Skeena River - Four Seasons of Angling Paradise
© by Noel Gyger
Terrace, British Columbia, is located 600 air miles north of Vancouver,
B.C. and is situated on the Skeena River, the second largest river system in
the province. To the native Nisga'a people, the "Skeena" means
"River of Mists," and within its pristine valleys are countless
rivers and streams that flow rich with Pacific salmon, trout and steelhead.
This area held the world-record Chinook salmon of 92 and one-half pounds; the
record coho salmon which weighed in at 25 and one-half pounds; and a 36-pound
Even average size fish in the Skeena region are considered
trophies when compared to catches taken elsewhere. Steelhead weigh more that
twenty pound and chinook over fifty pounders are not uncommon. Local biologists
have also netted several world-record size chum salmon as well as chinook in
excess of one hundred pounds.
Sheltered amidst the coastal mountain range of the Canadian
Rockies, Terrace is surrounded by fishing opportunities. Discover ancient
forests, majestic waterfalls, glaciers, volcanic boulder fields, fossil beds,
not spring, eagles, mountain goats and the elusive Kermodei bear.
In March, steelheading is in full swing. Water levels are low and
weather conditions are improving. On a warm day it can almost feel like summer.
By April, although there is always the chance of wet snow or rain, weather
conditions are generally favorable. Fresh runs of steelhead make their way up
rivers and mingle with winter populations. These aggressive fish offer
explosive action, whether it be fly-fishing from shore or hot-shotting by drift
boat. Also, giant chinook salmon begin making their way up the Skeena and enter
the Kalum River. In May, the chinook can be found throughout the Skeena and
Kalum, a Skeena tributary, where the fishing is often outstanding; steelhead
can still be caught, although their numbers decline once spawning is over.
In June, spring run-off is at its maximum on the main Skeena, so
high murky water leads us to focus on other productive Skeena tributaries. By
mid-June, rivers such as the Kitimat are full of silver-fresh chinook, and
ocean fish are always an option that can enhance the total catch. July is prime
time for targeting kings everywhere, but on the main Skeena, where the largest
salmon spawn, the most memorable battles await you…In addition, summer-run
steelhead begin their long migration upstream; these radiant fish can reach up
to 20 or 30-pounds and in warm water, are especially spectacular fighters. In
August, the chinook season begins to wind down in the main rivers as their
spawning period approaches. In some tributaries, catching silver fish is still
possible, but we tend to focus more attentively on the fresh runs of the
steelhead and coho entering the Skeena.
In September, summer-run steelheading is outstanding and
fly-fishing conditions are usually ideal. In addition, the main runs of
northern hooked-jaw coho begin filling most rivers. These hard fighters can
average 15-pounds and fish over 20-pounds are not uncommon. Dolly Varden are also plentiful. In October
and November, fly-fishing for steelhead and coho is in full swing. Float
fishing and spinning is also effective - there's lots of fish and they're
In December, January and February, the focus narrows to steelhead
only. There are three ice-free rivers in the Terrace area that hold wintering
steelhead. In cold low water conditions, a subtle approach often leads to
excellent results. Fly-fishing, spinning and float fishing are the most popular
THE SKEENA, For World Record
The Skeena River is "where to be" when angling for world
record Chinook Salmon! While the nearby Kitimat River also has a large run of
Chinook, on average, they are smaller fish. Fishery employees have found
carcasses of Chinook spawned out along the banks of the Skeena system that
weighed more than 107-pounds!
Anglers from around the world come to Terrace and the Skeena River
to angle for these famous giants. It's approximately a one hour flight from
Vancouver, B.C. by modern jet aircraft. The best time to fish is the whole
month of July and the first week of August. The days are long with many hours
to fish and warm summer temperature of plus 27 degrees Celsius. The best
fishing results can be obtained when the water is clean. Around the Cottonwood
area near the mouth of the Kalum River exceptionally large fish can be seen
rolling all day. This is an incredible sight and it really gets my adrenaline
The boat launch known as "Fishermen's Park" is only a
five-minute drive from downtown Terrace and it's usually full of vehicles and
empty jet-boat trailers. Summer is an exciting time of year!
Several years ago, a world record Chinook (weighing 92 ½ - pounds)
was landed by Mr. Heinz Wickman of Terrace, from the Skeena River near the
mouth of the Kalum River. This fish was caught with a Lure Jensen Crocodile
lure. Our lodge record Chinook weighed 83-pounds.
Ninety per cent of the Chinook in the Skeena River are wild fish.
Some hatchery Chinook do exist, but most are wild fish. The Kitimat river
probably has more hatchery Chinook because of the $10 million fish hatchery.
My personal fishing diary goes back some 15 years fishing the
Skeena River. My log pays special attention to fish over 70-pounds. The
ultimate challenge in river sportfishing is to try and land one of these
"giants". It's especially difficult because of the fast-flowing,
six-mile-per-hour river current.
While angling for Chinook you may also hook "fresh"
summer-run Steelhead. These fish are in the system migrating further upstream
to distant tributaries for spawning. The silver chrome fish will surely give
you a tackle-straining experience. I believe more could be hooked if it weren't
for Chinook chasing and spooking them as they defend their "reds."
The preferred method of angling from the shore is
"plunking" or "still-fishing" with large Spin and Glow size
#00, (double ott) number six or seven hooks and eight oz. Pyramid lead weights.
Some folks like to add salmon eggs to the hook but I don't think this is
necessary. This is all rigged with a triple swivel. Make sure your fishing rod
is stout enough and well secured in a good rod holder. (I've seen many broken
rods and rods that were jerked into the river by strong fish.) Put a small bell
on the tip of your fishing rod and wait for the bite! You can also bottom
bounce, use a lure or try fly-fishing. Terrace goes all out to make sport
fishermen from out of town feel welcome. Terrace has many hotels, motels and
camping sites, all located near the fishing grounds. There are several
well-stocked tackle stores to serve you.
My favorite fishing method is "pulling-plugs." I like to
use the big magnum Hot Shots with number seven Gamakatsu hooks, razor sharp. I
use Ambassador 7000 reels filled to capacity with Ande 30-pound test line.
The bottom line: to have a very successful fishing trip, you need:
1) A good run of fish. 2) Proper timing of the runs. 3) Good water and weather
Unfortunately, we cannot control the water conditions, but with so
many watersheds available, quality angling can always be found.
This is a fantastic time to angle for both steelhead and coho
salmon plus resident Cutthroat, Rainbow Trout and Dolly Varden Char in
northwest British Columbia, Canada. Let's talk about the Coho salmon first.
You too can make this dream a reality if you come here to angle
for these beautiful salmon. When hooked they jump, roll and tumble, wrapping
themselves up in your line, like a pretty package. The rolling and tumbling is
a Coho characteristic! The Americans know them as "silvers"....but we
call them "Yo Ho"...the Coho!.
The Skeena river and its many tributaries are fortunate to have
many large runs of these "silver" beauties. The first migrating Coho
are of average size but later, in October, the "larger" Coho start to
appear. We call these larger fish "northerns" because, not only is
their average weight higher, they also have the distinctive large
"hooked" nose that we commonly refer to as the "northern
nose". Even the females have the hooked nose although not as prominent as
the male. The regular Coho average between 6 and 12-pounds but the
"northerns" average between 12 and 20-pounds with the odd fish
weighing more than 25-pounds. Northwest Fishing Guides lodge record Coho
weighed an amazing 27-pounds. This fish was landed by a repeat guest, Mr. Jack
Baikowitz, in middle October 1995 in the Kasiks river. Mr. Baikowitz now wants
to be called "Mr. Coho" from now on. A 20 x 30 inch poster photo of
this record fish hangs on the wall at the lodge. Yo Ho!...that's the
"battle cry" in the fall that most of us yell when the Coho start
coming. This is a very exciting time of year.
The Coho arrive into the Skeena system at the beginning of August.
The smaller Coho enter the river first as they have the furthest to travel. The
"BIG" Chinook Salmon runs are coming to an end and all but over. Even
though there are still Chinook Salmon in the rivers, most are getting too dark
and usually are left alone to spawn, preferring to angle for brighter fish. If
you talking "table fare"...why would anyone want to kill a dark fish?
Everyone's attention turn to the bright silver Coho Salmon. A good angler can
hook many more Coho than Chinook. Nature dictated that the smaller fish will be
more plentiful. What a great way to end the salmon season...with
"blow-out" Coho fishing.
This is the most "anti" combat angling area you can find
anywhere, especially in the fall. Many time when fishing for Coho you will be
the only person in the pool. I am referring to the isolated coastal rivers,
only accessible by jet-boat, near Terrace. My favorite river is the Kasiks. The
jet-boat ride up this river is fantastic. For 8 miles you wind your way
upstream through mountain flanks that touches the river on both sides. Slate
gray rock faces confined the river to a narrow slot. A thousand tiny waterfall
skittered down the rock faces plunging into the small river.
Even though the runs are strong in our area, it is still wise to
practice conservation. We want these Coho here forever. Please learn the
correct way to catch and release and teach your friends. It will work for Coho
as well as it has been proven to work for Steelhead. Do not stress a fish by
playing it too long (usually caused by using too light a line) or dragging it
in too quickly, so that it beats its head on the rocks. Keep the fish off the
rocks and in deep water. The angler should be wearing chest waders or at least
hip waders so he can accomplish this. Use "barbless" hooks or hooks
that have small barbs, such as Gamakatsu. To assist in landing a fish use a
glove or sock to grip the tail. For a large fish use a glove on both hands. Do
not pick them up only by the tail and lift them high into the air as this puts
too much stress on their backbone. Keep the fish horizontal by supporting the
belly with the other hand. Do not use a landing net as the mesh can cause
excessive scale loss and split fins. Try and keep their head in the water as
much as possible, then hold them up for a quick "kiss" and photo then
let them go. Take the hook out gently. If you do this correctly you will not
need the pliers. If the fish has the strength to wiggle its tail, let it
"kick" out of your hand and swim, do not hold it back. Celebrate!
If you keep a fish to eat, make sure that it is silver and fresh.
Do not keep a dark fish as it is probably too near to spawning and the meat
will not make good table fare.
One basic rule applies when fishing for Coho: if you can't see
them rolling, don't fish. Coho like just about any terminal tackle that is
properly presented. Presentation is everything. And to have some fun with the
colors they should be silver, blue or green.
I love using the flyrod in a weight 8 or 9 or a light spinning rod
and reel filled with 12-pound test and a jig as terminal tackle. The jig works
well in very clean water, calm or slow moving deep pools where you know fish
are holding and you cannot see them, except for the odd "roll" or
"rise" now and then. If you find a pool or run where you can see the
fish because the water is very clear and not that deep, your terminal tackle
choice should be a lure such as the Lure Jensen Crocodile or a light thin spoon
weighed if needed, with split shot. Use something thin that glides through the
water and is designed to represent small fish that the Coho think are a threat
to their spawning "reds" or area. Sometimes a spinner such as the
Blue Fox #4 or 5 is the correct bait. The spinner blades cause it to be
retrieved slowly, letting the fish have a good look at it and thereby making a
decision to strike.
With other terminal tackle, such as thin lures most folks retrieve
them too quickly. Slow down your retrieve. I know this will cause you to lose a
few lures but you have to be down deep and your lure has to be moving slow
enough to give the fish a chance to react. Always keep you hook sharp. After
awhile, not matter what your using or how you present it, the fish will spook
or develop "lock jaw" and stop biting. In that case, you are advised
to find another "fresh" or un-spooked pool.
Float fishing or bottom bouncing works the best when the water is
higher, the fish are not spooked and the current is moving at the correct
speed. Many types of terminal tackle will work when float fishing but I think
the best bait is "dime size" egg bags fished on number 2 hooks.
October is "PRIME TIME" for "wild" B.C.
Steelhead in our area. They are referred to as wild because there are no
hatchery steelhead in the whole Skeena river and it's tributaries. Both
conventional and fly tackle users will be in "heaven". The main
rivers we fish are the Skeena, Copper and Meziadin. We also fish in the Meziadin
Lake. At this time of year the lake is full of spawning Sockeye Salmon,
consequently the fishing for Dolly Varden Char is fantastic. These are big
Dolly's that weigh up to 6-pounds and Rainbows to 5-pounds. At the end of the
lake, where the lake turns into river is the best spot in the world for
steelhead and Coho fishing. The river is jammed with fish. No matter how bad
the weather, this river remains fishable all the time.
Another river in our area, called the Copper, excellent for
Steelhead at this time. Care must be taken when wading this river because the
bottom is strewn with large and small boulders and one can trip over them if
not careful. If the water is very clean, the flyrod will hook many fish.
Convention tackle users will have no trouble hooking up to six or more fish per
Our lodge record steelhead weighed 32-pounds. It was caught and
released by Dennis Therein from the Kalum river in 1995. It measured 40 inches
in length and had a girth of 24.5 inches. The weight was estimated by using a
formula of length x girth squared x 1.33 divided by 1000.
Catch & Release formula…Chinook: girth squared x length x 1.53
divided by 1000. Steelhead: girth squared x length x 1.33 divided by 1000
Noel Gyger http://www.noelgyger.ca