The Steelhead season.
It never can come too early for the hardcore steelhead bum. I wrote this little piece last year after an epic six week trip to BC's interior and thought I would share.
Cheers to BC steelhead!
Cheers! (April Vokey photo).
The Golden Valley
Whoever said that “running away from a problem is not the solution”, obviously never ran far enough away. Either that, or he was the asshole that was being run from.
Running was exactly what I was doing. Months of suffering from the common fisherman’s discomfort otherwise known as the “relationship migraine”, combined with other headaches courtesy of web designers, employers, and an over crowded house had all driven me to a near breaking point.
I packed my duffle, waders and Spey rod and met my two most reliable fishing buddies, my Water Master raft and my Toyota 4x4, outside in my driveway.
“Off we go boys….”
I didn’t know exactly where we were going, but I knew it was somewhere far up north to B.C.’s interior where wild Skeena steelhead were plentiful and equally as feisty as me.
The Skeena River is the second largest river in British Columbia and is one of the most famous Steelhead systems in the world. The Bulkley, Morice, Kispiox, Copper…. the list of tributaries seems endless and an unusually warm October was bringing some of the best fishing the Bulkley River (a mid sized river flowing through the small town of Smithers) had seen in years.
The Bulkley River on an October evening. (April Vokey photo)
A healthy gas station diet of energy drinks, chocolate, and beef jerky made the fourteen-hour drive to Smithers pass quickly, and the large statue of an old-school fisherman confirmed that I had reached my destination. The autumn trees swayed gently in the breeze, shaking loose their colourful leaves and creating a highway of gold. A snowy white mountain shone in the distance, lighting up the blue sky, easing my mind and ridding me of any negative energy; my emotional detox had begun.
Apparently the memo about the hot fishing had spread like an infectious plague throughout the tackle shops and fishing forum community. Fortunately, word had also spread to a majority of my “not so well-behaved” fishing friends who had opted to make the trip at the same time. It looked like my three-week vacation was about to take an unexpected, yet far more entertaining, turn.
Some of the usual suspects.......
Tattooed Dave Allen
Scott Baker McGarva
.......To name but a few.
Drift boats, jet boats, and anglers from all around the world (ones that actually wake up for first light) made fishing…tricky. There was no need to panic, however, as this dilemma was easily remedied by applying a strategy common to many of us B.C. natives.
We launched our boats at unknown take-outs, fished runs and pockets that most anglers rowed over, fished behind steelhead first timers and, my personal favourite, slept in and let the eager rush push through.
Locked and loaded in the Fly Gal rig.
The fishing had begun to slow down, but it didn’t really matter to any of us. Between the sun, friendship, quiet drifts, and a decent supply of uplifting B.C. greenery, I had long forgotten about the stresses that were probably multiplying back at the home front. It was perfect!
The boys sharing a pontoon. Yup, they actually did the entire float sharing one boat. Suicidal...
Anyone who has ever visited the small town of Smithers understands that “small” is an understatement. So, it should have come as no surprise that when I foolishly agreed to participate in a “night out on the town”, we ended up in a tiny strip joint that even the locals opted to stay away from.
Exhausted from a day of rowing and fishing, I faded in and out of focus, catching brief clips of the standard fishermen b.s. and glimpses of a very naked blonde dancer.
I chuckled to myself. Standing beside my fifteen-foot Spey rod with my blonde hair and long fake nails, I could quite easily pass as one those girls. Perhaps this is how rumours get started…. Uh oh…. I promptly stopped chuckling and dyed my hair brown the following week.
The next day, I hit the river with good friend, Aaron Goodis. Fishing with Aaron always makes for an enjoyable day even if the fishing is on lockdown. Just watching Aaron cast puts a smile on my face every time.
We dropped his truck off at our pullout, loaded into my pickup and headed up river. At the small launch, we pumped up our boats, wadered up, secured our fly rods and set out into the current. The sky was blue and the water was just the right color. All the early risers had already pushed through and we had the river to ourselves. I sat back and closed my eyes, listening to the sweet sound of chirping birds and…hissing air!!?
“Damn it!” I cursed. Somehow, in a state of idiocy, I had managed to put a fair-sized hole in the bottom of my raft and it was blowing bubbles like unwelcome farts in an oversized bathtub. “Great!” I muttered countless obscenities and rowed into shore. My raft was leaking badly and in need of immediate repair.
Aaron and I found a roll of electrical tape and wound it around the chamber until the hissing stopped. Miraculously, it held and we continued our search for chrome bars.
Although daylight was fading fast, neither of us had hooked a steelhead yet. How could fish not be here!? With no fish looking to battle, Aaron’s tight loops had provided the best entertainment of the day.
Note the electrical tape. She was wounded, but floating, and that was all that mattered.
Every day, the fishing seemed to dwindle a little more than the last. Though everyone was having a good time between the scenery, camaraderie, and occasional recycling of road kill, I was itching to play with some steel. My girl Kateri had mentioned that the fishing in her neck of the woods looked promising, so several of us packed up and headed her way towards the Kispiox Valley.
No need to waste (Dave Allen photo).
Ross, a friend of ours, has an A-frame cabin that is located directly on the river in the Kispiox Valley. The cabin comfortably houses six people and several menacing mice. Ross is one of those guys that, although everyone knows his name, no one knows his age. The epitome of a fishing bum (and bachelor), eight months out of the year he disappears into thin air, reappearing when (and only when) steelhead season rolls around.
Oh Ross; Why must you torture me so? (April Vokey photo)
Although it was only eight in the evening when we arrived, Ross and fellow fishing bum, Doug Wiseman, were sound asleep. Unsure as to whether they were so tired as a result of fishing too much or as a result of old age (this is what he gets for withholding that information), we made the unanimous decision that it was far too early for sleeping. We threw down our bags, flicked on the lights and counted out pennies, preparing for a poker game. All it took was the sound of shuffling cards and, wouldn’t you know it, the two of them were up and ready to play.
The next week flew by. Fishing picked up again and I found myself increasingly thumbing through the local paper, checking out available real estate. I was enjoying one of the best fishing trips of my life and was not ready for it to come to an end.
Dirty truck for a dirty boy (Mr.Gladstone). I couldn't help myself...
Challenged to a push up contest, and you know I had to take it. You still owe me some dough for that Niska!
Unfortunately, falling snow, an empty bank account, and a full mailbox told me that it was time to head home, so I packed up the truck and hit the freeway, driving back to reality.
My stay in Smithers provided me with the three things that every fishing trip should deliver - tranquility, excitement and ever-lasting memories. True, I had some serious emails to catch up on and, yes I had a lot of making up to do with my guy, but I’d do it all over again in the blink of an eye. I had taken the time to ground myself, and as a result, came back an energized, relaxed, and appreciative woman. It was a refreshing and much needed break.
So, while some may say that I was running away from my problems, I prefer to say that I was running towards a solution. A solution that just so happened to include giant steelhead. How can anybody argue that?