Everyone should have a place where fishing is what you do and all you do. No sight seeing, no museums or fancy dining, just fishing. Every waking moment is spent with a fly rod in hand in search of trophy fish. Every evening is spent reliving the day’s adventure, sharing special stories and dining on good hardy food before grabbing a few hours of sleep and starting the whole process over again. You wear the same clothes for days, shaving is forgotten and a hot shower feels like a little bit or heaven. For me that place is Smithers, BC and the rivers of the Skeena system.
Ten years ago I met an angler on the Deschutes who was visiting Oregon from his home in Germany. We shared a brief conversation and parted ways, only to become good friends. Five years ago my friend Stefan invited be to join him in BC and we have been chasing big steelhead there ever since. Each year I look forward to the long days and short nights that this type of fishing requires. I also look forward to renewing a friendship that has come to mean so much to me.
The Skeena River in north central BC empties a vast watershed of trophy steelhead streams the names of which are spoken with reverence and awe. The Bulkley, Babine, Copper, Kispiox and Skeena rivers are legendary and so are the fish that swim there. Wild fish of extraordinary strength and size challenge even the most skilled angler. These rivers and their fish bring anglers from all over the world. This past week they brought two friends together again.
We started our 2007 German/American Steelheading Expedition on the Bulkley River with a drift from Telkwa to Smithers. In 2006 we were unable to do this section of the river as the Telkwa River was out, reducing the Bulkley to a glacial flow. This year with the Skeena, Kispiox, and Babine blown out as low level snow melted, many anglers were trying their luck on the Bulkley. We had plenty of company on the Bulkley on this lower drift. We also had trouble connecting with any fish. I did manage one hook up with a short line release on a very hot fish. Stefan checked the water resistance of my two-way radios. Good thing we both carry spare dry clothes. A tough start to the trip, but things would improve.
The next few days we drifted sections higher up in the system and found fewer anglers and a few more fish. I even had some success with dry flies skated on the surface. The Bulkley’s fish are very surface oriented and fishing a skater will bring exciting grabs. Water temps were in the 42-44 degree range but fish still came to the top for my Skate’n Fool. Air temps were not much warmer. With the wind and occasional rain the old JetBoil got a work out making hot soup and tea for lunch.
The low level snow that I mentioned earlier was a constant threat to our visit to the Kispiox as it melted and brought that river up. When we arrived at the bridge that crosses the river near the village of Kispiox our spirits dropped, but the river hadn’t. We continued on to our camp and learned that a small creek that feeds the Kispiox was responsible for the level and off color flow. We decided to try a short drift above the offending creek. We should have returned to the Bulkley. The flow was too fast to swing a fly in most of our favorite drifts. We retreated to the Kispiox Steelhead Camp to plan our next move.
We decided to try a drift on the lower Bulkley below China Creek. Several other anglers had decided the same thing but we still managed a good day of fishing with Stefan finding a fish of 38” and me pulling one from deep cover of about 37”. Stefan also landed a smaller fish. My fish came from a deep slot under a blown down fur tree on the far bank while perched on a very small patch of gravel. With no room to move and few options to land the fish, I was very lucky to bring him to hand. One air-born display with only a few feet of line off the tip of the rod was most spectacular. In the end the big fish joined me on my ledge for a quick photo and then continued on his way.
The following day with the Kispiox still too high to fish we tried our luck on the main Skeena. Visibility was not too good and the Colombia sized river was not interested in sharing her fish with us. We would have to find some other place for my last day of fishing.
Lucky for me the colder weather brought the Kispiox down and although it was not perfect, it was fishable. We planned a short drift on a favorite section before heading back to Smithers and a last shot at the Bulkley. The flow was still high on the Kispiox but she did give each of us a nice fish and I had another good fight with a big fish before the hook came free. It was time to leave.
In years past it has been a tradition with us to fish a long run on the outskirts of town. Stefan fishes sink tips and I fish a dry fly. Stefan always suggests I bring a tip line, and I always say “I’m fishing one skater only!” Each year I’ve been lucky to hook at least two fish no matter what the water conditions are. Now I don’t always land these fish, in fact I’ve only landed two now, but it’s fun to fish the skater knowing win or lose it’s tradition. After I released the fish this year Stefan said he liked traditions that involved him landing a fish…
And so ended another adventure in BC. Stefan returned to the camp on the Kispiox for another week of fishing and I returned to my motel for pack for the flight home. As the plane flew up the Bulkley Valley I could see places were the Bulkley had shared her treasures. They looked different from the air. I had thought about that one morning as an Osprey had been watching me fish. I wondered what I looked like from his perch. Could he see a fish holding just outside the reach of my cast? Was my method of fishing interesting to him? He seemed to be intently watching me. Did he understand what I was doing? I now looked down and spotted the nest and the resting bird. He was just a small speck below, but I knew what it was. We had shared a morning on the river and we were now friends. Much like Stefan and I. Good friends who enjoy sharing special places and building good memories. Memories that will hold us until we meet again on the banks of a steelhead stream.