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The Magic and Legendary Appeal of the Silver Hilton Steelhead Lodge

Ken Morrish April 09, 2024

In short, it boils down to the system itself, the size of the fish, the extreme solitude, and the incredible service provided by the staff.

There is a lot of luck in fishing and in life. I got really lucky when I met Lani Waller in the mid 1990's. Lani is an author, angler, fly tier, Fly Fishing Hall of Fame inductee, and the guy who really jumpstarted the modern steelhead fly fishing scene through a series of steelhead videos produced by 3M Scientific Anglers in 1984. Our chance meeting led to a lifelong friendship, three book projects, and, starting in the early 2000s, a casual and mutually beneficial business relationship between Lani, Fly Water Travel, and the legendary Silver Hilton Steelhead Lodge. Overseeing the bookings and extensive wait list for the Hilton was Lani's full-time gig, and when he retired, he passed his duties on to me and the greater Fly Water Travel team. Having the opportunity to work with the lodge staff and their loyal guests has been a highlight of my career, and over time I have come to realize just how unique and special an experience the Silver Hilton provides. In short, it boils down to the system itself, the size of the fish, the extreme solitude, and the incredible service provided by the staff. In the world of steelhead lodges it is one of those places that checks all the boxes and does so with unmatched style.

The System
The Babine is the second largest of the Skeena tributaries and typically receives the second-largest return of wild steelhead. The river flows roughly 60 miles NW out of Babine Lake before reaching the Skeena. For much of its length, it flows through the Babine River Corridor Provincial Park. The river has virtually no road access except for at the very top (near the weir) and again at the very bottom near the Skeena. The rest is truly wild. It is a muscular river with rugged, varied structure and ranks on the tougher end of the wading spectrum for the Skeena watershed. All of Skeena's premier tributaries are classified, but only a handful are classified as class 1 systems. To be considered a class 1 river, the fishery must be of the very highest quality, and additionally, it must have extraordinary wilderness attributes. Of the class 1 rivers, I think the Babine, and especially the waters fished by the Hilton are truly the wildest the region has to offer. Guests chopper directly into the lodge from Smithers and rarely, if ever, see another angler during their six days of guided fishing.

The Fish
Of the Skeena's many tributaries, the Babine is one of three systems with the highest likelihood of producing a really large steelhead. This could mean a fish of 20 pounds, or 25 pounds, and at times, an extraordinary fish of over 30 pounds. Silver Hilton guests have landed their share of these supertankers over the years, and the lodge record sits at 33.6 pounds. Despite these special genetics being present, catching a really large fish should be seen as a rare gift and not a base expectation. Like most of the fish in the watershed, Babine fish are curious about flies and, under the right conditions, are very willing to rise, if not reputedly, to skated dries.

The Solitude
The majority of the fishing pressure on the Babine occurs in the upper river on the eight miles of river beneath the weir. There are two great lodges in this reach as well as public walk-in and boat put-in access. The Silver Hilton's waters are more than 20 miles downstream, far beyond the end of the road and below several significant rapids that the jetboaters wisely avoid. During the height of the season, there may be an occasional group of adventuresome campers floating the river, but, in large, guests at the Hilton never see another party of anglers. Additionally, the guests at the Silver Hilton's Main Camp have access to over 20 miles of wilderness steelhead water, as well as countless smaller runs and productive pockets. The fishing is lightly guided in that each guide takes four anglers in their boat each day. All the guests have radios, enabling the guides to drop one or two guests at their own runs to fish in true solitude. If a guest needs a hand landing big one, it just takes a quick call, and if the guide is not in sight, they will be near, and you will hear the engine fire up as they head your way.

The Staff and Lodge
The Silver Hilton is actually two lodges. Main Camp is the lower lodge that takes eight guests per week. It has a wonderful common space with a crackling stone fireplace, an open bar, comfy couches, bear skin rugs, a long dining table, and an impressive collection of original art and antique tackle. Guests share spacious, well-appointed double occupancy cabins, and they spend two days fishing each of the three beats. Roughly eight miles upstream of Main Camp is the Triple Header Camp. Triple Header is the ultimate wilderness retreat that takes four guests per week. Each guest gets a single room, and there are two shared bathrooms. Triple Header has an awesome fire circle overlooking their huge home pool that has produced countless trophy fish over the years. Triple Header guests fish four days on the upper beat and two days on the middle beat.

The Hilton is a place that most guests return to year after year. Some have made more than 30 visits. Likewise, their staff tend to return year after year. The manager, Brian Schneider, has done 27 seasons, his head guide, "Bazil," has done 28 seasons, and "Beano" has done 20 seasons. To say they know the waters is an understatement! Their charming hostess, Daniel, has also done 20 seasons. Simply put, whether you are a guest or an employee, it is the type of place you want desperately to return to.

For me, the distillation of the Hilton's magic is when the guide pulls the jetboat in beneath a run, maps it out for me, drops me off, fires up the boat, and heads off around the bend. Then it's just me walking towards the head of a proven run on one of the world's greatest wild steelhead rivers. As I step into the head, unhook my fly, flop it out, and begin to pull a few strips of line from my reel, I often find myself overwhelmed and shaking slightly with excitement. The silence, the solitude, the raw wildness, and the oily slick beneath me, where I suspect my line will be drawn tight by a creature of unspeakable beauty, is collectively, almost too much. I force myself to look up from the water, to see the beauty surrounding me, and take a deep breath of gratitude, acknowledging that such an experience can still be found.

2024 Availability:
September 3 - 10 , 1 spot (Main Camp)
September 10 - 17, 1 spot (one-time fill-in, Main Camp)
October 22 - 29, 4 spots (Main Camp, 2 spots Triple Header)

2024 Rates are per person and based on single occupancy (Triple Header) and double occupancy (Main Camp):
September 3 -10 and October 29 - November 5: $6,600 plus tax and $250 Babine River Foundation donation for a 7 night/6 day package
September 10 - October 22: $9,800 plus tax and $250 Babine River Foundation donation for a 7 night/6 day package

Silver Hilton Steelhead Lodge

The Silver Hilton Lodge is one of the world's most exclusive fly fishing lodges on one of the world's most extraordinary steelhead rivers.