Summer Love Steelhead
By Tracey John Hittel, Kitimat, BC Canada
It is 6:30 AM, I am just getting into a deep sleep and
I hear a ringing in my dreams; what is it? I awake to
the sound of the phone, "Hello."
"Are you ready to go?" an anxious voice on the other end
asks. It is Darcy, he has slept little all night, waiting
for the morning sun to rise. He spent yesterday on the
Skeena system fly-fishing for Steelhead, landing five
fish - all in one run. Archie was also on the Skeena
tributary yesterday, he landed eleven, using both wet and
We get to the river mid-morning and creep up to the top of
the tail-out. Slippery rocks make it difficult to be silent,
but Darcy is adamant we do so. The river is in excellent
condition. We talk shortly about the flies and tip we are
going to present, I am using the black General Practioner (GP)
fishing a wet tip, Darcy is using a Coal Car with a dry line,
Darcy starts casting his single-hand eight weight first, I
follow in behind. I make my first cast, a poor one. The rivers
edge offers us little room to cast, dense trees are behind us.
My second cast is better, fifteen feet from shore. The fly
swings downstream, BOOM! The fly line screams out of the rod
guides and I see red. I am into by backing instantly. No need
for a hook set, this fish is hot. After three jumping
presentations this fish is spent and we are taking its picture,
a Summer-run Steelhead, fresh from the ocean. The feeling is
like none other, adrenalin is still flowing through my body.
Darcy congratulates me, and we start again. Another ten feet
down the run and like clockwork, I swing my fly into the
downstream riffle, another fresh steelie is on and pulling
like an Alaskan dog team. I struggle to get a strong foothold
on the large round rocks beneath the waters surface, I secure
myself and another fish is digitized, a large male
approximately 18-20 lbs. Darcy is switching flies as he
looks upstream in a half smile. He goes to a greased liner,
the Bomber is his fly. Minutes later, he looks back "I just
had a tap," he has a player. Darcy casts again and again,
switching flies to trick this steelie into a take. Nothing
hits, he moves on. I switch to a red GP, make a long cast,
and mend my line. My fly line stops in mid swing, I lift
the rod tip up, and ZZZZ the line screams, my Scientific
Angler 7/8 reel is working very well, good thing. Another
fish is digitized. We finish the run and sit down and chat.
My sink tip is brand new, just purchased from Fish Tales
in Terrace. Dave the fly-fishing expert suggested this line,
medium sink tip. He tells me that it is not important to fish
Steelhead on the rivers bottom, I am a believer, thanx Dave.
We travel up river to another run, it looks as good as the
last. As etiquette is very important in this sport, Darcy
starts first. He has on a creation Arch has mimicked, the
Purple Austrian. Darcy is using his subsurface tactic. He
makes a long cast, Fish on! Again we see the explosive action
of a fresh Steelhead, its bright silver body reflecting off
the suns rays. It is, summer love Steelhead. The monkey is
off his back, the first one of the day is all behind us now.
We take the picture and the flies are back in the water.
We work down six feet and Darcy is into another fish, a
teenager. I switch to a Rolled Muddler. "Heh Darcy," I say,
as he looks back, my rod is doubled over, a double header.
I actually had enough time to take a picture of Darcys fish
while still fighting my own, then landing it and taking its
picture, simply incredible!
We are starting to lose count on the numbers of steelhead
hooked and landed. It is getting to be noon and we sit on
the end gate of the truck, satisfied about the morning. The
birds are singing, the trees are turning to the red, orange
and yellow colors of autumn. Everything is perfect. We head
up river and see a vehicle parked along side the road, its
Archies truck. We go up to the run he is fishing, Ebony, his
trusty canine companion, is giving a early warning sign that
someone is coming. We gesture at each other and he walks out
of the water. We saunter up to the master, trying to conceal
our excitement from the morning happenings. We cannot hold
it any longer, "We landed eight fish in two runs. How about
you?" He smirks and almost, graciously announces, "Eleven,
in this run alone!" We join Arch in the run and it is no
more than the second cast and I feel a bump. Arch in the
background gestures, he had a hit as well. I am using the
black GP. I make another cast, follow it up with a upstream
mend, and the water boils near my flyline, the line straightens
out and the fight is on. My fish is running, hard. I cannot
stop it, I can only hang on and wait for the line to stop
leaving the reel. It finally does. The steelhead runs at me
and bursts out of the water. My line is slack, I know what
has happened. This Steelhead beat me up, but we all had a
chance to have a look at this one. "Big shoulders on that
one, eh fellas," I say. They both agree. We finish the run
and decide to make our way back to Terrace for a hot meal
and some great conversation.
We will be back tomorrow. Archie is staying the night, he
knows there is only a three week period for dry lining
aggressive summer Steelhead.
It is 6 AM and I am up before the alarm, so is Darcy. We
speak little and clean up before heading upstairs for a
fresh cup of brew. The temperatures dropped below freezing
during the night, the outside air is brisk. We decide on
heading to the upper section of river first, salivating as
we pass the runs that produced so well the day before. We
wade into the virgin water; as yet, untouched by man. Mist
is rising off the rivers floor and the roar of the canyon
below breaks the silence. Darcy is dry line fishing today.
He has on the Wiffle Cricket dry fly, very popular up here
in Skeena country. I am using the patterns the same as
yesterday, GP's and Muddlers.
A large boulder in the middle of the rapids, produces a slow
piece of water and a resting spot for Steelhead. Darcy's dry
skates into the zone and a large male surfaces hitting his
fly, he pulls in excitement, there is no response. I cannot
believe what has just happened, a sight that has to be seen
first handed. He casts again, as the fly enters the flat
water, the fish takes aggressively. Darcy fights the current
as well as this early morning Steel, they are both exhausted.
A quick pic and the fish dashes out to the middle of the run,
hidden in the gin clear water.
I often wonder what a Steelhead thinks as he passes up a dry
fly. Darcy tells me they like to use their body and/or tail
to sink the insect then as it falls to the bottom of the
river, they eat it. Very interesting facts when it comes to
dry lining for steelhead.
Another method we found that is deadly for dry line fishing
is the twitch and skate method. After making a short cast,
not ten feet or more, hold your rod tip up and slowly twitch
the rod at the same time skate your fly from a 30 degree angle
to to shore. Take note as your fly dances along the waters
surface, making for a live presentation. We hit Steelhead
right at the shore using this method. I think what is
happening is that Steelhead see this fly from mid-river,
follow it downstream and attack when they get close to shore.
This has happened time and time again and produces the same
result. I plan on mastering this technique before the
During our two day fishing trip we landed thirteen Steelhead,
lost two. An outing that we are proud of. Oh ya, we exchanged
numbers with Arch, he more than doubled our count in as many
days, using wet and dry methods. I talked to Darcy last night,
he was busy packing for the weekend, guess where he is going!
When it comes to Summer Skeena Steelhead many methods are in
use. I will describe a few that we find work well. I was
using a wet tip line and sinking wet flies. I stuck to the
General Practitioner, red and black. I also sunk a Muddler
pattern which was a very good producer. The hooks were in
sizes 4 to 1/0, depending on water clarity. I stuck with
a tapered leader, 15lb belly to a 12lb tippet. I would
swing all my flies from the 70 degree mark to the shore.
Most of the hits I received were in the 20-30 degree range.
The second method was the sub-surface technique. Coal Car
and the Purple Austrian were preferred patterns. Using a
twelve foot tapered leader with a floating line was our
method used. Skating these flies from 30 degrees to shore
was the stuff. 1 to 1/0 for hooks were our best producers.
Then there is the purest method known to fly anglers from
around the world and the most popular, the full blown dry
fly method. Not always our most productive method but by
far the most rewarding. Seeing a Steelhead rise or butt
its nose into your fly before the take is something to be
desired. We tried two methods with this set up. Method one
was skating your fly across the surface, very quickly into
the 30 degree range to shore. The second method was a short
downstream cast, twitching and skating your fly into shore.
The hottest fly was the Wiffle Cricket, bar none.
Whichever fly-fishing method you choose it all comes down
to finding the right water, stalking the waters, presenting
your fly, and a little luck. Happy fishing!
~ Tracey John Hittel
Note: Tracey is a Professional Guide, headquartered in Kitimat, British Columbia,
Canada. For more information on his services, visit his website at: