Our Man In Canada
September 16th, 2002

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 dry methods.

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, sub-surface fishing.

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 season ends.

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: http://www.steelheadheaven.ca/

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