Steelhead Fishing on the Skeena River
Our Family Trip
I had another great fishing season in Hazelton this year. My family and I food-fished with dip nets on the Kitwanga River and smoked over 100 sockeye in the smokehouse. We did canned salmon, smoked salmon, and frozen half-smoked. And then I spent a week fishing and camping on the Skeena River. When I wasn’t fishing I was in my lawn chair under an umbrella watching others fish.
At the end of the trip I've fished so hard that my hands are blistered sore and stiff. The pain is worth every minute and when I get home I spend the rest of the year dreaming about the next trip and how one day I’ll move there.
I’m looking forward to my boys being big enough to salmon fish soon. Even though they’re not fishing the boys love the river too. They have their cousins to play with and they run up and down the river playing Lord of the Flies. If the kids do decide to fish I take them to the creek, where we fish for trout and pink salmon.
My Fishing Gear
I mostly fish with salmon eggs and use a float, unless I’m fishing for sockeye and bottom bouncing.
I’m usually fishing with one of my 10'6 and a 6500 ambassador baitcasting reel. I use roe and a barbless 2 or 3 aught hook, on a 2-3 foot long leader, using 20 lb stern line. I run on average 9 feet of float. Fenwick rods
The odd day I’ll fish for sockeye and use a 1-2 aught hook with wool. I’ll bottom-bounce using a three way swivel and a rubber led weight. The sockeye don’t go after roe in the river and they swim with their mouths open, so the trick is to snag them. I catch a lot of steelhead bottom-bouncing, but it's a lot of work casting and reeling in constantly. I enjoy float fishing more.
The steelhead trout is an endangered species, so in most places they are catch and release. You have to get a license to fish them and it costs about 20 dollars. Their lifespan is 11 years and they can reach up to 55 lbs in weight. Fishermen have nicknamed these beautiful fish the "river rockets" and having one on your line is a real thrill. I enjoy catching steelhead the most, but it's also good when your catching fish you can keep, especially when its a doe and you can top up your bait box. The biggest steelhead I’ve landed was 20-25 lbs and they average around 10lbs. Next year I’m confident I’ll get the big one!
Smoking Our Salmon
Heres a look inside the smokehouse where we have our sockeye smoking. It takes a day to prepare and hang the fish and about 3 days to smoke them. We let them soak overnight before we clean them. My job is to watch the smokehouse and that's a lot of work, making sure the wood dosn't burn and keeping it smoking. The dip-netting, gill-netting, and smoking is the part of the vacation I don’t like and the sooner its over the happier I am. I get restless waiting to get my rod wet, but work first and play later. It's well worth the wait though, as I cook the half-smoked salmon for dinner at least once a week.
Some years we use the gill net to food fish and others the dip nets. This year we spent a day dip netting for the second year in a row and had much better results this time. The sockeye were bubbling and we’d dipped on average 10 at a time. It was a long day and lot of work packing fish but it was also a lot of fun. My wife's family really goes out of their way to make sure our freezer is full for the year, and I’m so grateful.
One of my favourite parts of our vacation is the family and friends we get to spend it with. Family travels from all over to spend a few weeks together and the family that lives there is very hospitable. The people I meet when fishing are amazing. I love talking to the old pros getting tips and listening to their stories. One old timer in particular is 84 years old and is the first one in the river nearly every morning fishing like a 20 year old. Some days he visits our camp with his banjo. This year we spent two weeks in Hazelton, which has been our shortest trip yet, and it broke my heart having to leave.
Hazelton, BC, Canada
If you ever plan on visiting Hazelton make sure to bring lots of rain gear. We were very fortunate last year when it hardly rained for the two weeks we visited. Most years it rains nearly every day. A little rain doesn’t bother me when I'm fishing; it's only when the river gets muddy and begins to rise that I get upset. Depending on the weather the fishing can go from hot to cold overnight.
I live in the Okanagan where it's very hot and dry all summer, so going up north where it can get a little cold and wet in the summer is a big adjustment. The beautiful scenery, community and the fishing always make up for the rainy weather.