Recalling a fall 2002 steelhead hooked in Lakelse River

Angler remembers the October day which proved to him steelhead live in Lakelse River in the winter

The sign atop the Best Western reads 8ºC, warm for this late in the year. We cross the Older Bridge. From it I note that the Skeena has dropped to winter levels, suggesting that it’s cold in the headwaters.

There’s a blanket of fog over Thornhill that extends to the airport but no farther. I head for Thunderbird Main intending to take the trail through the swamp to the Totem Run, the formerly unnamed run I named for Bob Taylor and Art Lingren to commemorate the day when, not knowing that egg imitations are the recommended fly for the fall, they fished dark sedge patterns with their bamboo rods and fooled a dozen fine Sea Run Cutthroat Trout, while fishing the pool alongside Webb and me.

The run is just below the two spruce lined pools where, on a couple of occasions in autumns past, I met Mike and Inge Andrews fishing for coho. I call it Spruce Grove.

As Pawsome scampers around, I suit up. A Suburban pulls up. The window slides down. A big ruddy man asks me the way to river. He has what seems to be a Russian accent.

He was here in the seventies, he says.

“A long time ago,” I say.

“I would like to see if the river has changed,” he says.

I’m puzzled by his question. If anything’s in perpetual state of flux, it’s a river.

“You can’t step in the same river twice,” I tell him. A look of confusion flickers across his face.

“You can bet it has — changed that is,” I add quickly.

I tell him to back track to the trail head leading to the canyon. He thanks me then drives off.

We make our way to the CMT Trail and take it to the Lower Clay Banks.

I hope that there’s nobody there.

The tail of the pool holds steelhead in spring and might entertain a few in the winter, but nobody knows for sure because the road is impassable then.

It may host Summer Run Steelhead.

Little is known about Lakelse River summer runs. I’ve hooked a few steelhead in this part of the river at this time of year over the past 25 years.

Once I caught a steelhead a month earlier.

They’ve all been bright fish suggesting that they are the first of the winter run fish, whose run peaks late in November.

I have yet to meet someone who has caught a Lakelse steelhead in August, which is understandable since the river is plugged with pink salmon, but there are a lot of people fishing the lower river in the final two weeks in September hoping to catch coho that enter then, yet I’ve yet to hear of anyone catching steelhead during that coho fishery.

There are three fishermen casting lures into the tail of the Clay Banks Pool.

I walk past and wade the fast water below them. Decadent pink carcasses carpet the round rocks on the far side. It’s all I can to do to stay erect, something that would have been impossible without my staff.

Once I’m off the greasy rocks, I walk briskly to Mink Creek expecting that the fishermen at the Clay Pool will stay there and leave me to fish it alone. No such luck.

I release a pair of Cutthroat Trout then hook a Dolly Varden.

As I’m wrestling the char to the beach, the fishermen I passed on the Claybanks appear on the other side.

Now that he’s closer, I recognize Greg Buck, an excellent angler, and a skilled guide working for Nicholas/Dean.

“How you doing?” I call out.

“Hey, Rob,” Greg says. “Caught lots of trout. This is my cousin Frank.”

“Hi Frank,” I shout across the stream.

“Gonna head downstream,” I yell. “See ya later.”

I’ve covered a lot of stream and done little fishing when I reach the Totems Run at White Creek.

Only one foot-long trout is persuaded to take my fly.

Two wades and a kilometre of river downstream, things pick up markedly. I release eight trout, all of them prime specimens, the largest a decent 20 inches, two of the other 18 and 17 inches respectively.

All of them were sitting in the fast riffle below Gledhill’s Pool picking up errant eggs and bits of pink flesh.

It often pays to switch up and cover the water again.

When Hugh’s storied egg stops fooling fish, I replace it with a small Muddler Minnow, similar in size and hue to the sedges Art and Bob used on the memorable day at the Totem Run.

No trout move to it but a salmon lurking underneath a log at the head of the Moose Run does with a vengeance.

Coho, I think at first. The fish jumps once, then again. It’s large and dark, but coho don’t normally take small flies on the surface, or fight aerially.

It’s a long time before I can slide my prey to shore. White gums, and dark sides — unmistakably a summer steelhead.

Proof that there are such creatures in the Lakelse River.

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