There is nothing quite like fall on the Bulkley River. Winding through the northern community of Smithers, BC, the river is well known as a world-class Steelhead fishery.
When I moved to Smithers in the summer of 2019, I wasted no time getting acquainted with a spey setup and was eager to hit the local rivers in search of my very first Steelhead. After a steep learning curve and many stunning days on the river, I was left empty handed but with a full heart and packed away my gear for the winter.
The 2020 season opened with heavy rains and muddy, brown, washed out rivers that usually sparkle a clear, deep blue. None of the reliable holes were producing and my disappointment was only growing as the weather started to cool off and snow began to fly early. Perhaps I am too new to the game that I don't always appreciate standing waist deep in the cold river, while my line and rod are icing up, eyelashes starting to freeze together, and having lost sensation in my feet hours prior. None the less, this is where I found myself on October 23rd with a good friend and a guide from Frontier Far West.
This was likely my last chance of the season for all my hard work to pay off and at at last, I felt the highly anticipated tug I had been waiting for. I was so excited that I just shouted "oh my god it's happening!" while I let the fiery fish set the hook. Both the guys dropped what the were doing and ran toward me to help land the fish, which after a fight of running out my line and a stunning show of aerials, found itself in the net. As I gripped the beautiful fish and kept her gills gently in the flowing water for a quick photo, I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the experience to get so close to these incredible creatures. The experience overall was wilder than my wildest dreams and I think it's fair to say I'm hooked for life.
It is the unfortunate truth that many Steelhead fisheries are in a desperate state today. Here are a few things you can do to help:
Practice proper fish handling techniques for catch and release fishing
Learn your fish ID well so you don't accidentally keep a Steelhead
Become a member, donate to, or advocate with conservation groups such as the Steelhead Society of BC, the Skeena Wild Conservation Trust, Wild Legacy, the Pacific Salmon Foundation, or the Wild Steelhead Coalition
Credits: Both images by Calvin Turko. First Steelhead guided by Corwin Trent at Epic Waters. Cal, Corwin, and Brennan Lund have each been incredible mentors as I learned to spey fish.