Understanding BC Spring Steelhead
Ken Morrish December 13, 2022
Spring steelhead can be considered late winter steelhead, as both winter and spring steelhead are similar creatures that differ significantly from the summer or fall steelhead that have made the Skeena watershed internationally renowned. Their most significant defining characteristics are that winter and spring fish come into the river "ripe and ready" and spend very little time in freshwater before spawning. The other factor that goes hand in hand with their short tenure in the freshwater (often less than a month and in some cases less than a week) is that they tend to travel less than 100 miles from the saltwater. Many of them also head for smaller coastal rivers that lack cool sustained summer flows. Summer fish, generally speaking, tend spend six to eight months in freshwater and spawn in the spring, often at the same time as their winter and summer counterparts. Summer fish tend to migrate more than 100 miles inland, as they require cool sustained flows for their time in the freshwater, and this in turn means that their natal river often originate from larger interior mountains that have access to significant snowpack. Winter and spring fish tend to be large on average, and because they tend to be caught relatively close to the ocean, can be very strong fighters, despite cold water temperatures.
In the greater Terrace region, and in particular on the main Skeena, winter fish can be caught in January and February, but often the river is frozen over so these months remain un-bookable for visiting anglers. Come mid- to late-March, the ice tends to be largely gone and outfitters begin taking bookings. In late March, virtually all of the fishing will take place in the main Skeena. Come April 1, the Kalum opens, and as April progress the Kitimat, which is south of the Skeena drainage, steadily sees more and more fish. Also, by mid-April, the main Skeena tends to experience spring run-off, and is rarely fishable for the last half of the month, clearing again in July. This is not to say that some dates are better than others, but rather to inform anglers that where they will fish will differ depending on timing and the conditions at hand.
The joys of spring steelheading this region are many. First and foremost, the best guides focus on surprisingly shallow, broken water, meaning it is rare to fish heavier than a type 3 sink tip. Likewise, flies tend be unweighted or slightly weighted. Pink flies and especially flies in the shell pink spectrum work exceedingly well. At times dry lines with wet flies just subsurface are a great choice and for the boldest anglers, true dry flies skated and or pulsed can be remarkably effective. Why bouncy, shallow water lies consistently out-perform more conventional holding water is debatable, but many feel that that these big fish want to hold in water that the seals cannot effectively hunt, and seals are common in all the best beats. Virtually all of the guides fish 20-pound Maxima or an equivalent, as most have lost or landed fish that were simply too much for 15-pound to handle. For anglers that are not obsessed with numbers and are willing to work hard for the chance at a truly remarkable steelhead, few places offer the promise and potential of the greater Terrace region.
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