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Andrew Bennett Breaks Down the Steelhead Dynamics of the Skeena
Posted on October 8, 2015

Healthy colors on the Kalum River.

Two weeks back, we ran the first fishing reports from Andrew Bennett and Lucas St. Clair’s trip to the Skeena River in Terrace, BC. Their tales of big spey rods and twelve-pound native, wild steelhead sparked our interest in what makes this massive coastal river system so spectacular. Is it the environment, the pure, wild genetical make-up of the fish, or the coastal Canadian location? Maybe the influence of the Spirt Bear? We weren’t sure but we wanted to know more, so we asked Andrew Bennett to break down the dynamics of a river that Steelheaders see in their dreams. —LYA Editor

Skeena Spey's boat launch on the main stem Skeena.

Words by Andrew Bennett, Photos by Tom Rafalovich

Imagine an enormous, mountainous river drainage, loaded with steelhead and all five species of Pacific salmon. The tributaries of the system branch and climb over tens of thousands of square miles, spreading an uncountable number of fish across some of the most legendary steelhead and salmon fishing in the world.

Now imagine standing in the main stem of this system—all the tributaries have converged on their way to the ocean—knowing that every fish that’s bound for the upper reaches of the system has to swim on by. You’re swinging a fly, hoping for a salmon or a steelhead, knowing your catch could be headed to any of the dozens of tributaries upriver. You never know who’s going to climb on!

That’s the beauty of fishing the Lower Skeena River near Terrace, BC, where Lucas St. Clair and I fished out of Skeena Spey Lodge this past spring. The Skeena drainage is home to some of the most famous steelhead rivers in the world—the Babine, the Bulkley, the Kispiox, just to name a few. Anglers from all over the world head upriver on the Skeena system in the fall, mainly focused on following the steelhead as they return to spawn.

 

Fishing the Skeena’s upriver tributaries is popular and effective, especially with fly rods, because their lower river flows are generally straightforward to fish. Narrower rivers mean smaller casts, and smaller water concentrates the fish mostly in specific runs—making them easier to find. Many steelhead anglers prefer fishing lighter lines—even floating lines—and those techniques are much more effective in smaller water. Finally, some upriver tributaries like the Babine are particularly known for bigger fish, and targeting certain runs in specific rivers definitely gives you the best probability for the biggest fish of your life.

But here’s the thing about all those big beautiful fish headed to the Babine and the Bulkley and the Kispiox—they all have to swim up the Big River! Every single fish starts their upriver journey in the Skeena, and that means that by fishing the Lower Skeena you can target them all.

 

Fishing closer to the salt water comes with another big bonus. Salmon and steelhead feed like crazy when they’re in the ocean, building up mass and fat stores to sustain them on their trip upriver. However, once they enter a river system, they stop feeding, and start burning through all those stored calories. The farther upriver they go, the more calories they’ve burned, and to a sport angler that matters! If you hook a salmon or steelhead in the lower part of the river, you’re connected to a fish that’s still in its prime—more aggressive, more resilient, and much stronger. Our not-so-technical term for lower river fish is “hot”—think violent grabs, screaming drags, multiple jumps, and huge sighs of relief when that chrome bar from the ocean finally hits the net.

The development of modern spey fishing gear and techniques has had a huge impact on the fun factor when fishing water like the Lower Skeena. Spey rods are long fly rods—normally eleven to fourteen feet long—that let us cast much farther, with much less effort. Lucas and I spent hours fishing runs on the Skeena where the ideal cast was “as long as you can throw it.” Using normal single-hand fly rods would have left us tired, achy, and probably fishless. The spey program made fishing fun and efficient, and as we all know—a happy angler always catches more fish.

Huge rivers like the Lower Skeena can be intimidating at first, but offer me big water, long casts, and a shot at all the fish in the drainage—at their prime—and I’ll take it every time.

It's a lifestyle choice.

Check out the Eddie Bauer Sport Shop fishing gear Bennett utilized and tested on the Skeena River at eddiebauer.com.

Author: - Thursday, October 8th, 2015
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