Tips for planning your first trip to Steelhead Country

Excited and a little uncertain, I boarded a plane for Smithers on November 1st. Although my journey to Frontier Steelhead was not my first solo fishing trip, it was a first for traveling across  the country. Beyond stoked for the adventure but a bit nervous about traveling alone with all my gear and multiple connections, off I went. When thinking about the week ahead, I worried if I might be just a little out of my league. Where I had never fished for Steelhead before and was new to spey casting, I was concerned about distance and my ability to successfully chuck the heavy skagit tips we would be using. So, while confident this experience would be one chock-full of excitement, beauty and growth, I was hesitant to think I would be into a lot of fish. Wow, was I ever wrong!
While traveling my nerves subsided. It’s amazing how carrying rod tubes will spark conversations with strangers. I chatted with a dozen or more anglers in the various airports and sat next to an avid steelheader on the last leg of my journey. I listened intently to his stories and shared some of my own Atlantic Salmon adventures from back home. Upon arrival to Smithers, I was warmly welcomed at the airport by Frontier’s team, my luggage wasn’t lost (another of those silly worries of mine) and off we drove to the lodge.
On the first evening, we had time to freshen up, unpack and meet the Frontier team and guests before enjoying a gourmet meal together. I discovered that every evening we would eat together in the lodge’s great room, sharing laughs and libations. The lodge provides a warm, cozy atmosphere where you immediately feel at home.
In the morning, you gear up and pack your bag for the day. A quick stop into the main lodge for coffee and depending on the day’s agenda, a sit down breakfast or hot breakfast sandwich to go. You hit the road with your guide and watch the world wake up as you make your way to the river. The mountains and wildlife are spectacular. You travel by jet boat to your destinations for a jam packed day on the water. You’ll share hearty lunches, riverbank fires and hot beverages with your guide and fishing partner. Arriving back to the lodge in the evening, you de-wader in the heated wader room where you leave your gear to dry overnight. A hot shower in your cabin and then off to join guests and guides at the main lodge again. A fully stocked bar, appetizers and an evening of delicious food, entertaining conversation and genuine camaraderie await. You head to bed with a full belly, a bit of a buzz on and practically vibrating with excitement for the next day.
Each day is truly more beautiful than the last. You experience fishing different river systems as your guide teaches you all you need to know to successfully hook and land beautiful, wild Steelhead. I was so happy to have endless opportunities to practice and learn a variety of spey casting techniques, all the while fishing over stunning Steelhead. I can’t wait to share more about my encounters with these epic fish but for now, a few of the key lessons I learned from my week at Frontier Steelhead follow. I hope you enjoy!

Lesson 1

Short casts will hook fish. Even a novice spey caster can cast heavy skagit heads for Steelhead. Don’t be intimidated. Just have fun. You might mess up but your guides are there to help you. Your casting will improve each day and you will be so proud. Just remember, distance will come and as long as your fly is in the water it’s fishing.

Lesson 2 

You cannot pack enough warm clothes. I thought I may have overpacked in this respect, but I used every item I brought during my 7-day stay. Daily I wore 2 pairs of wool socks, 2-3 layers on my legs and 4-6 layers on top. I have shared my packing list below and a list of things I will be sure to pack for next time.

Key Items Packed:

– Hats: 3 ball hats, 3 warm beanies 
– Gloves: 3 pairs of waterproof and fingerless 
– Buffs: 3, wool and synthetic
– Wool socks: varying thicknesses for layering
– Fleece lined leggings: (i.e. Eddie Bauer & Patagonia Crosstrek)
– Fleece sweaters: multiple
– Fleece base layers: multiple
– Wool leggings: multiple
– Wool sweaters: multiple
– Merino base layers: multiple 
– Light, windproof jackets – multiple (i.e. LOOP Onka Jacket) 
– Waders: With plenty of room for layering!
– Wading boots: Felt soled 
– Wading Jackets: 2 
– Dry Pack: Can double as your carry-on bag (i.e. LOOP dry backpack)
 

Items I Wish I Had Packed:

– Lightweight Insulated Pants: All guides used these as a third, lightweight layer, for the colder days. I will 100% be ordering the Onka PrimaLoft insulated pants for next season.
– Balaclava: To keep your neck and head warm especially when you’re in a speedboat and not wanting to miss out on the wildlife and scenery.
– Fingerless gloves: I had a variety of gloves but could have used an extra pair of fingerless gloves for fishing midday.
– More Hot Paws – Always more hot paws. Unless you’re fishing with Frontier Guide, Joel Gourley, as he’ll have riverside fires and warm rocks to keep your fingers toasty. But maybe still pack a few in your bag just incase.

Lesson 3

Bring a dry backpack for the boat. You can use this each day to pack spares of what you’re wearing under your waders. You never know what might happen during the day but it’s always smart to have a backup of dry clothes. I didn’t need all of mine but it was nice to be able to layer up and layer down when needed.

Lesson 4 

Let the fish dictate the fight. Don’t be a miser with your line, let them take it when they want it. I learned that one the hard way!

Lesson 5

Leave the nerves at home. You are on the most epic adventure. No one expects perfection and your guides will ensure your success. Soak in the beauty of your surroundings, the wildlife and the amazing people who are sharing it with you. And of course, the majestic Steelhead that take your fly!

One thought on “Tips for planning your first trip to Steelhead Country

  1. What an enjoyable and informative read! Especially liked “lessons learned” and the packing list! Being an Atlantic salmon flyfisher and guide on the East Coast, a cross country trip to chase Steelhead and walk in Roderick Haig Brown’s footsteps is a big bucket list item of mine for sure! Nice to read about your adventure!

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