Catching a Steelhead

Terrace | Canada


 In the last two years, I've fished for a variety of freshwater and saltwater fish species. However, one important freshwater fish is still missing from my collection: the STEELHEAD. The Steelhead is a sea-run rainbow trout that migrates to the ocean like a salmon and returns to the river for spawning. However, unlike salmon, Steelheads don't spawn just once in their lifetime but multiple times. When a Steelhead returns to freshwater, it continues to feed and doesn't die after spawning. My guide Stan tells me that when they used to be harvested, Steelhead stomachs were found to contain everything from insects to mice and small fish.

Steelheads can reach impressive sizes: the record is 40.75 lbs and a length of 45.25 inches. // The best Steelhead rivers are in British Columbia, Canada. Logically, I have to go there. My plan is to head north to Smithers in advance and fish the well-known rivers like Kispiox, Babine, or Bulkley. However, since I'm very late with booking, I can't find a good lodge or guide around Smithers anymore. As always, I'd like to remain flexible and not necessarily restrict myself to one river.

Terrace | Canada
19. - 26. September 2013

Our Lodge


Start the Adventure

Skeena Wilderness Fishing Charters in Terrace, BC, sounds like a good option. After a few phone calls and emails with Stan Doll, I decide to book with them. A stroke of luck!

Stan Doll has been in the guiding business for over 40 years. His two sons, Kori and Kelly, learned fly fishing from their father since they were young. I'm truly in the best hands. Here's the link to their website: bc-steelhead

I'm staying at Stan's house, where there are several guest rooms. The food is great, the atmosphere is familial, and I feel very comfortable. The equipment, cars, and boats are top-notch; for those who want to tie flies, Stan has a fly tying station with everything you could think of. // Stan's program also includes smaller Steelhead rivers where his guiding company is the only one licensed to operate.

There are many top rivers in the lower Skeena region that aren't as famous as the upper rivers but are consequently less heavily fished. These rivers have Steelheads all year round. Some have a strong spring run, others have both spring and summer runs. For instance, the Kalum River is a place where many trophy Steelheads are caught every year. It's the first one on my schedule.

Unfortunately, the weather in BC is quite unpredictable. // When I arrive, Stan tells me that an unusually extreme heatwave has been going on for three weeks with temperatures reaching up to 30 degrees Celsius. // Consequently, the rivers have low water levels and have warmed significantly. Not great for fishing! However, upon my arrival, it's raining heavily, and that continues for the next few days.

Kalum Kitsum River

I'm up at 6:30 AM; I can't sleep anymore anyway. Stan drives me to the Kalum River. The water is very turbid, and I'm not happy with that. I estimate the visibility to be at most 30 cm, conditions under which I wouldn't typically fish. Stan gave me hope, though, and so I remained optimistic. I fish with large, dark patterns in colors like black/blue and black/purple.

We catch Dollies and some Pinks, but no Steelhead bites. The water level rises, and it's getting murkier: I can't even see my wading boots in 20 cm deep water. So, disheartening prospects, and I assume that with the heavy rain, the water won't recover, and the river will need time to clear up again.

Bill and Jim, two American Steelhead veterans, are with Kori on the Copper. They catch three Steelheads and lose a few more. The water there is a bit cloudy but still fishable. // Stan suggests that we go to Gitnadiox tomorrow, where the water should be clearer.


First Days in Canada

19.09.2013: Gitnadiox & Skeena

I wake up at 5:30 AM and after breakfast, we head to Gitnadiox. It's a fantastic river located in a national park, and Stan is the only guide licensed to fish there. // But even there, there's high water due to continuous rain. We try for two hours without success.

Then we go to the Skeena River and make around 1000 casts. I catch a small coho salmon. Next, I hook into a big king salmon that slowly takes 200 meters of line before snapping the leader. I think it was hooked in the tail.

Jim and Bill with Kori were back at the Lower Copper and hooked four Steelheads, losing three or four. The water there is murky but still fishable. Great, as I'll be going there with Kori tomorrow.

20.09.2013; Copper River

Jim, Bill, Kori, and I head to the Copper River; we start very early to be the first ones on the river. Unfortunately, the water is more turbid than the day before, but it's still somewhat fishable.

We give it a try, but without success. In the afternoon, the water becomes even murkier and unfishable. I caught a silver salmon, and no one else got anything. Damn.

I'm slowly getting frustrated and considering what to do and how to avoid the weather since I still have several fishing days ahead. // Smithers could be an option; it's not raining there, and the rivers should be fishable. Three Americans I met on the Copper and also Bill and Jim had been to Kispiox and Babine before. They faced challenging conditions and barely caught any Steelheads.

Bill is 84 years old and still a true Steelheader; he wades through the river like a young man. Two really great guys whom I had a lot of fun with. // The weather forecast predicts improvement. Today it's only lightly drizzling occasionally. Stan suggests fishing at Kasiks for one or two days. There may not be many Steelheads there, but there's a strong run of silver salmon.

21.09.2013: Kasiks River

Kasiks is located about 40 miles south of Terrace, towards the coast. It's a tributary of the Skeena River. It has a spring run but no Steelheads in the summer; instead, it has silver salmon.

Normally, the river is navigable by jet boat only in the spring, but due to the widespread high water conditions, even Kasiks has a lot of water. This river never gets muddy and remains clear. It's only about five or six kilometers long, with water originating from springs and waterfalls cascading down the rock walls. So currently, Kasiks is the only clear and fishable river. Additionally, it's beautiful, truly a natural gem.

In the morning, we are all optimistic as there was no rain overnight. We plan to first go to the Kalum River and check its water conditions. Unfortunately: the water is extremely murky. We're disappointed and decide to head to Kasiks.

There, we catch 12 silver salmon, some of them quite large. The rain persists throughout the day. We spot a black bear twice.

22.09.2013: Kasiks River

All the rivers around Terrace, including Copper, have high water and are muddy. So, Kori and I head to Kasiks, where I catch many silver salmon

Canada Impressions


Upper Copper

4 Days of Helicopter Fishing

The Upper Copper is only accessible by helicopter, which keeps fishing pressure low. A day of helicopter fishing costs around 1800 euros. I share the costs with Peter and Kenneth, two Americans, and we agree to fish there for the next two days.

The pilot tells us that the Upper Copper is nearly clear and that two Americans did really well there the previous day. Finally, hope for good water and Steelheads again!


The helicopter flight is sensational. The weather is clear, and for the first time, we see blue sky. As we fly over the Upper Copper for the first time, we see a beautiful and, above all, clear river. Promising!

And it truly doesn't take long until I catch my first Steelhead. The three of us catch a remarkable 19 Steelheads that day, including several fish between 14 and 17 pounds. It was Peter's day: with 11 Steelheads, he outshines all of us. I'm more than satisfied with my five Steelheads. Also, I've learned quite a bit from Peter that day.


The Upper Copper has captivated us; we would love to repeat the previous day. The day is incredibly beautiful with lots of sun and little rain.

The best part: I catch nine Steelheads and lose five more. What a day!

Peter catches three, Kenneth fishes with dry flies only, hooks two, but loses them.


I fly alone with guide Kori and his wife to the Upper Copper. A great day, I hook many fish, including a 95 cm and a 101 cm Steelhead!


My last day. I have to return to the Upper Copper; I want to experience another day like that. Although Kalum and Skeena have cleared up and are fishable again, I'm drawn to the Copper. I don't want to take any risks and invest in the helicopter once more.

By 10 AM, I already have five Steelheads – what a start! In the evening, I end up with seven Steelheads, one of them measuring 103 cm. An amazing fish. In the afternoon, two more helicopters arrive; I fish afterward, which is, of course, more challenging.


As poor as the trip started and as frustrating as the prospects were, it ended incredibly well. The last four days, with 32 caught Steelheads, are my lasting impression of this dream vacation.