19 Nov Fishing Skeena Country: Guide Vlog
One of my favourite things to do each Fall is venture into northern BC and swing flies for the wild steelhead in the Skeena River system. It’s as much about the journey as the destination. Driving from Vancouver up to Smithers has become a ritual of sorts, I love the drive and enjoy taking in all the sites along the way. I drink a ton of coffees, make lots of phone calls and build the anticipation of the trip over the 1200 kilometre drive from Vancouver to Smithers. Below is a little Vlog I put together from this year’s steelhead trip to Smithers, fly fishing the Bulkley River and the Kispiox River.
FISHING THE BULKLEY RIVER
I rolled into Smithers on October 4th, the leaves were a bright yellow and Fall was in full swing in northern BC, it was just about perfect. Having pushed the trip back a few days due to high water I was happy to see the river in some decent shape. It certainly wasn’t perfect, higher than I was expecting and with a good amount of colour. By early October the Bulkley River is generally fairly clear, with overall good clarity and dropping. This wasn’t the case this year. After a long wet Summer in northern BC the water tables were saturated and the river levels throughout the entire Skeena system were all higher than usual.
Fly fishing the Bulkley River near Smithers BC
That said, the conditions were considerably better than they were in late September, when the Bulkley River had a blown out and was relatively unfishable. We were in for a good few days, conditions were clearing, there was no rain in the forecast and the cooler evenings would bring the river into better shape over the next 48 hours. We fished a lot of water and only encountered a few Bulkley River steelhead. The run size was small, the river conditions weren’t optimal and the angling effort was minimal. There was lots of sitting in the jetboat, chatting, having a few beers and then some fishing. We’ve been lucky enough to do this trip for 15+ years now, so catching fish has become a smaller component of the enjoyment of things over the years. We still like catching the odd one but not at the feverish pace we once did.
The lower Bulkley River, downstream from Smithers offers some spectacular backdrops.
Then the rain started again. We knew it wasn’t going to blow the river out but the Telkwa River started to let go. The Telkwa flows into the Bulkley upstream from Smithers. It drains a large portion of the Telkwa Range and it is one of the rivers that affects the Bulkley and its clarity the most. It can really mess things up for the sections of the Bulkley from Smithers down to the confluence of the Skeena. It was doing just that.
The confluence of the Telkwa River and the Bulkley River in Telkwa BC. The Telkwa is flowing in from the left in this photo, bringing a big muddy mess along with it.
When it comes to steelhead fishing in northern BC you have to come ready for anything. Expect the worst and hope for the best as they say. This certainly wasn’t the worst, we’ve had it much worse than this, but it’s always good to have a contingency plan when on a Skeena steelhead trip. There was pretty minimal angling pressure throughout the Skeena system with Covid-19 and the US border closure. It was a tough season for guides and lodges in the region but nice for the recreational anglers from BC, who suddenly had a lot of the Bulkley River to themselves.
After rescuing some friends who were drifting the Copper River we decided to change up our plan and travel on. The Copper River flows from its headwaters in the Telkwa Range (same area as the Telkwa River) but flows north and drains into the Skeena River just upstream from Terrace. The Copper is a well known steelhead river that gets a fair amount of pressure on the lower sections but much less in the upper. That was the plan of the guys we had headed out to rescue, to float the upper section of the Copper River, where few dare to go. There are steep gradient sections of river and some technical rowing. The float was to be 5 days but with rising river levels they had sent a satellite message out saying they couldn’t row any further and were looking for a pickup. It was a fun day driving out to get them, all in all we drove 600 kilometres round-trip from Smithers.
Driving the Kleanza Creek road up to the Copper River.
FISHING THE KISPIOX RIVER
Time for a new adventure and head down to one of our favourite rivers on the entire Skeena, the Kispiox.
The Kispiox had been high and coloured most of the Fall as well, it wasn’t in perfect shape but we didn’t care, it feels as good as home there and it was great to spend a few days hiking through the bush and fishing some nice water. Again, there wasn’t a big return of steelhead in the Kispiox this year, but we were blessed enough to find a few. The Kispiox is a technical river to fish, with some large steelhead. It takes time to figure out and large sections of it run through reserve lands. It is a treat to be able to spend some time here each Fall, swinging flies for these magnificent fish.
A lot of casts later we final find a wild steelhead to take.
Very lucky to hold on to such a beautiful wild steelhead for a few moments.
STEELHEAD SPEY GEAR I USE
One of the most common questions I get is what kind of gear am I running when I’m steelhead fishing. I keep it simple, I’m not a gear nut, it never had been a focus of mine. My personal Skeena / Bulkley setup is a Pieroway Renegade #9 spey rod with a Skagit Max 600 grain head. It’s a pretty simply set up with slick shooter for running line and an Islander LX 4.0 fly reel.
Gear isn’t important, how you fish it is. What I do find extra important in having a good selection of is sink tips. My favourite tips are MOW tips, they come in a variety of length combinations and with a variety of sinking rates. The two tips I always carry is the 5/5 T-8 and the 5/5 T-11. They really cover everything I like to do. I don’t like fishing anything heavier than a T-11, if I need to get down a bit deeper I’ll move to a slightly weighted fly. Sink tips I find are the difference in steelhead fishing more than anything else. I’m more inclined to worry about my tip more than my fly. Any black and blue fly with catch steelhead in northern BC, so don’t get too fussed over fly selection. Again, it’s all how you fish it.
My Islander LX 4.0 fly reel with a Pieroway Renegade #9 spey rod.
About the Author
Yos Gladstone is the owner operator of Chromer Sport Fishing, a guiding company and booking agency based in British Columbia, Canada. A full-time salmon & steelhead guide, Yos spends 200+ days a year on the water fishing, guiding and hosting trips.