March on the Skeena,
By Tracey John Hittel
We have now begun our season here in Skeena country. The Steelhead are
coming in nice bunches and our friend from the UK, flyangler Paul Crowson
was nailing them on the upper Kalum stretches. A low river was what we
received and it made for very sweet fly water. We fished many runs and
tailouts and found that allot of our hookups were staggered throughout the
seven mile drift. The Steelhead we landed were winters as well as fresh
runs. Large Dolly Varden Char, as well as aggressive Cutthtroat trout and
loads of resident Rainbows were all taking the same fly. We experimented
with a flybox of ammo but we kept on returning to the same fly.
Day 1: We get a early start, Paul lands a nice Cutty early in the AM. We
are bundled up tight, it is March 22 and the weather is rainy and chilly. We
see a cow and calf moose cross the river below us, the mother unsure of
the structures upstream of her. She quietly crosses the deep river with the
calf and they melt into the bush. We are in complete silence as we
meander around yet another corner with a fishy looking tailout. We drift past
the run and pull out below. Paul and I enter the frigid water and pull the
16 foot 3-man Oddessy Raft to shore. As I have fished this run so many times I
walk Paul to the top the run as if it were myself fishing this remarkable
Paul makes one cast and swings his fly into position, he is doing exactly
the proper thing a good Steelheader would do. I tell him, "Do
the same thing again, that was excellent." Paul makes another cast a
clone of the first and he lifts his rod, ZZZZ, the drag is screaming. Before I
could say anything the fish exploded, fully out of the water, silver on its
side. It's a fresh one I tell him. Paul is pumped, the Steelhead runs
right at him trying to slack line him, but Paul strips line by hand and
the fish is still on. He gathers his line and reels the remainder on the
The fish takes another run and finally decides to make its way out of the
fast water. We take a digital picture, high five one another and off it
goes. Pauls first BC Steelhead, a respectable 10 lb female.
Day 2: We hit Trout and Char all day and lose count of the numbers. We
find a very small creek flowing into the river giving it some colour. We
decide to pull out and fish it, as it looks supreme. Paul lands at
least three in this run and we take some more pics, the evening is
perfect. While wading in the creek there was a water temperature
difference from the creek to the mainstem. This is a spot that
was holding spawning Cutthroat and I attached a picture
so you can see its colours and of course it's a nice size!
Day 3: We start early and plan to fish till 7PM, this
was going to be our longest day, and Paul was adament that
he wanted another taste of that Steelhead power. The morning
was serene and the weather was very mild. We had sunglasses
on all day. A cold evening brought clear, sunny skies and
we could see every mountain top in eyesight. Each hidden
corner we drifted around, revealed another white snow capped
peak, different from the last.
Paul looks at me and says, "This is Steelheadheaven, isn't it,"
I crack a smile and he knows what I am thinking, he is so
right. We decide to fish a stretch of water that splits
the river in two and then spills into a very
nice trough. Paul enters the bottom of the run and wades
to his ankles.
He needs go no further as the bottom is out of eyesight two feet further. Paul
hooks a chrome Steelhead, again a jumper and a very large girth it indeed
has. I comment, "this is your biggest yet". Paul has the fish within six
feet of the rocky shore and his flyrod goes straight. The fish is gone!
We look at each other. What happened? We reel in the limp line and the fly
is gone, broken at the knot closest to the fly. We had commented earlier on
our difference in knots when it came to attaching the monofilament to the
fly. I prefer the clinch knot, Paul was using the buffer loop knot. For
some reason Paul landed more fish than his guide and I am not positive but
I think it was the knot and the action the fly possessed when tied in this
manner. Of course Paul always fished in front of me, but I did get some
chances to hook just as many fish, I guess you'll have to try both and see
We fished the lower stretch and fished a popular run that
we enjoyed the day before and landed a nice Trout. Paul worked the run that
flowed against a tree and made a very nice tailout. As he worked it down
he looked back and said, "I just had a take!" Another cast and I saw his
line tighten, "You got one!" Paul pulled back and nothing. It must be
those darn trout again. Paul swung the fly again in the tailout. A small tug
and the hook was set. This was a very nice steelie that he played and a
patient flyfisherman was awarded.
We enjoyed great fishing, conversation, and of course awesome food at the
lodge. Also the peace and quiet was a excellent closure to a starry night
and a warm bed.
We have had a very big rain. The rivers have come up three feet and
are on the downward climb. I have also been chatting with the local
Haisla Indians and the oolichan run is like none in the last ten years.
This to me is the start of a large run of fresh Steelhead and Salmon.
[Publisher's Note: Oolichan are one of 12 species belonging to the
smelt family Osmeridae. They are a small silvery fish, 15 to 20 cm
long, and 3 to 5 cm deep. The scientific name is Thaleichthys
pacificus. Scientists believe they live to be up to 5 years
old and an adult oolichan weighs about 40-60 gm.
The oolichan were known to be the "salvation" or "saviour"
fish as they were the first fish to arrive in the river
after a long cold winter when most of their stored food
supplies had been depleted. First Nations from northern
California to the south Bering Sea along coastal North
America fished for oolichan each spring in rivers close
to where they occupied the land. The oolichan and/or the
oolichan grease was traded with neighboring nations.]
Have a good one.
~ Tracey John Hittel
Kitimat BC Canada
Credits: oolichan photo and information from the
Our Man In Canada Archives