It is one of my favourite military sayings, as it is unerringly true, as much for an army planning an invasion as it is for a fisherman in search of his quarry. No matter how lucid the dreams and imagination may be when deciding on a trip, how meticulously it is planned and the gear prepared, the tactics considered for incredible battles to follow, with record-breaking catches and a triumphant return, the fog of war or rather the variables of weather and nature are hard to computate!
This most recent WWMF trip to visit the newly completed Wild Rivers Lodge in British Columbia was 18 months in the planning. Scheduled for 2020, it, like so many travel plans, was put on hold and reinstated for September 2021. On account of Canada opening its borders a mere week before the trip, instead of a full team, we were something of a skeleton crew, both in terms of anglers, just 6 in total, as well as the lodge staff, which was operating at a reduced capacity. Meticulous long-term planning for the trip was replaced with a slightly rough and ready approach… “can you make it…great, let’s go!”
With all the attention focused on the fight against Covid, the multitude of travel restrictions, hoops and hurdles that needed to be bypassed, it can be easy to forget that when it comes to fishing, anglers are not given a fishing dividend just because a place is harder to get to. In our sport nature always has the trump card and when I looked at the weather forecast for Terrace in British Columbia, I knew we were not going to have it easy. Rain was forecast from Day 1, lots of it! The towering surroundings of this region tell all that you need to know about what can happen when it rains hard. The rivers can ‘blow out’. N.American terminology for being in flood, when the rivers which usually flow with a typical summer greenish tinge from glacial runoff, turns into a raging brown torrent, on a visual parr with the mythical River Styx, minus the requirement for a coin for our boatman/guide! I do not like to think of nature being the enemy, but in military terms, we were up against it!
When the chips are down it requires everyone to be flexible, positive and understanding. It also helps to know the area extremely well, and Andrew Rushton, as a guide, owner and lodge manager for 30 odd years at Kalum Lodge and now Wild Rivers Lodge, was as well placed as any to look after us over the week. Wild Rivers Lodge is based just upstream from Terrace on the banks of the Skeena River. The Skeena is joined by a host of excellent tributary rivers, most of which are household names amongst the Steelhead fishing community, including the Sustat, Babine, Bulkley, Kispiox and Copper River, amongst a great many others. Where you can or cannot fish is not quite as simple, with rivers being both classified water (the lodge needs to have guide days to take clients on these rivers) and unclassified water, where anyone can fish. With some of the drainages reporting up to 96mm of rain over 24hr periods, the multitude of options was very significantly reduced.
In such a situation, and maybe truer in lodges where the fishing is on a specific and dedicated river, it can result in fishing days being lost in their entirety. Andrew was not going to let that happen, and over the course of the week we fished the Skeena, Sand Lake, Ross Lake, The Kitimat, and the Kasiks. Our group played and landed Steelhead, Pinks, Coho, Dolly Varden, Brook, Cuthroat & Rainbow Trout. As importantly, and I stress this as fishing trips often do not always meet lofty catch expectations, we were treated to some simply outstanding scenery and wildlife. This included a Grizzly Sow Bear and her two almost adult cubs as we rafted down the Kitimat, amazingly in a dry weather window for the use of my drone to capture the action, as well as numerous sightings of Black Bears on the sides of the road as we drove to and from our assorted fishing locations.
On the scenery front, the Kasiks river stands close to being one of the most scenic rivers I have encountered in all my travels, comparable only to the Dean in terms of statuesque surroundings. It is in contrast to the mighty Skeena, which despite being the thoroughfare for all the fish that reach the numerous tributaries mentioned earlier, it can come across as a large and intimidating river. When in flood and with low grey skies it lacks some of the lustre of the other smaller rivers commonly fished at Wild Rivers Lodge, which include the Kalum and the Kitimat.
The precipitous slopes surrounding the Kasiks are awe-inspiring. From the flat meandering river flood plain, they rise almost vertically to a height of over 700M. It is almost impossible with a camera to capture this sort of scale and maybe in a good way, some things we simply need to see with our own eyes. Slopes that in the United Kingdom would be devoid of vegetation, somehow, incredibly, are forested to their snow-capped tips. Puddles of fog congregate along the river, whilst fingers of mist smoke amidst the tress and wraiths of cloud wrap the peaks. The heavy rain had resulted in numerous geysers of water bursting from various apertures in the cliff and then cascaded 500M or more down the sides of sheer rock faces.
The proximity and verticality of the surroundings means that whist the Kasiks is amongst the first to rise, it is also amongst the quickest to clear. It is not a big or a long river by BC standards, but it is known for its run of larger Coho, amongst the largest found on any river in BC. We fished the river twice during our week, on the first occasion the river was still carrying just a bit too much colour and although we connected with a couple of Coho, we had to wait until our final day to get a better taste of what the river had to offer, although I suspect if the rain held off for one or two more days, we would have seen it at close to its best. The result was action all round, and for two of our team, Frank & Ollie the chance to catch their first second and third salmon on a fly rod. It was a fantastic end to a mixed week which could have been under-whelming.
The typical variety of options on offer is one of the attributes of Wild Rivers Lodge and an advantage of its location close to Terrace. Lodges further up the Skeena drainage can lay claim to more sought-after Steelhead water. Wild Rivers Lodge is about enjoying a mixed feast, a buffet of options of which Steelhead, highly prized to the extent that it is exclusively targeted by a great many anglers, is just one of the target species. All five species of Pacific Salmon as well as Dolly Varden (Char) are fantastic sporting fish, all with their own characteristics, and techniques to catch them. All run at different times of the season although it is possible to catch all five species in one day, a feat achieved by one of the anglers in our group although not at this time of the season.
If you are a relative novice to salmon fishing in general, then British Columbia offers an unparalleled opportunity to get stuck in, amidst amazing surroundings and great hospitality. No salmon is inferior, it is just a matter of how many you may have caught or how much fishing you may have done in the past. Catch a bucketful of Pinks or Sockeye and consider them too easy, no problems, simply shift gear and move on to one of the less prolific species including the mighty Chinook / King Salmon and of course Steelhead. Chum Salmon which run in July alongside the Kings and Coho which run from late August alongside the main Steelhead run are both excellent sport on a fly rod and the Skeena produces some monsters!
You can get ‘blown out’ at any time of the main season, whether it be from June-October. Later in the season carries a higher risk but not one so obvious that it is a part of the season to be avoided. It is after all the main month for Steelhead, the most cherished from many a fly anglers’ perspective, of all the anadromous fish that run the rivers in BC. The fact that we were able to fish every day, and to of have had a more than reasonable amount of mixed action, given the biblical amount of rain received over the period we were there, is testament to the diversity of options.
Wild Rivers lodge, only recently completed in 2017, is large, comfortable and spacious. Individual rooms come as standard. Whilst I do not mind sharing, having one’s own bedroom and ensuite bathroom is always very warmly received and certainly something I would have at the very top of my list if I were to build a fishing lodge! Designed by Andrew, with his extensive knowledge as a fishing lodge owner, it is well kitted out to deal with the vagaries of the weather in BC. No matter how drenched our kit was, after a night in the wader/drying room everything was bone dry! The lodge is a set back a few hundred meters from the Skeena. Although one could fish in front of the lodge, typically every day you will deploy by truck with accompanying jet boat or raft on a trailer. Early morning starts are the norm, to get on the river in good time thus ensuring best access to good runs. Given the not unsubstantial European/UK time difference early starts and early evenings worked in our favour.
A comfortable well-run lodge goes a long way to smooth out any bumps that you might have with the fishing conditions. There are so many variables with fly-fishing, that you have to learn to take the rough with the smooth. Unfairly, the more trips you do, the easier the burden of relative failure, if your goal is purely centred around the numbers or the size of the fish you hope to catch. The weather over our week changed what we hoped to do and where we hoped to do it, but British Columbia offers a level of wilderness which we simply are not accustomed to in Europe and consequently an experience far beyond and more memorable than what might end up on the end of your line.
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