Since I started fishing in Canada catching a Steelhead has been top of my to do list. However, so far they have lived up to their reputation of being quite tricky to track down.
I have lost track of how many days I have spent hunting Steelhead over the last few years. Multiple trips to the Skeena and Copper rivers where the weather was unkind. Summer trips blown out by storms. Spring trips blown out by sun. At least I eventually managed to hook one. The remiander of my attempts have been Spring Steelheading on the Squamish river. It was here that I was returning for another day with Pat from Chromer Sport Fishing.
Spring fishing can be savage and last year we braved (suffered) a brutal day during which I seriosuly considered coming off the river early which would have been a first. The forecast this year was better, equally wet but minus the freezing temperatures and wind. The snow line was in fact lower so it must have been the wind and sleet last year that made it unbearable.
On the plus side this time I would have what I have been missing since I arrived, a friend to fish with. I taken friends fishing before but that was usually people giving it a try. Ed, who has just arrived in Vancouver, is an avid fisherman and keen to see what fishing was on offer.
We left Vancouver in the customary rain, it isn’t spring fishing without it, and met Pat in Squamish at 7am. I have fished with Pat on a number of occasions and now request him he’s a great guy as well as an excellent guide.
On the drive up the river we saw some elk grazing in a swamp ticking off another species I have never seen before. The dream is a wolf but they are so rare even the guides rarely see them, I have seen their tracks though. We continued upriver to the upper squamish. This is my favourite part of the river due to being quieter, more remote and it’s spectacular views when it’s not raining, when it is raining it’s still pretty epic! This year vs two years ago:
Steelhead, I’m told, as yet to confirm, sit at the head and tail of pools. Fishing as a pair we switched who fished which section first. Ed being more comfortable with the single handed rod fished the inner banks and rocks while I focused on the wider sections and heavier water.
At the tail of the first pool I got a series of taps on the swing, I thought it was the bottom, but on recasting there were no further touches so must have been a fish. Nothing I could have done and that touch is the signature of a bull trout but you never know when it’s just taps. The silver lining was the interest was on a fly I tied.
In the second pool it was Ed’s turn and he suffered from the same issue I do after a long time off the river. Feel a tap and strike hard. On English trout that is correct, on Canadian rivers it isn’t. Going back over though he got another tap and hold, no mistake this time, but no take. We both covered the same spot again as Pat was fairly confident it was a steelhead, but no dice.
We continued to drift downriver in the rain fishing the pools but without much luck. I had got confused which socks I used for summer and spring fishing so my toes kept getting rather chilly. Easily solved with a quick walk up the shore looking for prints of things that could be hunting us…
As we closed on the end of the day Ed switched to a fry patternt to target trout. It wasn’t long before he had a nice rainbow on. Like a lightweight steelhead it went acrobatic in it’s fight and on the 4th set of cartwheels it escaped. An untimely reminder of the challenges of barbless hooks. He had a second chance but it was a hit rather than a take.
We fished the opposite channel with no luck before returning to the same spot for me to have a crack at the trout from the raft. It was a nice change to use the single handed rod and overhead casting. After a few casts something hit the fly hard and the fish shook and shook. I was able to keep the tension on but it was strong and at no point was I able to get it on the reel or under control before it came off. Pat had seen its side as it fought and said it was a large bull trout. Given what I felt that made sense. Not often I feel a fish has out-fought me but this one definitely beat me fair and square.
It was interesting to see in quick succession the different fighting styles of rainbow and bull trout. One strong, chaotic and arial. One strong, head shakes, deep. On this occasion fish 2, humans 0.
We tried one last pool but that was the end of the action. Actually depsite not landing a fish it had been one of my more action packed days on the Squamish river. It’s not a river full of fish but the quality of the fishing is good when the conditions are right, which they had been today. Good water level and visibility. It hadn’t been that cold in the end either apart from the toes and my right hand. The rod hand always struggles as the muscles sort of freeze in position. It seems to take about 24hrs to fully release but totally worth it.
To close out a fantasitc day on the river with Ed we popped in to Backcountry Brewing in Squamish for a beer and a pizza with a firend of his from the army. This is my favourite spot for a post fish/ski/hike snack/drink and highly recommended.
Another day where the steelhead remained elusive but as always an excellent day with Pat on the river chasing them. For me that is just what steelheading, and Atlantic salmon fishing, have become! One day I will catch one but in the meantime I just love every second fishing the wild rivers and sarching out wildlife.
Now the planning starts for the next crack at a Steelhead. Can’t remember how many days…. plus one!