When you think of tough winter steelheading you think of high or low water, cold water, no water, snow, ice and freezing temps. Unfortunately for us we saw all of these at one point or another this season. As our guest Mark Bale pointed out, “there’s a lot of ways to get beat in this game.”
As our winter steelhead season on Haida Gwaii comes to a close we can start to reflect on what we saw and learned the past two months. Most winter steelhead seasons will have at least one patch of difficult conditions. For us it was pretty much the month of Feb when a bitter cold snap took hold of the rivers and did not want to let go. Ice jams on top of low, cold water meant the fish were not in a mood to “goof around” with the likes us. Luckily the season started and ended with a bang. For us that usually means warm rain, and lots of fresh grabby steelhead found close to tide water. Warm cels of precipitation that swell the rivers into the trees will draw in even the most lazy, saltwater content steelhead. The rain forest giveth and she taketh away.
The folks that chose to destination travel for winter steelhead have a common thread. It’s a perpetual desire for adventure to find spots in the world that offer an escape from the beaten path. Winter steelheading is the last bastion of undiscovered or unfished anadromous watersheds up and down the coast. In some cases run timing, and water levels effect rivers so much that only those who are on them know when the fish are in.
Haida Gwaii still offers these mysteries. Its a place where you can still have your own steelhead river all to yourself even if you lounge around drinking coffee till noon, then saunter out and catch multiple fish as Mr. Grover often proved.
Summer run steelhead are a much more consistent fish with good sizeable runs and who do everything right (they even eat dry flies). They are “that guy” who was valedictorian at his high school, magna cum laude through life, and dated the finest women since the age of 12. Winter steelhead would be the convoluted brother who no one talks about. The one who is always in trouble, yes winter steelhead are your bad assed relatives who never show up to family gatherings.
Winter steelheading is for a different breed of fisherman and are a creature that is much more unpredictable. With little to no research on most of our stocks of winter steelhead in north coast BC, we search out answers on the river every day we suit up. Unlike setting out on a Skeena trib in the fall, we have no clue what we will see, find or discover on a winter river.
These are truly an impressive fish in general, and when you shake hands with one you will certainly never forget when and where you were. However there is still a lot to enjoy on the days when you don’t find a fish here on Haida Gwaii. The sections of old growth rainforest, the mystique of the rivers and the landscape, and the heart and soul of the people who live here. Fishing Haida Gwaii has become a sanctuary for those who know it. For those of us that have connected with it, no other place can quite compare.
A special thanks to our hard working staff for the winter of 2014, Scott Baker-McGarva, Steve Morrow, Evan Quaas, Pete Karnouskos, Jennah Gainer
For those that know …..See you next year