Steelhead Camp

Pull your waders off and prop your feet up by the fire. Steelhead Camp is a collection of adventures from across the Pacific Northwest and Canada. Steelhead anglers are a special kind of crazy, but you already knew that.

German/American Steelhead Expedition 2005

Joel La Follette - Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Dad gave me a ride to the airport. Glad he had the truck as the gear wouldn’t have made it into his Boxster. I had my WaterMaster in a roller bag to make getting through customs in Canada easier. Frankly I was impressed with the little amount of gear I was able to get by on. I cut back on both fishing gear and clothing. I might come home smelling a little gamey but that’s the price you pay.

Survived the first scare when they weren’t going to let me travel without my passport (which is being renewed, and taking longer than expected). Finally cleared to fly and through security with rods, flies and reels.

Arrived in Vancouver BC on time and with all my gear. Rechecked bags and headed to the Smithers gate to find Stefan. Finally spotted him sleep walking down the concourse. We had plenty of time to catch up on family and news while we waited for our flight to Smithers. We did notice that there was an earlier flight that we could have made. Will have to keep that in mind for next time.

 The flight into Smithers was beautiful. I sat on the left side of the plane and watched the setting sun light up the hundreds of mountain lakes like little puddles of silver mercury. Snow capped peaks with their glaciers birthing small mountain streams fed these lakes and cut deep canyons that led to larger rivers or Fiords then to the sea. The landscape that passed below was both rugged and beautiful.

As we enter the Bulkley valley I started to recognize landmarks from my previous trip. We passed over the Telkwa River and I could see it was dumping a little glacier melt into the Bulkley, but the main river looked quite fishable. Below the Aspens and Cottonwood trees glowed in the fading light. Fall had come to the valley and it was in full splendor. My anticipation grew. What would tomorrow bring?


Got an early start and headed to Telkwa after dropping Stefan’s rental car at the take out in Smithers. Light rain was falling but the Bulkley looked to be fishable. It was quite low but did have some color to it. Water temp was 50. We headed down to the meadow run and Stefan stopped in the run above while I pulled my boat up to the high bank and rigged up my dry line rod.      

Stefan radioed and said he had landed a nice 8 pound fish in the run above on a leech fish deep. I fished through the meadow run with a dry line and skater raising four fish without hooking even one. The takes were very timid. Stefan came down and fished through, briefly hooking one fish in the tailout.

Rain fell and it got very wet and chilly. By afternoon we had seen a few other anglers but it was not too crowded. Stefan found a nice 10 pound fish in a deep slot in front of Serge’s cabin and I lost a fish in the boulder patch downstream. At the Coal Vein I finally landed a nice buck around 8 pounds. At the farm field Stefan took a very small (18”) Morice fish. We took out in Smithers right at dark.


Got a late start as we hit Oscar’s for permits and fuel for the JetBoil. Launched just above China Creek and drifted to the camp above Suskwa Creek. We had to pack the boats down a steep rocky bank to get to the river. Water was cloudy with the visibility about 3-4 feet.  Rained off and on all day.

Battled a nice fish on a dry to a short line release so no photo. Took a very nice hen of 34” at the Red Roof Run. Stefan rowed across the river to take a photo for me. He had raised one fish to a skater but it failed to returned.

Fall colors were breath taking even with the rain. Saw a very large eagle nest and tried to take a photo. Very nice looking water on this drift, would love to fish it again.

Ran into Kelly the Tioga reel guy at the Alpenhorn. Frank Moore and his wife are staying at their place on the Kispiox. He reported the Kispiox got some fish early. I hope so!


Launched at Walcott and drifted to Quick. Water is up and off color. Temp is 48. Weather was cloudy with rain and sun breaks. Very slow day of fishing. I took one very small fish on a skater at Goose Poop Island. Had a very nice hot soup lunch thanks to the JetBoil. Saw two foxes and several deer.


River is clearing. Water temp is 48. Drifted Telkwa to Smithers again. Watched six jet fighters doing mid-air refueling directly overhead. Turns out the VP was heading up to the Silver Hilton for some fishing. My tax dollars at work!

Very slow fishing today. Not much to show for our efforts. Met Serge Mazerand a musician and river rat. He has a beautiful log home right on the river. He gave both of us a CD of his piano music intertwined with river sounds. He says he just sits at the piano letting the river inspire the music. He also is a great lover of saltwater fishing and Christmas Island in particular. (Note: I've been playing his CD and if you can't be on the water, this is the next best thing! Wonderful music!)

I had a coyote walk up on me at the Coal Seam. He finally noticed me and blasted off knocking much of the bank down on me. Very big surprise for him for sure.

Stefan finally got a very small Morice fish at the farm meadow just before we rowed out in the dark.


After breakfast and shopping for food we headed up to the Kispiox Steelhead Camp. Helmet has done some work on the place since my last visit. A new shower house and log cabin have been added. Dropped the gear and headed upriver. Stopped at Dorothy’s and dropped off the cookies Stefan had brought from Germany. Quick stop then up to fish.

Launched at Cullin Creek. Weather was clearing with fog patches and some high clouds. Water was perfect color and 44 degrees.  Many boats and anglers on the water. It one point I had the whole Italian navy float by in front of me. We did fish most of the places we wanted to. I hooked into a very nice fish of about 12 pounds at the same location I had a fish turn me loose two years ago. It was nice to redeem myself. Stefan lost one fish in the tailout below me but that was it for the day. Took out at the campground.

The Sportsman’s lodge is closed and for sale so our dinner plans have changed. Soup, crackers, tuna and cream cheese was the fair and it was wonderful! A better meal couldn’t have been asked for. After all we were on the Kispiox!


Very cold last night. Had to get up and put on a fleece shirt and cap! Started the fire and got back in bed.

Again drifted Cullin Creek to Dorothy’s. One guide was launching as we pulled away. I fished behind Stefan at the first pool and as he finished up in the tailout he said he could smell one. I made a few more casts and hooked a nice fish from behind the tailout rock. Stefan had the hot hand today landing three nice fish and one small one. I lost a very hot fish after a five minute battle. Landed a nice Dollie Varden. A beautiful but chilly day on the water. Dinner at the Hummingbird in Hazelton was very good.


Cloudy day. River is dropping and clear. Water temp is 44. Put in at Cullin Creek again, hoping the dropping water conditions will have moved some new fish in. Lost a fish in the same spot I hooked one yesterday. Hit the slot three clicks down and followed Stefan through. He lost what seemed to be a very large fish after a throbbing short run. Watched how Stefan was fishing the slot and changed my tactics. Second cast stopped and I set up on a very large fish. Stefan scampered out of the way of the charging fish while I just tried to hang on. Finally the fish stopped in fast water and held station. Working the rod from different angles I finally tired the fish and slid him into the shallows. After photos and measurements he was released. 42 inches long and around 30 pounds of wild Canadian Steelhead. Stefan was as happy as I was and I couldn’t find a better friend to share the moment with. I’m afraid in my excitement I slapped him on the back so hard I knocked the air out of him! It was truly a magical moment.

I didn’t touch a fish the rest of the day but Stefan hooked and lost 4 before landing a small “Morice” fish.

A day I won’t soon forget. Although I’d like to forget the blackflies that have emerged and are causing a great deal of trouble. Cold, windy and black flies….and one big fish. What a perfect day!


Clouds with high overcast. Water is still dropping and 44.

 I was done fishing after the fish of yesterday but Stefan wanted to do the short drift again. We had the river to ourselves and we hit all the good spots. The blackflies were out in force and in trying to avoid being consumed I knocked my glasses off never to be seen again. Not a great way to end the trip.

Just before pulling off for the day Stefan took a nice fish from the camp slot. I followed and found a fish holding in nearly the same spot. We pulled out under a cloud of blackflies. Very nasty creatures!

Only took a few minutes to pack and head back to Smithers to look for gifts for the folks at home. Stefan came along and we hit a few shops. At Oscar’s we bought permits for the Bulkley as Stefan had a run he wanted to show me close to town.

Now the last thing I really wanted to do was to get back into those nasty damp waders I’d been living in all week, but that’s just what I did. We got to Stefan’s secret spot only to find three cars parked and four guys fishing through the run. I grabbed my dry line and a handful of skaters. Stefan said I should bring the sink tips but I said these would do me fine. We walked above the other anglers and started working down the run. A half hour into the run I felt my attention starting to wander. What was I doing here? I could be back at the Stork’s Nest taking a nice warm shower, then heading out for dinner, but no, I’m casting a dry flies in water worked over by four other fishermen who are just as silly as I am! That’s when the fish grabbed my fly.

 Blasting into the air a very large hen cartwheel down river and made my reel and heart sing. But just as fast as she had come, she was gone. I was left laughing out loud at the turn of events. It was time to end this trip. I started to reel up but stopped and started to cast again. A few more casts wouldn’t hurt. The thought had barely cleared my foggy mind when another fish grabbed my fly off the surface and made a mad dash for freedom. A very long and hard battle followed until finally the fish tired and was brought to hand. For its size this fish had fought a fight more like a fish twice its size. It was a perfect way to end the trip. I cut the fly from my tippet and turned to Stefan and with a laugh said “I’m done, and you can’t make me fish anymore!” He laughed and continued to cast his sink tip through the run until it was dark.

Dinner passed too quickly and soon it was time for Stefan to head back to the Kispiox. We promised to return and fish together again. We agreed this had been a fantastic trip, one to remember. He of course had another week to make memories; I’m headed back to work. I’ll miss this place and this friend, but not the blackflies…

Last Cast at Otter Run

Joel La Follette - Saturday, November 27, 1999

Fall is over and winter has begun. Officially I guess winter is still a few weeks away, and the weather is still fallish, but for me fall is over. The end of this, my favorite season, signals the end of my trips to the Deschutes in pursuit of steelhead. I have forsaken my trout rods since September so I might chase after this noble fish, but now the chase is done. It is only the middle of November, but other commitments will keep me at home until December. So this is my last day to fish for steelhead on the river until next year. I have tried to prepare for this day by planning trips to other locations that provide good sport during the months when steelhead are not in the Deschutes or the weather is poor. I hate to see this day come, but it is here. I will fish it and enjoy every minute until it is passed and I am heading home.

I do not mind fishing alone, especially on this day. It is easier to decide when the day has ended when you are alone and do not have to worry about another’s schedule. I have shared a few special days on the river this year with fishing partners I have gleaned from my list of friends. A fishing partner is not chosen lightly or without some consideration of the qualifications. Good companions do not require undue attention and are well equipped. They are self-sufficient, but will ask and give advice willingly. Understanding that the most important thing is just being on the river is another quality and probably the most valuable in a good partner. They are never late. Today though, I fish alone. The way I started the fall season and the way I shall end it.

When it is the last day of the season one chooses carefully the places to fish. They may have been productive all season or provided the most challenge. They may have the best view of the canyon walls as the sun sets, or placed where the sun leaves the water sooner providing more productive fishing time. The places I had fished on this day were a combination of all of these things. One spot remained. Otter Run I had named it, a name I alone use to identify this unremarkable section of river. A friend who guides this river had first brought me here, but he had no name for this place. I have on several occasions been run off by the family of otters that call it home. So Otter Run it became. Once the big male swam right up within a rods distance and snorted his displeasure at my interruption of their family outing. Many evenings I sat watching as they played and hunted crayfish and trout. Many evenings I had hooked steelhead here before being run off, but my score for fish landed at this spot was zero.

I had saved Otter Run for last; my last cast of the season would be made here. Undoubtedly I would be on the river after trout during the colder months, or looking for winter steelhead on another stream. Maybe a trip to warmer climes for bonefish or tarpon like the winter past. My rods would not sit idle, but the fall season would end here. I stepped in at the head of the run with a sense of anticipation, peace, and sadness.

As I worked down through the pool I tried to convince myself that I was glad this was the last time I’d be doing this for a while. I’d been up since before daylight and been in waders the whole time. My feet felt cold and clammy, and I wondered if it was from a leak or just perspiration. I would take care to check that during the off-season. There were many little projects to be done before heading out again. Reels and lines that needed cleaning and fly boxes to fill. I had broken a bootlace this morning and needed to replace those. Yes, I was glad to put an end to the Deschutes steelhead season. Many evenings I had left my trout rods in the truck; with trout feeding all around me I cast for steelhead. “Why do I do this?” I asked myself out loud. I had not had so much as a bump or boil to my fly all of today nor last evening for that matter. Yes, it was good to end the season, today, at this spot.

Halfway down the run I stopped and sat on a boulder that lies just below the surface of the water. As I inspected the fly attached to my tippet I noticed the last rays of sunlight were painting the top of the canyon walls letting me know that time was passing and this day would soon end. I cut the fly away and opened my flybox to deposit it and select another. I had fished it through some good water without a take and with little time or water left I wanted to have a fly I felt good about at the end of my line. As the Chinese would say, “This had been the year of the skunk,” green-butt skunk that is. This pattern had accounted for every steelhead landed and all but one hooked during the season. I had fished many others, but it was the one I was always using when the fish gods smiled. I choose one I had tyed the morning I left on this trip, normal except the wing was a mix of polar bear and arctic fox, a chilly combination.

The spey rod has become quite popular with steelheaders on this side of the pond, and we have adapted it well to the Deschutes and its run of summer steelhead. The rod I held was a far cry from the rod I used on my first steelhead, it’s at least seven feet longer for starters. Casting this fifteen-foot blend of graphite and cork has been a learning experience for me, and one I have not yet mastered. This last day of the season would be good practice if nothing else. With robotic motions I continued down the run. Lift, sweep, back cast, tap out, and mend. When I had cast all the line I could handle I’d reposition myself and start again. Lift, sweep, back cast, tap out, and mend, working to the tail of the run.

With daylight running out and the end of the season in sight I had resigned myself to another fishless day. It wasn’t the first, and no doubt would not be the last. That was not important. It had been a wonderful day to be on the river and had been a fair fall season of steelheading. I had set a new personal mark with a sixteen-pound summer fish in September and had finished off the season with several nice native fish. Now it was time for the last cast.

Lift, sweep, back cast, tap out, and mend. I followed the path of the fly line as it swung toward shore. The final cast, the last day. Tug. Tug. I let the loop of line slip from my fingers, tug, tug, tug. I raised the rod to the shoreline and set the hook. What followed can only be appreciated by someone who has been in this position. A chrome bright steelhead erupted from the water in cartwheels, seeming never to re-enter the water. Each explosion was followed by another as the fish headed back toward the Pacific, several hundred miles away. It seemed as if she’d never stop as the line melted away and the backing started through the guides. Gaining speed she stayed in the water for a brief run straight away then continued her airborne trek to the sea. Then she stopped. Holding in fast water it now became a matter of endurance. I gained line slowly, very slowly. Now she was off again in giant arcing leaps upstream as if trying to ascend some unseen waterfall. With each jump I lowered the rod taking care to not let her come down on a tight line. She was closer now and I was gaining line. Soon she would be carefully beached and the hook she tried so hard to shake would be removed. After a picture of her lying in the shallows and a few moments of admiration she would be allowed to swim free. I would have won this battle and ended the season as it should be ended.

With the tip of my rod now at the leader I led the fish toward the spot I had chosen for her surrender. It had been a gallant fight, but I had won. My prize would be a photo and memories of a splendid evening on the river during my favorite season. Hers would be freedom. I could see every ray in her fins and tail. A pink stripe that ran from her cheek down her side highlighted her chrome bright body. She slid toward the shore yielding to the pressure of the fly rod. Suddenly she bolted toward the center of the river leaping high in the air again in cartwheels above the water. Frantically I lowered the rod to keep the line from parting, but it was too late. I had felt the tippet part with the first jump, but the fish continued to leap, not knowing she was free, freedom on her terms.

It may seem hard to believe for some, but I did not curse or vocalize my feelings. I made no sound at all. As the last ripples that marked her departure faded I stood smiling at the turn of events. My question of why had been answered. One never knows what will happen when steelhead are the quarry and fall is in the air.

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