The first steelhead nose their way up into the main stem skeena in the first weeks of august. Chrome as can be, and great biters, anglers target these gems on the lower river bars. Headed for the upper tributaries, these forerunners of the steelhead migration have the farthest to go, and so are regarded as some of the strongest fish of the season. Open to a selection of just about any fly you can think of, whether it be a classic married wing, rabbit string leech, or the newly developed intruder, they show much love to all.
Photos Courtesy of Rob Vodola,
A little later and a little colder and many more fish around, september is the migration month. The main stem skeena is plugged with fish, and many of the tributaries already have healthy showings of numbers, which are only an indication of what is to come. With this many fish around its hard to miss, the water temps are still above 50 degrees, and anything you put in the water is essentially prey. Although fishing with a sinktip can be more effective, many choose to stick with a dry line and get their hookups on top. Something about watching a boil, wake, or nose of a steelhead taking what is your fly swinging on top, in the film, or at most mere inches under the surface, is something that cannot be matched.
Here is the prawn that took that rather large buck. Sparse but lots of profile, and ORANGE!
As the last few days of september closed down, the trees began to grab their full fall colours, the temps dropped, and the rivers supposedly cleared. But this year, that was different story. Heavy rain fall in the upper watersheds of a few certain rivers, caused major flooding, putting them out and unfishable for up to a week at a time. While some were overflowing and brown, others were gin clear and low, being on the other side of the immense valley floor, their banks remained dry of any rainfall.
After hearing stories of the great fishing on the skeena and its tributaries up to this point, it was my turn finally to begin the fourteen hour drive north from my home in Vancouver to the great rivers of the north. Now filled with fish, that had pushed in with the high water the week before, I was more than a little excited to wet a line. Sadly news of another rainfall came, and our eyes were glued to the water graphs on our computer screens the night before our departure. The rivers began their drop in level, but would they be clear, and would they be fishable? Only god new, and we were determined to make it to Smithers by the next evening. Rod's, lines, reels, flies, and waders packed. We were off the next morning. Driven by extreme levels of Tim Hortons coffee, and breakfast sandwiches, aswell as the tunes cranked in the fishing-mobile nothing could stop us.
We rolled into Smithers that night to a bregade of trucks, cars, campers, jet boats, drift boats, and rafts headed the other way..... Was the effort of driving 1200km a waste? Pulling into the parking stall of our campground we were met by a friendly face, and explained to that in the few hours of fishing that evening, a fish had been contacted. Relief came across me, now knowing that they were here, and were still biting.
The next two days found us on the river, high and fairly dirty, with only a foot and a bit of clarity, we were discouraged but continued to fish. Water conditions were getting better over the course of the 2nd day, and by that evening things were looking a little bit better.
The next four days to come were some of the best fishing I have ever experienced on a fly. Events such as hook ups on my first casts of the morning, to last casts of the evening, to landing lots of fish, to 'hooking' BIG fish. Unfortunately 'walter' got the best of me, but just the grab, and getting a glimpse of him, was enough to give me shivers.
The fish of october really take a liking to dark, leechy flies. Speaking to a biologist weeks prior to the trip over the phone. His explination was that the lampreys that live in the rivers up north are 2-4.5" inches long and are black with a grey-ish, blue sheen. When eating flesh or sucking on eggs these little guys become immobile and unable to swim. Once letting go of the feed item they resume swimming up the shorline. So to me there is more than enough reasoning and explanation as to why many fish are taken on the 'turn' and 'dangle' during the swing. This combined with the fact that steelhead are already a combination of aggressive, predators, and in my eyes sometimes flat out dumb, it makes for a good choice of fly.
As days get shorter, the temperature drops and the waters get colder november is a month of probing. The energy levels of the fish slow way down as they begin to hunker into their overwintering area's where they will take refuge for the next four to six months. Heavier flies, tips and lines are the standard to get down to these fish. But with any rule, they are made to be broken, and there are exceptions, people have taken fish in 38 degree water on a dry fly. Though not the norm, anything is possible with these magnificent creatures.
So there is a wrap to the 2010 summer steelhead season for me. All in all, it was amazing, filled with accomplishments, learning, and heartbreaks. I thank every one of the steelhead caught on one of my flies for blessing me, my friends and anyone who fished them for the opportunity.
ON TO THE WINTER STEELHEAD OF 2011!!!!!!!
More flies, grabs, hero shots, tying and fishing instruction to come.