It’s no secret that steelhead anglers are a masochistic lot.
Those of us who are card-carrying members of this freakish society will — gladly, I may add — stand chest-deep in frigid water for hours on end in inhospitable weather, casting thousands of times with frost-bitten, roe-slathered fingers to fish that often seem only to exist in our dreams.
In light of all this, it probably comes as no surprise that I jumped at the opportunity to go to Canada last week to see what sort of abuse I could incur at the hands of some north-of-the border steelhead. Along for the ride were fellow gluttonous, fish abuse-loving amigos, Ron Milam of Rocklin (another Placer High School grad) and Ben “Rancid” Ransom, who isn’t a graduate of PHS, but only for geographical reasons.
Our mission took us to the fertile Skeena and Kitimat river valleys in extreme northwestern B.C., where we spent 5 days looking for the worst that steelhead and Mother Nature could dish out.
On Day One, both the fish and the Good Mother welcomed us with open arms. To a true steelheader, these developments were quite alarming, but we managed to enjoy the bright sunshine and excellent steelheading anyway. So good was the action, in fact, that we finished the day hooking 11 fish and landing 8. And check this out: the fish weighed 10, 12, 13, 14, 14, 15, 15 and 16 pounds, respectively! To top it off, we all ended up with tans…definitely not what I’d consider normal steelie fishing.
The weather turned very “steelheady” on Day Two: cloudy and bitter cold. The bite also got a little more difficult, which made us feel right at home. “Tough” fishing in B.C., however, is a completely different animal than in California and the three of us still managed to “scrape” up a double-digit number of hook-ups, though the “only” fish we landed were the 14 and 15 pounders that I spiked and a beautiful buck of about 17 pounds caught by our guide, Gord.
Of course, since we’re talking about steelhead fishing, the story of the day was one of heartbreak. About midday, Ben hooked a beast. When he initially set up on the fish, it looked like somebody had poked a sleeping sealion with sharp stick. The fish went nutty and generally treated him like a redheaded stepchild who didn’t graduate from Placer High. It was all Ben could do to hang on. Eventually, the great steelhead tired of the game and spat the hook back at him with such force that the balsa float flew 30 yards and landed at his feet. At first, there was stunned silence as the 20 plus pound steelhead disappeared…then, a thunderous expletive echoed through the canyon.
It was my turn to be thoroughly abused on our third day. The small coastal stream we fished was about a mile from the ocean and it as stuffed full of steelies as Regional Park’s pond is loaded with bluegill. There, we had an epic day that included 39 hook-ups. Ron was the hot stick and ended up with an impressive 9 for 14 outing and Ben was a solid 3 for 7. Gord landed a few as well.
I, on the other hand, got beaten up pretty badly. An initial look at the day’s numbers would suggest that I had a fine morning – 14 steelhead hooked with a flyrod is a good career for some. That part was great. However, those fish were so hot that I couldn’t land them. By day’s end, I had 4 fish to my credit and twice that number of line burns, bruised knuckles, popped leaders and bent hooks.
When I set the hook on one particular leviathan, it took off towards the ocean on a blitzkrieg type of run that I couldn’t stop. It was as if I’d hooked the back bumper of a Greyhound bus on its way down the hill from Tahoe. The wildly spinning reel handle about broke my thumb and I burned my hand trying to palm my spool. In10 seconds flat, I had about 5 wraps of backing left on my spool, so I pointed the rod at the fish and broke him off.
Ron’s day to get slapped around came on Day Four, when we snowmobiled into a beautiful stream about the size of the American at Upper Clementine in the summer. In perfectly miserable steelhead fishing conditions (a mixture of snow and driving rain that destroyed my camera), Ben and I walked downstream and had a great day. In several cold, wet hours of fishing, Ben went 2-4 with a pair of mid teen beauties. I landed my best pair of steelhead ever – an 18 pounder and a 20.
Upstream, Ron and Gord hooked a few fish, including one that Ron stuck that fought for a good half hour. Every time the fish would get close to the beach, he’d peel off a ton of line and the fight would start from square one again. Ron wasn’t convinced that the leader would withstand the battle, but it hung in there. After 8 long runs, he was able to get the fish close enough to the beach for Gord to tail it. Prior to the release, our guide estimated the giant steelie to be over 20 pounds.
It snowed enough to have whiteout conditions at times on our final day and despite the numb fingers, we finished off our trip with about 20 hookups. The total number of hooked steelhead for the trip (including the ones that Gord hooked) was 93 fish in 5 days of fishing. Steelhead abuse at its best!