By Tracey John Hittel, Kitimat, B.C., Canada
Gavin is running downstream his fly rod bent and his reel screaming, "I
cannot hold him mate and I am running out of backing," he says. I have no
choice but to pull the boat out of a prime piece of Steelhead holding water
that we just entered, to chase down this prize. My second client Keith waits as
I float to him downstream, "hop in, we'll pick him up before the rapids."
Keith, with wading staff in hand makes a graceful entrance into the raft
like a teenager and we are off. Dense trees are at our right side and Gavin
is helpless with no line left on his Abel reel, his knot still holding. He
is dangerously wading in heavy current, his rod strategically placed near
the waters surface to keep it out of the trees and a desperate hope in
turning this monster of a fish.
The river is fast moving and we are increasing speed as we come
to Gavins rescue. He looks me in the eye and we
both know he has to get in now or it's too late. He slides into the raft
with a jolt that pushes Keith partially off his seat, we have him aboard. I
scream in pain as I watch three Sage rods get tangled up in the trees as we
are carried downstream, the rod tips are bent to the point where you are
expected to hear that awful snapping sound. Keith makes a incredible,
courageous move, overhanging trees slapping his face, his fishing hat torn
from his head, and somehow recovers all the rods from the grasps of the
forest, while Gavin is still playing his fish of a lifetime.
Our hearts are pumping like racehorses and the adrenaline rush is immense. I finally get
control of the raft and beach it opposite the trees, Gavin gets out
and runs upstream to gain some line onto his reel, "Is it still on," I yell
as my voice is silenced from the rushing water. I tie off the raft to be
extra safe as we still need the raft to make our journey to the take-out.
Gavin is gaining more line as I make my way to him and Keith, his eyes as
big as saucers. There is silence for a few moments as we see his line
snagged in the jam below and across from us. We have no choice but to be
aggressive with the line, it goes limp.
We talk about it over a hot meal, after a hot shower back at the Upper Kalum
Lodge, as to what happened, where, why, how come, etc. When the fish took
the fly it headed upstream instantly, followed by a downstream run, and
another downstream run. This particular holding water is a Steelheaders
dream as it is located above a split in the river and is a deep slow boulder
structure followed by a tail-out. The only thing I can think we could have
done differently was to put the brakes on this big fish instantly instead of
trying to play him while he left the pool.
As soon as that fish headed downstream, so did Gavin and he
committed himself to walk out of the pooland tried to stop
it from entering the rapids, a common mistake made by most
beginner Steelheaders. We fished this pool many times
after that evening and landed loads of fish, but none
of the feisty nature of the one that got away.
This is just one of the events that happened during our fall Steelhead and
Coho runs on the Upper Kalum River. Today it is Keiths turn. We are
fishing a run across from our private take-out located above the Kalum
canyon where many Coho are rising and Steelhead lurking. This particular
run is a prime holding spot for all species as it is the first major holding
run above the canyon. Keith has landed at least two Cohos all with
distinctive characteristics of a Coho on the fly. Then he gets an aggressive
pull, the fish explodes out of the water, I think it's a Steelie but hard to
tell, it is very clean and silver. I am pretty sure as it reacted like a
This fish left the top of the pool and was in the middle of the
river and downstream instantly. Then there was no movement, the fish was
holding there like a large Chinook would. Keith stood his ground and
eventually had to make a decision. I suggested that he walk back as far up
the bank as possible and then down to the rivers edge to gain some line.
He agreed and after many minutes and many walks back up the bank, something
surfaced, then it was gone. What can we say, another large fish hooked but
not landed. Keith has landed 97 steelhead on the fly and is a very
experienced flyfisher, this one was like none other.
Another guest staying at the lodge was an American sportswriter, Ed Engle,
a common name in the industry. Well, that night at the lodge, talk was
surfacing of some big fish coming in and Ed was our next victim. On the exact
run, Ed hooked a lunker and chased this hog down river many football fields
long and thought he was going to catch that record Steelhead. Until his fly
rod could not take any more and snapped in more than one place and yes it
The thing about the Upper Kalum is that the summer runs are all big males,
some females and these fish are charged with explosive aggression. They
will then hold in the lake all winter and make their way
down to spawn in the spring with the fresh runs in April.
Our latest guests at the lodge were from Japan. It
was a first for these fellas entering Canadian waters
and they had a list to fill for the name brand Shimano.
The list included Coho, Steelhead and a large fresh
Coho for Shimano to mount back in Japan for all to see.
This of course put some pressure on the Skipper as well,
but not to worry, I had a secret weapon.
As I am always up to a challenge this one was it. Catch fish and
lots of them was the itinerary. The entire trip surrounded Choji, Japans
finest Long-rod Bait fisherman, a specialty art of fishing. When Choji
arrived he showed me his rod, a tube about 3" in diameter, 4ft. long I
thought, until he started to extend it and it came out to 30'. There was no
reel, just a looped 30' piece of fixed monofilament and a hook, with some
split shot. This was the rod he was going to tackle BC Steelhead and Coho
with. Ok then, so a fishing we went. As Choji is a bait fisherman, I tied
some of my favorite bait balls with nylons, which are very successful. In
Japan they use silk to make bait balls.
When we floated the river we were a group of five. An interpreter, a
cameraman, two guys on the oars and Choji. I just wanted to mention our
cameraman Ken came with 70 rolls of 36 exposure film, he used 65 rolls!
While Choji fished we all watched and waited for the first take. As it did
not take long at all, he had on his first ever BC salmon. This fish put on
quite a fight and it was off after a few hard runs, if you can call it that
as the drag on this rod is all leverage.
That was the only fish he did not land the entire trip. The next few
fish were all beached with elegance. When you see a fish take and
that rod bend the leverage is incredible. But Choji manhandled
all the fish and landed them like a pro. When you have no
reel, you rely on the rod to do all the work, not to mention a good set of
forearms. When Choji hooked a big fish he lowered his center of gravity and
got down on one knee and at times I thought he might lose his rod or even
fall in, but this guy was good. Shimano sent along 4 identical rods, called
"Monster Specials", made especially for him. Choji was dressed up in all of
Shimanos top gear. It reminded me of Tiger Woods and Nike.
Day three came and the group said to me "today we get a Steelhead, ok".
This was not a question, it was a comment. Things were going good all day
but no Steelhead, lots of Coho, but no Steelhead. But I had confidence as
we slipped into shore across from the take-out. First cast, Boom! This
fish exploded out of the water, then again, and again. I knew we had hit
paydirt. I let out a warhoop, it's a Steelie boys!! Choji had a fight on
his hands but again he handled it like a pro. A nice hen around 8lbs, dime
bright. Everyone was excited, me as well. I think this fish received two
rolls of film before we released her and quickly off she went, unharmed. I
was impressed with the way these fellas took extra care in handling all the
fish we photographed.
The last day we landed an fresh 80cm long Coho and
decided this was the one Shimano was going to mount.
Choji did all the skinning himself as I watched
the master at work. It was similar to carving a
pumpkin. And the skin is very durable when you are
scraping and pulling from the inside out. It was
sort of funny when Choji pulled out his tools to
do the deed. I was expecting some wild and crazy
specialty tools. So when he pulled out heavy duty
scissors and a butter knife, I thought he was kidding.
After it was done we filled the cavity with salt and
froze it for his journey home the next day.
As October is here the Cutthroat and Dolly Varden fishing
is awesome, so keep that in mind for all you guys with
the 4 weights.
As our season is coming to a successful end and the snow is creeping down
from the mountains I would like to thank all our guests that joined us in
2003 and we look forward to seeing you in 2004.
The fly shop is going to be filled with some original
flies that worked very well for us this fall so be sure
to check them out on the website, www.steelheadheaven.ca
Tight lines. ~ Tracey John Hittel, Kitimat, B.C., Canada
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