The entire skeena system is famous for having steelhead that are eager to take a dry fly and the 2013 season showed us just how good it can be. It was far and away the best dry fly season in the past decade.
The season started out well for us as the early return in the Skeena was quite good. For a short period of time fish counts entering the system were keeping up with the last 2 years which were exceptional runs. These early fish are typically destined for the highest tribs in the Skeena system. The system will backfill with the lower trib steelhead entering later. It wasn’t long though until we realized the run size was going to be far less than what we have grown accustomed to the last several years.
As predicted our early run of fish destined for the Morice showed up in good fishable numbers by the end of Aug. In fact they moved through the system faster than normal with warm, and low water conditions and by the first week of sept we were seeing some large pushes of fish. These pushes were strong but often followed by stretches of little to no fish. It was a boom or bust type of week.
With extremely hot weather the water temps were obviously much higher than average. It was the first season where guests and guides alike were wet wading in the afternoons right up until mid sept. Fish were overtly happy with the conditions, at least in the mornings and afternoons. Mid day sun proved difficult on some days. The dry fly fishing started off well and continued to build momentum. Guests were being treated to explosive takes, heart stopping misses. It was quite obvious the addiction to the surface swing was setting into camp in a big way.
The common misconception is that to fish dries and floating lines you are giving up numbers for the odd take. Clearly this wasn’t the case. Week after week we heard the talk at dinner, “now I get it”, or “Im hooked on this now”.
One day I was out with good friend and guest Bob Lashinski on the upper Bulkley. Bob was fishing with dry fly fanatics like Tom Derry and others whom you have to slip a roofie in the coffee to switch them to a sink tip. Due to the fact they always fished dries it made sense for Bob to fish behind them with tips in the past. He knew the dry fly stuff seemed cool, but he was happy getting into lots of fish (which he always does) on tips.
At the end of the day I put him in a big deep U bend in the river. The piece doesn’t look like much really. Its a spot where I consistently see fish come out of 12 feet of water to take a dry in the middle of the river. He was going to fish this run on his own while I went to the take out to start packing up for the day.
I started him in a bit high so his first couple casts got caught up in the eddie. At this point he was thinking I plugged him in there to just kill time. Hard to show confidence in a strange spot like this. No one was around so he fought through the first few bizarre swings with his dry fly. Casting a small dry over 15 feet of water wasn’t building much hope, and he was doing his best to get through the run. Finally the current started to draw a little bit, enough to make the dry wake through the middle of the pool. At this point he largest fish of the day erupted near his fly on a miss. Bob held it together long enough for the fish to explode a 2nd time mere seconds after the first. This one was even more aggressive than the first and blew the fly up. Bob set but nothing was there. When I came back to get him his knees were weak, skin flush, and he was in awe. After a good laugh, I had him cast a bit further down and swing it right to the bank where he took a small 5 pounder to end the day.
Its moments like these in which we treasure our time on the water. Dry fly fishing for steelhead isn’t just amazing, it can often be a career highlight experience on the water for folks who have been fishing their entire lives. That is something pretty special to witness as a guide.
The season went on like this, and every time we thought the temps dropped and this was going to be it for dries we were wrong. In fact the last week of the season Mark Nickerson who was back for his 2nd year with us fished dries almost exclusively for the week. He had days where he rose at least one fish in every pool he went through.
It will certainly be remembered as the year of the dry fly for us. All in all we had excellent water conditions the entire season. Even though the run was much lower than years past our catch rate was only marginally down. It just goes to show you how important the water conditions are, and how that trumps run size every time. A river full of fish hardly matters if you don’t have the right conditions to catch them.
A memorable season for the team at FFW, but these fish always keep us guessing!