The Lure of the Steelhead

The Lure of the Steelhead

“I bet there’s a fish there,” Marcus said, before inviting me to try my luck first.

I waded out and began casting slightly downstream, letting the fly swing toward shore with the current. Looking back upriver, I was struck by the setting — thick pine forests on both banks, and rugged snow-fringed mountains beyond, bifurcated by a thin line of morning mist. A few more casts and the fly — a purple Hobo Spey — swung just beyond the rocks. Almost on cue, my spey rod jolted as line screamed off the reel. A steelhead soon launched from the river, a silver missile that was speeding downstream.

Some anglers will spend over $7,000 a week to visit fishing lodges on the Skeena’s rivers. That was not in our budget; but the Bulkley and Morice (which is essentially the upper portion of the Bulkley) have enough public access points to make a do-it-yourself trip possible. After much planning — a rented house in Telkwa, Google Earth maps of the river and hours of tying flies — our group of five loaded two trucks with rafts and supplies and headed the nearly 1,000 miles north from Portland, Ore.

My one previous trip to the Bulkley, in 2001, had been a disaster. Heavy rain had transformed the river’s generally clear waters into chocolate milk, rendering it almost unfishable. Rivers going out of shape is a constant threat in this wet part of the world. My companion and I hooked two steelhead that week.

There was little rain in the forecast for 2018’s mid-September week — prime time for fish returns — and we were heartened to arrive at the Walcott bridge boat launch on Day 1 to find clear water.

Over the next five days, we floated four different sections of the Bulkley/Morice, rising before dawn and returning to our domicile after dark. We ran our own shuttles, leaving one vehicle at the takeout point so we could return to retrieve the second truck from the put-in. Then we returned to the takeout to retrieve our rafts.

One starting point on the Morice lacked a formal boat launch, requiring us to carry our rafts down a steep bank to the river — no small feat for our aging crew. (This was a buddy’s 60th birthday celebration.) Fishing was difficult, thanks to colder than usual water temperatures, but we slowly cracked the code. On the last two days, Marcus and I each hooked nine fish, a season’s worth of fish on our home rivers.

On the long ride home, we contacted the owner of the Telkwa house about its availability in 2019. The Bulkley excursion may become an annual pilgrimage.

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