy seams. I fished with great anticipation of a closing steelhead rise, but it was not to be. The joy of the rhythm was more than enough.
|Set up for the final session|
|Group shot of Non Resident Aliens|
|Misty Morning hop|
|Steve and Adrian beating Tony and me to some good water|
|Steve and Tony having a lunch hour fly conference|
|Adrian is a pusher of Vienna Sausages|
|Tony hooks up.|
|Keep em wet|
|The fly, a McNeese inspired pattern of Tony's|
|Adrian in the zone down low|
|Closing out the day|
|Love my 9140 Brownie and big water|
It was a trip of scarcity as to fish catching was concerned, but rich in friendship and fellowship. Adrian, Steve, Tony and I had a wonderful time hanging out with each other. We also were able to connect with BC friends including Will Bush who is an incredible tyer of classics and rep for Lagurtan; Aaron Lowe who is an awesome long rod (16'6" B and W) long line caster and tyer of the fishiest/buggiest small flies around, Allison Oliver who is now the Skeena region steward for the Native Fish Society and all around fishy gal, Katy Watson - Will's girlfriend, fishing guide, adventurer, Spey O Rama competitor, talented tyer, and passionate steelheader.
Of course we plan to return to Steelhead Paradise next year, God willing, with prayers for the recovery of wild runs in the Skeena system and beyond. I am hopeful the current trends are just a low point in steelhead population cycles and that the resiliency of these mighty fish reigns.