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Lucas St Clair Talks Wild Steelhead Conservation in the Skeena River System
Posted on September 23, 2015

Misty, cold and full of big fish. Lucas St. Clair swinging in the rain.

In fly-fishing circles, BC’s Skeena River reverberates with a mystical, legendary character. Last spring Eddie Bauer Sport Shop guides Lucas St. Clair and Andrew Bennett landed at Skeena Spey Lodge in an attempt to confirm if the rumors were indeed true. After the trip—which included cold days on big tributaries, an abundance of wild, native steelhead and even a Richard Sherman fly—we asked St. Clair to explain what makes the Skeena so special and so spectacular. Then we asked him to underscore the importance of conservation in a sacred river system and natural ecosystem that draws sport fisherman from around the globe. He supplied a powerful message on preservation as both a responsibility and a necessity. —LYA Editor

The Skeena in all its fishy glory.

Words by Lucas St. Clair, Images by Tom Rafalovich

For those of us who pursue steelhead and salmon with a fly, there are few rivers on earth that stir the imagination like the Skeena River. This mighty and swift river flows out of what is known as the Sacred Headwaters in the interior mountains of British Columbia. It tumbles, dives, and crashes its way through some of the most pristine wilderness in North America. It meets the Pacific Ocean in Chatham Sound, where millions of Pacific salmon and steelhead begin their journey from the ocean. It is the second-longest river that flows in its entirety within the province of BC. The watershed, almost 21,000 square miles in size, is home to a magnificent array of mammals and, of course, the five species of Pacific salmon and steelhead.

Since the end of the last Ice Age, the river has been a major artery for trading. The local Tsimshian and Gitxsan tribes used the river for transportation and migrating to hunting and fishing grounds. Gold was discovered in the early 1860s, and that discovery set the Skeena on a course for extraction. From the early explorations for gold, then furs, commercial fishing, and now natural gas, the Skeena has felt the pressure. Over the last 40 years, the Skeena has seen a decline in fish populations. The history of salmon across the globe began to repeat itself on the BC coast. Strict restrictions have been put in place and that has helped to some degree. With the increase in sport fishing on the Skeena and its tributaries, there are new challenges and new opportunities. More people are being exposed to the amazing resource, yet more people are taking fish out of the river and harming the fish unintentionally.

These are the challenges that we are faced with as anglers. We pursue fish with finite numbers, oftentimes only to let them swim again. We must take that responsibility very seriously. When fishing in the Skeena or other rivers, take care of the resource and it will take care of you. Keep the fish that you catch wet, in the water, and handle them very carefully. Play them quickly and try to not completely tire them out. Pack out trash and leave as little of an imprint on the river as you can.

It is also our duty, as anglers, to support the tireless efforts of the conservation organizations that are working day and night to protect the rivers and streams that we love so much. When a threat of coal-bed methane drilling in the Sacred Headwaters emerged, organizations like the Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition (SWCC) jumped into action, partnering with sport fishermen, tribes, and others to fight against it. A young woman named Ali Howard swam the entire length of the river in a heroic effort to raise awareness. It worked. The drilling leases were terminated and, for now, the Headwaters are protected.

 

There will be more threats as our planet’s resources get pushed to the limit. It is our responsibility to help support organizations like SWCC, Trout Unlimited’s Wild Steelhead Initiative, and the SkeenaWild Conservation Trust. Most importantly, be aware of the resource where you fish, and do what you can to make sure it is healthy enough for your children and your children’s children to enjoy. It will make a difference.

Eddie Bauer Sport Shop guides Andrew Bennett and Lucas St. Clair prepare for a long day on the Skeena and the Kalum Rivers.

Check out the Eddie Bauer Sport Shop series of fishing gear Lucas and Bennett tested on the Skeena at eddiebauer.com.

Author: - Wednesday, September 23rd, 2015
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