Our Man In Canada
June 19th, 2000

Heaven Is A Steelhead, Part 2

By Joe Brooks

Insurance man Moses Nunnally and I had flown from our homes in Richmond, Virginia, to Seattle, Washington, where we'd met Bill McGuire. Bill is director of research and development for Eddie Bauer Outfitters of Seattle, and he knows the Northwest thoroughly.

In Bill's car we headed for the Canadian border, which we crossed near Sumas, Washington, and picked up the Trans-Canada Highway. At of the town of Cache Creek, British Columbia, we turned onto Highway 97 and continued north to Prince George. From there we headed westward on Highway 16.

Five miles south of the town of Smithers, we took off on a dirt road. Forty-five miles later we reached Babine Lake. Ejnar Madson and Jim Clark, owners of Norlakes Lodge, were waiting at a dock with a launch, in which we rode to camp, located 20 miles down the 115-mile-long lake.

The Babine River, which we were going to fish, slips out of the lake some four miles below the lodge, at the Indian village of Babine. The river is wide up there, with long shallow stretches. Then it narrows and runs faster as it nears a weir three miles downstream. Below the weir it rattles along through breathtaking country for 20 miles and on into an almost impenetrable canyon. It then enters the great Skeena River, main artery for steelheads coming inland from the ocean. The Kispiox and the Babine are two of the Skeena's most famous tributary rivers.

From start to finish the Babine runs for about 60 miles, in a generally westward direction.

The Babine's steelheads average 15 pounds, but many are considerably heavier - the females as big as 15 pounds, some males to 35.

circa 1968

The biggest steelhead reported from the Babine was a 47 -pound fish taken in a net by the Babine Indians. The largest ever taken on a rod and reel went 31 1/4 pounds and was caught on bait by Wendell Henderson of Kelseyville, California. Sever other anglers have taken Babine steelheads to 30 pounds, and fish estimated to have been in the 40-pound class have been lost.

The Babine's largest fly-caught steelhead weighed 26 pounds and was taken by Jim Sharp of San Francisco, California, in 1958.

One day Jack Albright of Bellevue, Washington, representative for a ski-clothing manufacturer and I took the biggest steelheads we'd ever caught on flies. The fish were hooked in the same pool and within a few minutes of one another.

Jack and I had gone downstream several miles below the weir and had stopped to fish a fine-looking pool. It was about 600 feet long and 125 feet wide, with a good current throughout. I fished the head of the pool while Jack waded in a couple of hundred feet downstream from me.

He had just got into position when I saw him wave and point to the opposite bank. On the sandbar at the head of pool, we had seen within 10 feet of one another the tracks of wolves, moose, and grizzlies. Right away I thought, grizzly!

But it was a moose that Jack had spotted, a majestic animal whose antler spread must have been at least 55 inches. Eventually the bull turned and faded into the dense underbrush.

The moose was a good omen. Jack and I were into fish right away.

I made a short cast across-current, heard a splash, and got a strike that made me jump. That steelhead must have been lying just below the surface.

The Best of OutdoorLife

It was a good fish, and he zipped downstream as if he were going to tear Jack's legs off. But he jumped halfway between Jack and me and fell back with the thump, tossing water far and wide. Then he made a run of about 100 feet, stopped, and hung there.

I edged to shore, keeping a tight line, and walked downstream reeling as I went. Then the fish raced upstream, fresh and flying, and jumped right opposite me. I got a good look at him, and I knew that this was the biggest steelhead I'd ever had on. Jack saw him, too, and came running.

I finally beached that fish, which weighed 20 pounds. ~ Joe Brooks

*Publisher's Note: The above story is by the late Joe Brooks, written for OutdoorLife magazine in 1968. This excerpt is from a wonderful book, The Best of OutdoorLife, One Hundred Years of Classic Stories. We thank Cowles Creative Publishing, Inc. for use permission. ~ dlb

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